Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Michael Barry and David Mayson (2000) 'Informal Settlement Characteristics in a Rural Land Restitution Case: Elandskloof, South Africa'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 2, <>

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Received: 9/8/2000      Accepted: 6/9/2000      Published: 6/9/2000


Research in informal settlements in South Africa has shown that conflict is inherent between groups within a settlement and between the broader community and the land administration authorities. In general, groups and sub-groups continually form, reform and dissolve within informal settlements. Moreover, the internal rules that a community creates relating to land tenure tend to be manipulated by sub-groups as they compete for land, resources and power. Internal rules are not static but are subject to continual change. Similar characteristics were observed in Elandskloof, a rural land restitution case in the Western Cape province of South Africa.


Elandskloof is a land restitution case on a pair of contiguous farms in a catchment area in the Cedarberg mountains, approximately 200 km north west of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Historically, it was a Dutch Reformed Church mission settlement for nearly one hundred years, until the community was evicted in 1962 whereafter the community members and their descendants dispersed throughout the Western Cape.

This paper analyses behaviour within the Elandskloof community during attempts to reconstruct the community and resettle members of the community on the land as part of South Africa's land restitution programme, and compares Elandskloof with similar behaviour that was observed in informal settlements in South Africa. These observations provide useful guidelines for land administrators to view the interrelationships between instruments and processes that support formal property rights, these being the cadastral system and land administration system, and prevailing land tenure in both informal settlements and certain rural land restitution cases. They should facilitate understanding by an outsider of seemingly contradictory, irrational behaviour due to competition for power, land and resources within a community.

Characteristics of informal settlements are first described, followed by a description of the history of the Elandskloof community. Thereafter a comparison is drawn between informal settlements and the Elandskloof case.

Social Change Model

Drawing on Comaroff's (1982:146) dialectical approach to the analysis of local systems and on the observation of a Zulu settlement in the Durban functional region, Fourie (1993) developed a social change model for observing and analysing the social dynamics of informal settlements. Davies (1998) in researching an urban Xhosa-speaking community observed similar phenomena that support Fourie's thesis in a settlement in East London in the Eastern Cape. The first author, Barry (1999) observed similar patterns of behaviour in urban informal settlements in Cape Town.

The main features of the social change model are:
  1. that conflict or structural tension is inherent in a system;
  2. the ongoing process of sub-groups within a community forming and dissolving over time and individuals showing allegiance to different sub-groups; and
  3. entrepreneurial behaviour as different individuals and groups manipulate the rules to maximise their own objectives. Each of these features, as they have been observed in the context of informal settlements, is now described in more detail

The nature of the conflicts are founded upon internal competition between various power levels and sub-groups within a community, but in informal settlements these sub-groups are also inter-dependent in that they have to act in concert to achieve the broader aims of the community. Competition is manifested in internal struggles for land, resources and power. In informal settlements, tension between sub-groups develops as a result of local dynamics and factors external to the community such as urbanisation patterns, local authority policies and local authority interventions (Fourie 1993, Davies 1998:77-78). Interdependence between these sub-groups exists as a result of the relationships between the community and external forces such as the local authority (Fourie 1993, Davies 1998:76, Davies and Fourie 1998:241). For example, to be granted permanent, formal land rights, it will be necessary for a community to act collectively in attempting to force government or the local authority to grant them these rights.

Interpreting Fourie's (1993) work, the ongoing process of sub-groups forming and dissolving over time and individuals showing allegiance to different sub-groups is most patently clear when a faction may sever ties with one sub-group and seek alignment with another faction within a community. A related practice that is related to this process is the notion of overriding group rights, even when there has been a strong demand for individual rights. For example, in being granted formal land rights, a community may demand, and be granted, individual titles to land with individually demarcated parcels. However, a community, or sub-groups within the community may insist on approving any person to whom this land right may be transferred (Davies 1998:75, Barry 1999). Violent conflict between groups or individuals seeking to challenge these group rights and other groups claiming such an overriding right have been observed (Barry 1999).

Entrepreneurial behaviour involves the negotiations and deals associated with land and land tenure within a community. Fourie (1993) notes that indigenous systems of land tenure evolve by adapting to unique circumstances that face people at any particular time (Fourie 1993:438). In this model, land tenure rules are important and required by groups at settlement level for land administration, such as land allocation and dispute resolution (Davies 1998:81). However, the tenure rules tend to be manipulated by sub-groups as they compete for land, resources and power. Therefore, internal rules are not static but are subject to change due to the effect of tension and conflict within the local system and between the local system and external actors (Davies 1998:81).

Analysing Fourie's (1993) social change model, it is based on a pluralist conceptualisation of urban Nguni settlements where the primary objectives of land administrators and planners at a particular time may be substantially different to those generally held by the community. Moreover, the objectives of the community are not homogeneous. Firstly there is the assumption that a settlement comprises individuals, groups and sub- groups who have conflicting interests and goals. Secondly, there is the assumption that conflict is inherent and natural in the relationships between different individuals, groups and sub-groups within a settlement and between these entities and external forces such as the local authority or an external hostile interest group. As different entities strive to maximise their own goals and interests in competing for power, land and resources, so the nature of the tenure rules and practices change. Rules may be established and agreed upon under the auspices of the general community, but in practice these rules are manipulated by certain groups and individuals. The model allows for continually changing group and individual emphases in land tenure.

As mentioned earlier, the above social change model was developed and tested in the context of informal settlements in South Africa in communities which were predominantly Zulu or Xhosa speaking, and hence it can be assumed that there are tribal influences in the tenure system (e.g. see Cross 1994, 1993 and Byerley and McIntosh 1994). The ensuing discussion will show that aspects of this theory may apply to rural land restitution cases, even when tribal influences are absent.



The Dutch Reformed Church bought the farm Elandskloof in 1861 in order to set up a mission station. The Elandskloof community, which originally comprised remnants of indigenous Khoi communities who lived in the Cedarberg mountains, trace their occupation of the farm and the surrounding mountains to before this time, but they lived on the mission station under the rules set down by the Church (Anderson 1993). In 1900 the state granted a further parcel of surrounding land to the Church. A restrictive clause in the title deed limited the land use to mission purposes. The community assisted in raising the funds for the surveying and transfer costs for this additional portion, and also raised funds to purchase the land through combined efforts with the church. This gave rise to a notion in the community of joint ownership of the farm between the Church and the community, albeit that the land was legally registered in the Church's name (Mayson et al 1998).

Ekloof Church
Figure 1: The Elandskloof Mission Church and School, 1932

For approximately twenty years preceding the closure of the mission in 1961, there was pressure from individuals in neighbouring communities and from within the Church to close down the mission. From the early 1940's, a number of neighbouring farmers pressurised the Church to sell the farm. Much of this pressure was premised on racial grounds, and further pressure was exerted from 1950 onwards as a number of racially based laws such as the Group Areas Act 41/1950 were promulgated under the apartheid government (Smith and Anderson 1993, Mayson et al 1998). Furthermore, elements within the Church complained that the community did not pay its taxes and that the farm was an economic drain on its resources (Smith and Anderson 1993).

As a result of the manipulation of a number of laws, the rights of occupation of those living at Elandskloof as members of a mission community were extinguished in 1962. The Church successfully applied to the State to remove the restrictive clause in the title deed limiting the land use to missionary purposes, which enabled the Church to sell the land to a neighbouring farmer. Although the community had also put in a bid to buy the land, the Group Areas Act (41/ 1950) prohibited this as in the meantime the farm had been proclaimed a white group area. The community members would have been classified as 'coloured'. In response to this situation, the community left the farm en masse to march to parliament in Cape Town to petition the government for assistance. However, as a consequence of leaving the farm, in terms of the Group Areas Act 41/1950, it became illegal for the community to return except as employees of the new owner (Mayson et al 1998).

In 1962 the new owner, a white farmer, evicted the Elandskloof community. This followed a protracted period of negotiation with the Church, the State and the farmer. Moreover, there had been intimidation and harassment by the State and the farmer. Elandskloof leaders had been gaoled, access roads and paths to their lands had been fenced, and their animals had been burnt in mysterious circumstances (Smith and Anderson 1993).

The Elandskoof community and their descendants then dispersed throughout the Western Cape province over the years. Many of the children of community members became professionals and artisans, whilst others remained in the Elandskloof proximity as agricultural workers. The desire to return remained strong, especially amongst a group whom a farmer in a valley neighbouring Elandskloof permitted to "squat" on his farm Allendale after the eviction in 1962.

As substantial social and political changes occurred in South Africa in the 1990's, a claim was initially submitted to the Advisory Commission on Land Allocation (ACLA), set up in terms of the Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act 108/1991. However, this did not come to fruition. With the passing of the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22/1994, the Elandskloof claim was transferred to the Land Claims Commission. On 20 June 1996 a settlement was reached, and using a Community Property Association (Act 28/1996) as the juristic person in whom ownership was registered, legal ownership of the land was transferred to the Elandsklowers on 13 December 1996 (Mayson et al 1998). Reoccupation of the land did not take place at that time, as the process had yet to be agreed upon by those claiming rights to land in Elandskloof. This has turned out to be a protracted, complex process, as reoccupation had not been finalised by July 2000.

Return of Elandskloof
Figure 2: The Return to Elandskloof and the Handing over of Ownership on 13th December 1996

Reconstructing the Community

As a requirement for the formation of the Communal Property Association (CPA), a constitution was adopted in October 1996. In terms of the CPA Constitution, a management committee of nine is elected for two years. The Committee was mandated to adjudicate membership of the CPA, to manage the assets of the Association, to resettle the community, to provide appropriate infrastructure, housing and other social services, and to develop agriculture and other economic opportunities (Mayson et al 1998).

Major factors in reconstructing the community, and therefore the Communal Property Association, more than 30 years after the original eviction were:

In terms of the original Elandskloof Constitution, membership was available to:

  1. those and their direct descendants who were part of the Elandskloof community who were deprived and disadvantaged and who suffered dispossession of rights in land and other assets;
  2. such other persons (non-Elandsklowers) who suffered similar dispossession and that the Committee, in its own discretion, decided could be members of the Association;
  3. those who have a blood or marriage link to those in a) or b) above;
  4. Any others that a general community meeting decides can be members as a result of their contribution to the affairs of the community. (Legal Resources Centre 1996:6)

Initially there were a number of membership categories:

(Mayson et al 1998).

The definition of who qualified to be a member of the CPA and the nature of the rights to which they were entitled became a major source of conflict. In the original ACLA submission, there were a total of 125 families on the register (Surplus People's Project 1993, Smith and Anderson 1993). However, as negotiations progressed, by January 1997 a total of 350 families had placed their names on the Elandskloof register. Clearly there was insufficient land to support even the initial group of 125 families. When the land was purchased from the farmer. Moreover, as later discussion will demonstrate, the uncertainty over the status of different individuals and families was a cause of substantial tension, with the result that it was impossible to obtain consensus with respect to the processes and internal rules for reoccupying the land.

Planning and decision making was done by the committee in conjunction with planning consultants (SetPlan) and an NGO (Surplus People's Project), and alternative strategies and decisions were discussed and ratified at general meetings of Elandsklowers. Meetings of all claimants to Elandskloof membership were held on the site at regular intervals. Many potential members travelled the 200 km from Cape Town and even further afield to attend these meetings.

At the end of 1997, after much conflict and uncertainty, the definition of who qualified for membership was narrowed down to two categories:

However, even then the number of members was too large to be supported as farmers at Elandskloof. Moreover, by July 2000 membership had not been finalised and there was still uncertainty over the validity of the register.

The issue of space was addressed in that a village layout was agreed to through the process of mass meetings and set out by land surveyors in 1997. In a later agreement, some of the families intimated that they wished to return to the parts of the farm that they or their forefathers had occupied; what became known as the 58 "historical outposts". There are still strong emotional attachments to these outposts, which are spread out over the valley. The outposts consist of the ruins of the original thatch roofed cottages occupied by the Elandsklowers in the shade of clusters of oak trees, each outpost situated alongside a mountain spring.

In the interim, a group of people, mostly from the settlement on the neighbouring Allendale farm, had returned to Elandskloof and occupied land in part of the farm before the tenure arrangements had been formally ratified.

Similarities With Informal Settlements

A number of characteristics similar to those that have repeatedly been observed in informal settlements were observed in Elandskloof.

Different sub-groups emerged, and the dynamics of the relationships between these groups was arguably a major factor in delaying the return of the Elandsklowers to the farm. Groups were formed according to family ties, the geographic areas in which people lived (e.g. Allendale), class – there were agricultural workers and middle class professional people in the membership, and political affiliations. To an extent the "membership" of these groups changed over time. One small, but very vocal and powerful, group was formed on the premise of representing those who were actually evicted in 1962. This group, (for convenience referred to as the "Lydende Party" – the group that suffered most- Afrikaans) asserted that only those who were actually evicted in 1962 qualified for membership (Mayson et al 1998).

Internal competition and inter-dependence between various power levels and sub-groups within the community were evident, and there was competition for land, resources and power. Major conflicts arose over membership, the legitimacy of the committee, the legitimacy of the decision-making processes, and the status of certain individuals at general meetings. Many decisions that were ratified at general meetings were challenged and ultimately certain groups chose to ignore them with the result that for practical purposes the decisions were informally overturned. For example members of the Lydende Party regularly challenged a number of decisions on the basis that the decisions had been supported by people who did not fall into their narrow definition of Elandskloof membership. The relationship between the Lydende Party and other broader groupings of Elandsklowers was complex and was further complicated by family feuds. The Lydende Party vehemently opposed the committee chairperson, partly as a consequence of longstanding family feuds. Discussions regarding the eligibility for membership often revolved not around the merits of different positions but rather who was putting forward a particular position. Most Elandsklowers are genealogically linked, but limiting whom was eligible to be an Elandsklower meant that some family members were excluded from Elandskloof. Furthermore, the shifting definition of an Elandsklower included and later excluded certain individuals from the register. This strained family relationships, especially those of Committee members when unpopular decisions had to be made. Moreover, some of those who were excluded in this manner had been encouraged to become members and had invested time and money in the process (Mayson et al 1998).

The tenure rules, which had been generally agreed upon, were manipulated by sub-groups as they competed for land, resources and power. Therefore, the rules were not static but were subject to change and, as stated above, some policies and strategies that had been ratified in general meetings were informally overturned. For example, a critical decision regarding the layout of the settlement area of the farm was made at a community meeting. A layout of residential parcels was planned, demarcated and surveyed at substantial expense in accordance with a decision taken at a general meeting in February 1997. Four months later, after the sites had been handed over for inspection and allocation, the validity of the decision was questioned, the meeting disrupted and the process of delivery of Elandskloof delayed (Elandskloof community meeting minutes - 22-23 February 1997, 12 July 1997, 26 July 1997). By July 2000, very few of the formally surveyed sites had been occupied. Although there was still an intention to occupy these formal sites once government subsidies materialised, aspects of the layout had been rejected by a number of people. Very few members who resided outside the Elandskloof vicinity had returned to live at Elandskloof. Occupation of the land was mostly planned and controlled by a person designated by the Committee. Where people did disregard the formal process, however, the Committee was powerless to do anything about it - one individual had fenced off approximately five hectares in disregard of agreements made at general meetings.

Ekloof Church, 1997
Figure 3: The Elandskloof Church and School and the Valley, 1997
View looking South. Boundaries of the farm coincide with the mountain peaks in the distance

Ekloof Valley and Orchards, 1997
Figure 4: The Valley and Orchards, 1997
View looking North

Ekloof Orchards, 1997
Figure 5: The Valley and Orchards, 1997
View looking East

Ekloof Cottage Ruins, 1997
Figure 6: Ruins of the cottages that existed when the evictions took place in 1962

Concluding Remarks

The Elandskloof case has shown that there are similar social dynamics to those of urban informal settlements in South Africa. During the restitution process, the Elandskloof community has been characterised by both solidarity and schisms. The community was prepared to act in unison to gain restitution of land rights that they had lost thirty years previously. Once this goal had been achieved in principle, tensions between different groups and sub- groups surfaced. Moreover, the power and legitimacy of the CPA Committee was limited and the rules relating to membership and land tenure were not static. There was not enough land to support all the people who were interested in returning to Elandskloof, and options other than farming had to be developed over time. Consequently, formal rules and agreements were overturned and manipulated to the advantage of certain individuals and sub-groups to the extent that the formal decision making and regulatory system was substituted by a system of continually changing informal arrangements.

The case has demonstrated a number of the problems, limitations and frustrations of participatory development. For example, when it is necessary to reconstruct a community, it is difficult to arrive at a set of clear, coherent objectives for a settlement. Seemingly unimportant issues can undermine and delay the process of resettling the community.

The lesson for land administrators, planners and others who might intervene and strive to manage the process of reconstructing such a community is that, as is often the case with informal settlements, the power of outsiders to manage and control the process is limited. The internal dynamics of a community are likely to change continually and the process of settling people on the land is a long, complex process and the final outcome may not be what outside actors originally envisaged. Behaviour observed in informal settlements provides a useful guideline for land administrators to understand the conflict inherent in competition for power, land and resources, and the continual changing social interrelationships in rural restitution cases such as Elandskloof, and to intervene accordingly.

Elandskloof also provides lessons for land reform policy formulation and implementation. In cases where a major social, political and economic transition such as is taking place in South Africa occurs, land restitution should take place within a clearly defined vision and set of objectives relating to what the "reformed" landscape should look like in the long term. In the case of Elandskloof, there was pressure on government to show rapid tangible results in the land restitution programme and strong pressure from the Elandskloof community to have their land restored to them as soon as possible. Hence Elandskloof was transferred to the CPA at an early stage. Ideally, eligibility for membership and the verification thereof should have been established prior to the process of resettlement commencing. However, in the case of Elandskloof the dynamics of the fledgling democracy and the desperation of the community to regain access to the land meant that this has had to be resolved over a long time. Moreover, a hasty attempt to fit a community that has grown by two generations, and diversified in terms of class and outlook, into the original land that they lost is extremely complex and generally inadvisable. A range of options have to be made available to restitution claimants, which goes beyond only being able to claim exactly what they had lost. In general such options could include financial compensation and a variety of occupation rights (e.g. residential rights without access to agricultural land).


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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000