Property, place, and politics: Essays on the political economy of land in South Africa

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD thesis
Title Property, place, and politics: Essays on the political economy of land in South Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2023
This dissertation explores theories on the distinctiveness of landed property as a source of rootedness for political attitudes and behavior. The first paper addresses prevailing theories on homeownership’s civic virtues through the case of South Africa’s free housing program. Drawing on a large survey from the country’s most populous province, I find the anticipated correlation between owneroccupancy and higher participation. Moreover, my results indicate that housing beneficiaries are more open than renters to punishing poorly-performing incumbents and may therefore be an untapped interest group. The second paper tests whether emotional attachments to residential property distinguish it from other asset classes through a novel survey experiment of 1,282 urban South Africans. Contrary to expectation, participants expressed higher average disapproval of selling an inherited transport business than for either residential or commercial property. Furthermore, sentimental value did not translate into stronger opposition to government expropriation. The third paper proposes a theory linking mass displacement to enduring resentment, which I test through the case of apartheid-era removals to segregated enclaves known as Bantustans. While respondents from a 2004 survey with a personal or family history of displacement were more likely to hold land-related grievances, they reported lower hostility toward white South Africans. Moreover, my analysis of 2000- 2019 electoral returns shows that residents of relocation sites in KwaZulu-Natal province were more likely to vote for former Bantustan authorities than those in surrounding areas. Taken together, the dissertation challenges a number of conventional wisdoms on the relationship between property and voter behavior. Furthermore, it contributes to the study of the political economy of land in the Global South by focusing on residential, rather than productive, property.

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