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Aninka Claassens


Aninka Claassens is the former Director of the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC) and currently a chief researcher at LARC. Aninka has a PhD in Development Studies from Roskilde University in Denmark. Her overarching research focus is on the nature and content of customary law in the South African constitutional dispensation. In particular, she focuses on the tensions between the jurisprudence of open-ended ‘living’ customary law emanating from the Constitutional Court, and the bounded and autocratic version of custom contained in traditional leadership laws that have been enacted since 2003.

In 2009 she brought the Rural Women’s Action Research programme (RWAR) into the (then) Law Race & Gender Unit (LRG) at UCT. Soon after that, Sindiso Mnisi joined RWAR and they worked together on the Traditional Courts Bill. Aninka coordinated the research for the legal challenge against the Communal Land Rights Bill, which was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2010.

She worked closely with the Community Agency for Social Inquiry in designing a survey of three thousand women to ascertain rates of change in relation to unmarried women accessing residential sites in ‘communal’ areas and has published many articles that pertain to changing marriage rates and land rights.  

In 2015, RWAR became a separate research centre, which is now known as LARC.

Aninka has been engaged in land issues in South Africa for 25 years. She began her working life as a trade union organiser. During the 1980s she worked closely with rural communities resisting forced removals. From 1990 she was senior researcher in the Land Rights Project at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at Wits University. During South Africa's transition, Aninka participated in working groups that developed proposals pertaining to legislation dealing with restitution and the protection of labour tenant and farm worker rights. She was a member of the ANC's land desk and was a technical expert to the Constitutional Assembly on land rights and the property clause.

From 1997-1999 she was an Advisor to the Minister of Land Affairs. At the Ministry she was engaged in the process of drafting and negotiating legislation pertaining to land rights on white farms and in developing proposals for tenure reform. From 2000-2003 she undertook various research projects with PLAAS at UWC, and also worked on urban land issues. From 2003-2009 she worked for the Legal Resources Centre, where she co-ordinated the rural consultation and research process pertaining to a legal challenge to the Communal Land Rights Act and other customary law related cases. In 2009 she moved to the Law Race and Gender Unit at UCT and founded the Rural Women's Action Research Project (RWAR) there.

LARC today forms part of a collaborative network, constituted as the Alliance for Rural Democracy, which provides strategic support to struggles for the recognition and protection of rights and living customary law in the former homeland areas of South Africa.  LARC is particularly interested by the ways in which laws and policies frame power relations within these areas and threaten ongoing initiatives for democratic change and accountability at the local level.

In 2016, Aninka was appointed to chair the land component in a High Level Panel headed by former president, Kgalema Motlanthe, which has been engaged in public hearings about poverty and inequality, land reform and social cohesion throughout South Africa.  The Panel reported to Parliament on its findings and recommendations in November 2017.

Teaching and Supervision

Aninka is primarily a researcher as opposed to a lecturer but has presented some guest lectures, for example:

  • 'Advocacy: Strategic Litigation and Extra-Parliamentary Campaigns' - for the LLM/MPhil course Social Justice in Practice(PBL6048S) in the Department of Public Law, UCT
  • 'Women's Land Rights' - for the LLM/MPhil course International Protection of Women's Human Rights (PBL6051S) in the Department of Public Law, UCT
  • 'Interface Between Living Customary Laws of Marriage and South African State Law' - for the preliminary year LLB course Law of Persons and Marriage (RDL1002H) in the Department of Public Law, UCT (with Sindiso Mnisi Weeks)

Selected Publications

Edited Books

Claassens, A and Smythe, D (eds) Marriage, Land and Custom: Essays on Law and Social Change, Juta, Cape Town (2013)

Claassens, A. and Cousins, B. (eds), Land, Power & Custom: controversies generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, UCT Press: Cape Town (2008)

Journal articles

Claassens, A and Budlender, G. ‘Transformative Constitutionalism and Customary Law’ in Constitutional Court Review p75-104 (2016)

Claassens, A. ‘Law, Land and Custom, 1913-2014: What is at stake today?’ in Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century edited by Ben Cousins and Cherryl Walker, p68-84, Jacana (2015)

Claassens, A. ‘Denying Ownership and Equal Citizenship: Continuities in the State’s use of Law and ‘Custom’, 1913–2013’. Journal of Southern African Studies, 40(4) p. 761-779 (2014)

Claassens, A and B. Matlala. ‘Platinum, poverty and princes in post-apartheid South Africa: New laws, old repertoires’ in New South African Review 4, Wits University Press, Johannesburg edited by G Khadiagala, P Naidoo, D Pillay and Roger Southall p.113-135 (2014)

Claassens, A. 'Recent changes in women's land rights and contested customary law in South Africa', Journal of Agrarian Change, 13(1) p.71-92 (2013).

Claassens, A and Smythe D, ‘Marriage Land and Custom: What’s Law got to do with it?’ Acta Juridica  1-27, 2013

Claassens, A. 'Contested power and apartheid tribal boundaries: the implications of "living customary law" for indigenous accountability mechanisms', Acta Juridica, p. 174-209 (2011).

Mnisi Weeks, S. and A. Claassens, 'Tensions between Vernacular Values that Prioritise Basic Needs and State Versions of Customary Law that Contradict them',  Stellenbosch Law Review, 22(3) p. 823-844 (2011).

Claassens, A. 'The resurgence of Tribal Taxes in the Context of Recent Traditional Leadership Laws in South Africa', South African Journal on Human Rights, 27(3) p. 522-545 (2011).

Claassens, A. 'Resurgence of tribal levies: double taxation for the rural poor', South African Crime Quarterly, 35, p. 11-16 (2011).

Claassens, A. and S. Mnisi Weeks, S. 'Rural women re-defining land rights in the context of living customary law', South African Journal on Human Rights, 25 p. 491-516 (2009).

Claassens, A. 'Who told them we want this Bill? The Traditional Courts Bill and rural women', Agenda - Empowering Women for Gender Equality, 82 p. 9-22 (2009).

Claassens, A. and S. Ngubane. 'Women, land and power: the impact of the Communal Land Rights Act', in A. Claassens and B. Cousins (eds), Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, Cape Town: UCT Press 154-183 (2008).

Claassens, A.' Power, accountability and apartheid borders: the impact of recent laws on struggles over land rights', in A. Claassens and B. Cousins (eds), Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, Cape Town: UCT Press 262-292 (2008). 

Claassens, A. and D. Gilfillan. 'The Kalkfontein land purchases: eighty years on and still struggling for ownership', in A. Claassens and B. Cousins (eds), Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, Cape Town: UCT Press 295-314 (2008). 

Claassens, A. with M. Hathorn. Stealing restitution and selling land allocations: Dixie, Mayaeyane and Makuleke', in A. Claassens and B. Cousins (eds), Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, Cape Town: UCT Press 513-352 (2008). 

Claassens, A. 'Customary law and zones of chiefly sovereignty: the impact of government policy on whose voices prevail in the making and changing of customary law', in A. Claassens and B. Cousins (eds), Land, Power & Custom: Controversies Generated by South Africa's Communal Land Rights Act, Cape Town: UCT Press 355-382 (2008). 

Claassens, A. 'The Communal Land Rights Act and Women: does the Act remedy or entrench discrimination and the distortion of the customary?',  Acta Juridica p. 42-82 (2005).

Cousins, B. and A. Claassens, A. 'Communal land rights and democracy in post-apartheid South Africa', in P. Jones and K. Stokke (eds), Democratising Development. The Politics of Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa, Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff (2005).

Cousins, B. and A. Claassens. 'Communal tenure from above and from below: Land rights, authority and livelihoods in rural South Africa', in S. Evers, M. Spierenberg and H Wels (eds), Competing Jurisdictions: Settling Land Claims in Africa, Amsterdam: Brill (2005).

Cousins, B. and A. Claassens. 'Communal land rights, democracy and traditional leaders in post-apartheid South Africa', in M. Saruchera (ed), Securing land and resource rights in Africa: Pan-African perspectives, Cape Town: PLAAS, University of the Western Cape (2004).

Cousins, B and A. Claassens. 'Communal land tenure: Livelihoods, rights and institutions', Development Update, 4(2 July) p. 55-78 (2003).

Claassens, A. 'South African proposals for tenure reform: the draft Land Rights bill' in C. Toulmin and J.F. Quan (eds), Evolving land rights, policy and tenure in Africa, London: DFID/IIED/NRI (2000) 247-266.

Claassens, A. 'Land rights and local decision making processes: proposals for tenure reform' in B. Cousins (ed), At the Crossroads: Land and Agrarian reform in South Africa into the 21st century, Cape Town: PLAAS (UWC), NLC (2000) 129-143.

Thomas, G., S. Sibanda and A. Claassens, ‘Current Developments in South Africa’s Land Tenure Policy’ in M. Barry and G. Kruger (eds), Proceedings of the International Conference in Land Tenure in the Developing World with a focus on South Africa, Cape Town: University of Cape Town (1998).

Claassens, A. 'Compensation for Expropriation: The Political and Economic Parameters of Market Value Compensation', South African Journal on Human Rights, 9 p.422 (1993).

Claassens, A. 'Contemporary Land Struggles in the Rural Transvaal', Antipode, 23(1) (1991). [Also as Claassens, A. 'Contemporary Land Struggles in the Rural Transvaal', in J Pickles and D Weiner (eds), Regional Restructuring in South Africa, Basil Blackwood: Oxford, Cambridge MA (1991)].

Claassens, A. 'For whites only - land ownership in South Africa' in M. De Klerk (ed), A harvest of Discontent - the Land Question in South Africa, Johannesburg: IDASA (1991) 43-63.

Claassens, A. 'Rural Land Struggles in the Eighties' in K. O'Regan and C. Murray (eds), No Place to Rest: Forced Removals and the Law in South Africa, Oxford: Oxford University Press (1990).

Claassens, A. ‘Interviews’, in H. Perold (ed), Working Women - A portrait of South Africa's black women workers, Johannesburg: Ravan Press (1985).

Claassens, A.' An assessment of self help projects in a district of Transkei' in F. Wilson and G. Westcott (eds), Economics of health care - Volume 2, Johannesburg: Ravan Press (1980).

Claassens, A., Sitas, A., Tobiansky, P. and J. Yawitch. 'The Reserve Army, Legislation and Labour Action in South Africa', Africa Perspectives, 14 (1980).

Claassens, A. 'Focus on Riekert - Unemployment in Kwa Zulu', South African Labour Bulletin, 5(4) (1979).

Occasional papers/ Research reports/ Popular journals

Claassens, A. and Brendan Boyle, ‘A promise betrayed: Policies and Practice Renew the Rural Dispossession of Land, Rights and Prospects’ Policy Briefing 124. SAIIA, January 2015

Claassens, A. ‘Legislating traditional leadership: a backlash against rural rights’, New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy, 54, second quarter 2014.

Claassens, A and Thipe, T. “Power and Custom – Women’s Rights and the Traditional Courts Bill”. Perspectives. 2013; 3: 6-11.

Claassens, A. ‘Analysis of Recent Laws and the Legacy of the Bantu Authorities Act – July 2010 in Custom, citizenship and rights: Community voices on the repeal of the Bantu Authorities Act’, Law Race and Gender Unit publication (2010).

Claassens, A. ‘The Communal Land Rights Act and Women: Does the Act remedy or entrench discrimination and the distortion of the customary?’ PLAAS Occasional Paper 28, University of the Western Cape (2005).

Claassens, A. ‘Community views on the Communal Land Rights Bill’, PLAAS Research Report 15, University of Western Cape (2003).

Claassens, A. ‘It is not easy to challenge a chief: Lessons from Rakwadi’, PLAAS Research Report 9, University of Western Cape (2001).

Claassens, A., Gildenhuys, A. and F. Njobe ‘Report on Land Rights’, Constitutional Assembly Working Paper (1995).

Claassens, A. 'Who owns South Africa? Can the repeal of the Land Acts de-racialise land ownership in South Africa?', CALS Occasional Paper 11 (1991).

Claassens, A. 'Land through Birthright - the Struggles of Labour Tenants', Cross Times Magazine, February/March 1991.

Claassens, A. 'The Conflict over Rural Land: Competing Claims to Land and Different Ways of Looking at the Resolution of Claims to Land', in G. Budlender (ed), Land, Labour and Human Rights, Cape Town: Department of Adult Education and Extra Mural Studies, University of Cape Town (1991).

Claassens, A. 'Die Herroeping van die Land Act', Die Suid Afrikaan, 30 (December 1990/January 1991).

Claassens, A. 'Land Policy: Seeking a Common Framework in Local Struggles',  Sash, 33(1) (1990).

Claassens, A. 'Enter Black Middle-class Farmers', Work in Progress, 70/71 (1990).

Claassens, A. 'Umhlaba', Transvaal Rural Action Committee (Black Sash) Newsletter, November (1989).

Claassens, A. 'A Toehold on the Land', Transvaal Rural Action Committee (Black Sash) Newsletter, May (1988).

Claassens, A. 'A binding kind of Wealth - the ties that bind people to the land', Sash, 31(1) (1988).

Claassens, A. ‘Lifting the Veil - an insight into conditions in the countryside', Sash, 31(1) (1988).

Claassens, A. 'People and Whites', Sash, 28(4) (February 1986).

Claassens, A. 'The Myth of Voluntary Removals', Sash, 27(1) (1984).

Claassens, A. 'Mense en Witmense', Suid Afrikaan, 4 (1984).