Navigating South Africa's land reform with Judge and Visiting Professor Nambitha Dambuza

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[L-R] Rhodes University Vive Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Judge of Appeal Nambitha Dambuza, Law Clinic Attorney Shaun Bergover
[Pic credit] Vusumzi Tshekema
[L-R] Rhodes University Vive Chancellor Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Judge of Appeal Nambitha Dambuza, Law Clinic Attorney Shaun Bergover [Pic credit] Vusumzi Tshekema

By Siyamthanda Hobo


In a rare spotlight on South Africa's ongoing struggle with land reform, Rhodes University’s Law Faculty, as part of the University’s 120th-anniversary celebrations, hosted a public lecture in collaboration with the Black Lawyers Association student charter.

The event, held on 27 February 2024, featured Judge of Appeal Nambitha Dambuza as the keynote speaker. Her aim was to shed light on the complexities surrounding customary law and land allocation by traditional leaders amid reform efforts, particularly in the former Transkei.

The warm welcome extended by Dean of Law Professor Laurence Juma set the tone for an evening of enlightenment and reflection. Acknowledging the historical significance of the celebration, Professor Juma hinted at an exciting alumni event in June, promising further engagement and discourse. This gesture emphasised the University's commitment to fostering connections among its academic community. 

Associate Professor Helen Kruuse then took the stage to introduce the distinguished guest, Judge Dambuza, providing insights into her remarkable legal career and accomplishments.

Judge Dambuza, a visiting professor at Rhodes University Law Faculty, shared her journey from the Eastern Cape High Court to her current position at the Supreme Court of Appeal. Beyond her judicial roles, she has actively engaged in various educational and training initiatives, showcasing a commitment to legal education.

Judge Dambuza's speech focused on customary law land tenure in South Africa, a deeply personal topic due to her familial roots in Butterworth. She revealed that her father and ancestors had owned a homestead there since 1900, and had been navigating the intricacies of land ownership through generations. Dambuza expressed concern over the outdated land tenure system, highlighting the lack of infrastructure, such as the absence of the Land Affairs office in Butterworth for title upgrades.

The industrialisation and urbanisation of Butterworth further complicated matters, leading to changes in the traditional identity and creating chaos within the community. The introduction of clinics and institutions like Walter Sisulu University altered the landscape, impacting the region's environment and socio-cultural fabric. Dambuza emphasised that the community was not adequately consulted during these developments, contributing to regional disputes and challenges.

In an interview, Judge Dambuza shared her aspirations for land reform in South Africa. Expressing a sense of urgency, she advocated for a comprehensive approach, not merely settling people on land but considering long-term goals. She emphasised the importance of special development as part of the reform, aiming for people to live with dignity rather than in a "haphazard way". Dambuza underscored the need for foresight in the reform process, envisioning a future that spans five, ten, and fifty years.

The public lecture not only provided a platform for a crucial conversation on land reform but also showcased the dedication of legal scholars and practitioners in addressing the intricate issues surrounding South Africa's history and its impact on land ownership. As the nation grapples with the challenges of reform, Judge Dambuza's insights and experiences added valuable perspectives to the ongoing discourse.

The public lecture at Rhodes University Law Faculty exemplified the role of educational institutions in shaping the narrative on critical societal issues. By providing a platform for open dialogue and inviting key figures like Judge Dambuza, Rhodes University showcased its dedication to contributing to the national conversation on land reform.

As the echoes of the lecture lingered, it became clear that initiatives like these not only educate the current generation but also lay the foundation for a more informed and engaged society. The integration of legal expertise, historical context, and personal narratives enriched the discourse, leaving attendees with a deeper understanding of the challenges and aspirations surrounding land reform in South Africa. The event at Rhodes University Law Faculty demonstrates that addressing the complexities of land reform requires a multifaceted approach, involving legal, historical, and personal perspectives.