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Country Case Study Review

The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Land Issues in KwaZulu-Natal Province,
South Africa: Case Studies from Muden, Dondotha, KwaDumisa and KwaNyuswa

24-25 June 2002, Pretoria
Reviewed by

Thembela Kepe
Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape

This case study presents the findings of a preliminary study into the link between HIV/AIDS and land issues in communal areas of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Specifically, the study explored the link between HIV/AIDS and land use, land rights, and land administration. The study involved 50 household interviews as well as two focus groups interviews, drawn from Muden, Dondotha, KwaDumisa and KwaNyuswa settlements.


Despite financial and time constraints, the research presented in this paper is detailed and appears to have been carefully conducted. All the four case studies highlight the vulnerability of women and children when male relatives (husbands or fathers) or parents fall ill and/or dies due to HIV/AIDS. In such cases, land use and tenure, among other things, are often affected in ways that result in negative impacts on livelihoods of the household. While local systems of support (kin members, traditional authorities etc.) exist, the study argues, the widening burden of HIV/AIDS has created pressure of these systems of support.

I wish to raise two issues that merit the authors' attention. First, the study seems to emphasize the important role played by traditional authorities in protecting and defending the land rights of vulnerable people, who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. While this may be true for KwaZulu-Natal, I wonder if this can be generalized for the whole of South Africa, where traditional authorities are present? Besides, it also raises a question of whether traditional authorities are helpful because of individual convictions, or if they do this as a rule (that is they see it as part of their duty)? Further studies should attempt to unravel this.

Second, there are some questions relating to research design, some of which were acknowledged by the authors. These include the following:

  • Narrow focus on infected and affected households - this makes it difficult to know what problems can be attributed to HIV/AIDS and which ones are due to poverty (and powerlessness) in general.

  • Exclusive focus on orphans in Dondotha - this focus on orphans only in this area could have resulted in missing important local history, land politics, local rules about inheritance and so forth. I argue that Dondotha should not have been treated differently.

  • Household as a unit of analysis - while this is good for gaining in-depth knowledge of the livelihood dynamics and coping strategies within the household, it misses a wide range of social actors (e.g traditional authorities, local government officials, government officers etc.). Action on policy changes takes place not at the level of the household, but at a higher or external level. This I call action level beyond household coping strategies. Therefore, I suggest that the authors need to seriously review the level of engagement. They can perhaps look beyond the household to include layers of authority within and outside the villages.

  • Focus on land for productive or residential purposes - while the authors do not make this claim, the report emphasizes these aspects of the value of land to rural people. The report does not quite emphasize the changing patterns of rural livelihoods, which reduces dependence on land. Additionally, the report has equally neglected to emphasize the role of land as a form of power.


This is an important study that needs to be taken further. It should be broadened to include a wide range of social actors within and outside those affected by HIV/AIDS. Lastly, it could perhaps be broadened to focus on other aspects of land reform in South Africa (restitution and redistribution). Examples from other provinces show that vulnerable groups such as women and children become victims of joint community decision-making, following settlement of restitution claims, or award of additional land.

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