A new book by Bernadette Atuahene
We Want What’s Ours is a detailed study of South Africa’s attempts to rectify the deprivation of land suffered by thousands of people under the colonial and apartheid regimes. It teaches a critical lesson about these transitions: remedying past wrongs entails more than distributing money or even returning property, because the dispossessed did not just lose their possessions, they also had their dignity taken from them. A comprehensive remedy for these ‘dignity takings’ involves confronting the underlying dehumanization, infantilization, and political exclusion that enabled the dispossession. That is, it requires ‘dignity restoration’ – a remedy based on principles of restorative justice that seeks to rehabilitate the dispossessed and reintegrate them into the fabric of society.
South Africa’s colonial and apartheid-era land dispossessions are a quintessential example of ‘dignity takings’, and the post-apartheid government is unique because it has sought to move beyond the more common step of only providing reparations (compensation for tangible losses) and instead has tried to facilitate the restoration of the dignity of the dispossessed. Bernadette Atuahene’s detailed research, and extensive interviews with over one hundred and fifty South Africans who participated in the nation’s land restitution program, demonstrates what was required for this ‘dignity restoration’, and how successful it has ultimately been. Rooted solidly in both academic analysis and human experiences, this book serves as an invaluable resource to international organizations, government bureaucrats, policy makers, NGOs, students, and scholars interested in redress for historical injustice, defending property rights, and conflict prevention.