Overcoming Historical Injustices: Land Reconciliation in South Africa

In This Review

Overcoming Historical Injustices: Land Reconciliation in South Africa
By James L. Gibson
Cambridge University Press, 2009
328 pp. $85.00

As Gibson's book reminds readers, land issues lie at the heart of racial politics in contemporary South Africa. Employing opinion surveys to investigate South African attitudes about land, Gibson finds that for black South Africans, the expropriation of ancestral lands remains the central feature of the hated apartheid state. They view the redistribution of territory as a necessary righting of historical wrongs. Most white South Africans, on the other hand, recognize that some land redistribution is inevitable but are enormously ambivalent about the redistribution process and concerned about how it might affect them and their property in the coming years. Given the powerful political symbolism attached to land ownership, it is perhaps unsurprising that Gibson's opinion surveys find that racial identities often trump individual self-interest when it comes to land; even black and white citizens who would be unaffected by land redistribution tend to take on the beliefs and prejudices of their respective racial groups.

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