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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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International Conference: “African Studies and land questions in Africa”


From 27 through 29 November 2019, an international conference took place at the University of Cape Town in South Africa debating an issue that is at the heart of African Studies today: Land questions in Africa. Scholars from various fields illuminated the topic from a large spectrum of perspectives and disciplines.

By Dr. Doris Löhr, Coordinator Internationalisation & Public Engagement, Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence

In collaboration with the Institute of African Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea and the Cluster of Excellence Africa Multiple, the National Research Foundation Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa at the University of Cape Town, had invited to an international conference on the topic of “African Studies and land questions in Africa”. Following that invitation, around 35 scholars and activists met on the Upper campus in Cape Town between 27 through 29 November 2019 in order to engage in discussions and analyses on various aspects of the topic.

“Land questions” at the heart of African Studies today

Organizers had settled on that topic of “Land Questions” at the preceding conference in 2018. Co-organized by the Institute of African Studies of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea and the Institute of African Studies, University of Bayreuth, and held in Hankuk the second of the series of South-South dialogues debated “Africa in an Ever-changing, Multi-faceted and Multi-layered World”. During the discussions, it became more and more apparent that land questions were at the heart of African Studies, especially in countries such as South Africa, which is generally regarded as industrialized compared to other countries on the continent.

Land as a rural and urban concern

For years, many academics and politicians have perceived labour and not land as central in understanding South African society. However, the implementation of African National Congress’ policy of land expropriation without compensation (afterwards adopted by the National Assembly) put the land question in South Africa high on the agenda. In all the years of its democracy, South Africa has marginalized the land question in economic, political and social debates and discussions. “Land” has been considered to merely concern rural areas and agriculture. But persistent struggles for housing and livelihoods of especially black Africans in urban areas have been a constant reminder that the land question is as much of a rural and agricultural issue as it is an urban concern.

A comprehensive conference agenda

The conference in Cape Town adopted this broader view of the land question and, due to the multi-disciplinary nature of African Studies, received contributions on the topic from a broad spectrum of perspectives and disciplines. During the event, linguists, philosophers, educationists, and artists expressed their views on the question of land in Africa through their respective disciplinary lenses. The 30 presenters had travelled from near and far coming from four continents and 13 countries: Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Sudan), The Americas (Costa Rica), Asia (India, Japan, South Korea) and Europe (Czech Republic, Germany). But first, the conference started with a welcome speech by the Dean of Humanities, Shose Kessi. The host Lungisile Ntsebeza introduced the participants to the conference subject before presenting the first keynote speaker: Fred Hendricks from Rhodes University in Makhanda gave his insights on “African Studies and Land Questions: Two sides of Exclusion”.

Six panels during the following two days cantered around various aspects of the Land Question (esp. land redistribution in South Africa), The Agrarian Question (e.g. land reform), Land Tenure and Administration (esp. land rights), Land Governance in Africa (e.g. land conflicts), Land Grab (esp. displaced communities), Land and Development in Africa and Language (case studies from Susan, Mozambique and India), and Culture and Urbanisation in Africa. The second keynote by Ekkehard Wolff (Leipzig) focussed on the question “Language and territoriality in postcolonial Africa: How ‘indigenous’ are African languages?” A concluding round table discussion attended by the co-organizers Ute Fendler (Bayreuth), Lungisile Ntsebeza (Cape town), and EunKyung Kim (Hankuk) summarized the previous discussion and illuminated the future of the partnership and network that has been established and developed since 2017. A publication on the topic is planned.

For the programme click here.

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