Overcoming Historical Injustices: Land Reconciliation in South Africa

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Overcoming Historical Land Injustices in South Africa is the last entry in Gibson’s “overcoming trilogy” on South Africa’s transformation from apartheid to democracy. Focusing on the issue of historical land dispossessions – the taking of African land under colonialism and apartheid – this book investigates the judgments South Africans make about the fairness of their country’s past. Should, for instance, land seized under apartheid be returned today to its rightful owner? Gibson’s research zeroes in on group identities and attachments as the thread that connects people to the past. Even when individuals have experienced no direct harm in the past, they care about the fairness of the treatment of their group to the extent that they identify with that group. Gibson’s analysis shows that land issues in contemporary South Africa are salient, volatile, and enshrouded in symbols and, most important, that interracial differences in understandings of the past and preferences for the future are profound.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In Overcoming Historical Injustices James Gibson tackles the fascinating question of support for land reform in South Africa. Apartheid-era land resettlement policies affected numerous black and colored South Africans, as Gibson convincingly demonstrates with evidence from an extensive, original survey. In documenting attitudes towards South African land policies, Gibson captures the larger essential truth of group-related politics—current events are frequently seen through the prism of powerful group membership, identities, and history. The wide gulf between whites who oppose land reform policies, and Africans, coloreds and Asians who support such policies reflects their differing attitudes towards historical events and the current rule of law. Gibson provides clear evidence that African blacks view land policy through the lens of historical injustice, whereas whites rely more on a strict adherence to current laws. As a consequence, blacks and whites differ in how fair they view the outcome of specific land disputes and the basis on which they make such judgments. The enormous racial gulf in support for land reform, and differing attitudes toward the past and present, signal an area of potential political strife for the reconciliation process (although land reform is not a highly political salient issue in South Africa at present). Overall, Gibson provides a richly detailed account of South African opinion on land reform policies that is illuminating and prescient.”
-Leonie Huddy, Stony Brook University

“Once I started reading Overcoming Historical Injustices I had a hard time stopping. As with his previous work on South Africa, Gibson presents a compelling, and at times disturbing, narrative about the state of race relations in this emerging democracy. This book is theoretically rich, methodologically innovative, and full of interesting empirical results.”
-Vincent L. Hutchings, University of Michigan

“Jim Gibson has done it again. The third volume in his trilogy on the transformation of South African society is the best yet. It applies a sophisticated social science perspective to an issue central to any regime change – whether and how to compensate for past injustices. In South Africa this issue is defined through revisiting issues of land ownership since most of the land in that country was transferred into White hands during the period of Apartheid. Using a combination of traditional survey questions and innovative new vignette designs Gibson paints a complex picture of the manner in which both disadvantaged minorities and advantaged Whites conceptualize justice and apply it to defining both fair land ownership and use and fair procedures for resolving conflicts about land related issues. This book is a great read and does an excellent job of presenting a clear and compelling portrayal of the complex dynamics through which issues of identity, justice and the rule of law are resolved in a society striking for its ability to peacefully transform itself following an era of repression and group-based injustice.”
-Tom Tyler, New York University

“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 hatred apartheid state.”
Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs

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Product Details

Meet the Author

James L. Gibson is currently the Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government at Washington University in St Louis. Gibson has published more than 100 refereed articles and chapters, in a wide range of national and international social-scientific journals, including all of the leading political science journals. He has also published five books, including the award-winning Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation? and Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations: Positivity Theory and the Judgments of the American People (co-authored with Gregory A. Caldeira, forthcoming). Gibson has served as the President of the Midwest Political Science Association and as an officer of the American Political Science Association. His research has been recognized with numerous awards. Gibson's overall research agenda on democratization was recognized with the 2005 Decade of Behavior Research Award.

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Table of Contents

1. Land reconciliation and theories of justice, past and present; 2. Naming, blaming, and claiming on historical land injustices: the views of the South African people; 3. Group identities and land policy preferences; 4. Applied justice judgments: the problem of squatting; 5. Judging the past: historical versus contemporary claims to land; 6. Land reconciliation and theories of justice; References; Appendix A. A note on race in South Africa; Appendix B. The survey methodology; Appendix C. The questionnaire.

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