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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'A dangerous doctrine': twins, ethnography, and the Natal Code
Author:McClendon, Thomas V.ISNI
Periodical:Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law
Geographic terms:South Africa
Great Britain
customary law
family law
law of inheritance
Abstract:Records of litigation over inheritance in the province of Natal, South Africa, in the 1920s and 1930s reveal conflicts among rural Africans, chiefs, and white administrators about the nature of custom, the privileges of seniority and the control of cattle. A 1929 case from the Native Commissioner Court in Estcourt, Mazibuko v Mazibuko, which pitted brother against brother over inheritance of the considerable cattle holdings of the younger brother's deceased twin, is particularly emblematic. The dispute revolved around 'customary' practices concerning twins and whether these conflicted with the supposed 'ancient custom' of primogeniture, which was conceived by the framers of the Natal Code to be one of the main pillars of 'native' law. The case record shows that most of the African participants had a very different conception of custom and customary law from that of colonial officials. While segregationist discourse in the 1920s and 1930s pressured the Native Commissioner Courts to privilege a version of 'customary law' that reinforced hierarchies of gender and generation in an attempt to 'retribalize' Africans in the face of economic tensions that were creating opportunities for some labour tenants and peril for others, for African litigants the meaning and content of custom and tradition were not fixed and immutable but open to argument. Bibliogr., notes, ref.