News & events


Paying for the past: Addressing past property violations in South Africa

24 July 2012
11:15 - 12:30

By Bernadette Atuahene, Law and Public Affairs Fellow, Princeton University, Associate Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent Law School, Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation

The Land Commission’s pervasive assumption is that land claimants who received financial compensation wasted their financial awards because the money is gone and they are still in poverty. Consequently, in recent years, the Commission has shifted its policies away from its former emphasis on financial compensation as a means of granting equitable redress and toward a strong emphasis on land restitution.  The interviews conducted by Prof Bernadette Atuahene with financial award recipients show that the Commission was wrong.  In 30% of the cases, the restitution award did produce a substantial economic benefit; the majority of these people spent their financial award on improving their current homes and thus increasing the value of their primary assets.  She has urged the Commission to reconsider its policy of de-emphasising the financial compensation option and instead to adopt policies that improve this option by, for instance, providing financial counseling to claimants who elect to receive financial compensation or allowing claimants to receive in-kind restitution awards (such as bursaries for secondary education, job training, or a subsidised business loan). 

Bernadette Atuahene is a Law and Public Affairs Fellow at Princeton University, an Associate Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent Law School and a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. She received her undergraduate degree at UCLA, her law degree at Yale, and an MPA at Harvard’s Kennedy School. While still in law school, she worked as a human rights investigator for the Center for Economic and Social Rights, where she received Amnesty International’s Patrick Stewart Human Rights Award for her work with human rights organisations throughout South America. Following law school, she served as a judicial clerk at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, working for Justices Madala and Ngcobo. She then worked as an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York, where she focused on sovereign debt and real estate transactions. Her research deals with confiscation and restitution of property. As a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in 2008, she worked with the South African Director General of Land Affairs and his staff. She is presently writing a book about the Land Restitution Program, which is based on 150 interviews she conducted with program beneficiaries. She is also directing and producing a documentary film about one family’s struggle to reclaim their land.

This seminar may be attended via video conference in Pretoria, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. The speaker will be in Pretoria. Details as below.

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Kindly RSVP by 22 July 2012

Cape Town : HSRC, 12th Floor, Plein Park Building (Opposite Revenue Office), Plein Street, Cape Town. Contact Vuyokazi Ngxubaza, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or, Cell: 082 0508453

Durban :  First floor HSRC board room, 750 Francois Road, Ntuthuko Junction, Pods 5 and 6, Cato Manor, Contact Ridhwaan Khan, Tel (031) 242 5400, cell: 083 788 2786 or

Pretoria : HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Arlene Grossberg, Tel: (012) 302 2811, e-mail: