Cherryl Walker

Emeritus Professor

Cherryl Walker held the Research Chair in the Sociology of Land, Environment, and Sustainable Development from January 2016 to March 2023 when she retired. She is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University (which she joined in December 2005) and a Research Associate within the Chair.

Her research interests include the sociology and history of land and land reform in South Africa and the wider region, with a particular focus on land restitution, gender, sustainability, and the multiple meanings of land; the dynamics of social-ecological change in South Africa’s semi-arid Karoo and Northern Cape Province, and the challenges of defining and promoting ‘sustainable development’ across different scales (from local to planetary). She also has an interest in ‘critical cosmopolitanism’ as a lens through which to explore current dynamics in the Karoo, including the terrestrial impacts of astronomy. Her early, pioneering research on women’s political mobilisation in 20th century South Africa led to the publication of her first book, Women and Resistance in South Africa (1982, republished in 1991), followed by an edited volume, Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945 (1990).

Recent publications include two co-edited books: 1) Cherryl Walker & M Timm Hoffman (eds.), Contested Karoo: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Change and Continuity in South Africa’s Drylands (UCT Press, 2024) and 2) Olaf Zenker, Cherryl Walker & Zsa-Zsa Boggenpoel (eds.), Beyond Expropriation without Compensation: Law, Land Reform and Redistributive Justice in South Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2024), and two special issues of journals: 1) ‘Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Place and Space’ (Journal of Southern African Studies, 45(4), 2019, eds. Cherryl Walker, Davide Chinigò and Saul Dubow) and 2) ‘Karoo Special Issue: Trajectories of Change in the Anthropocene’ (African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 35(3&4), 2018, eds. Joh Henschel, Timm Hoffman, and Cherryl Walker). Her other books on land issues are Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century (2015, co-edited with Ben Cousins); Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice: Perspectives on Land Claims in South Africa (2010, co-edited with Anna Bohlin, Ruth Hall, and Thembela Kepe), Landmarked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa (2008) and The Surplus People (1985), with Laurine Platzky.

Her career has spanned the academic, state and NGO sectors. She was a founding member of the land-rights NGO, AFRA, in 1979, and a core member of the original Surplus People Project (SPP) in the early 1980s. This produced a major 5-volume research report in 1983 on forced population removals in South Africa under apartheid. In addition to advocacy around land restitution, she was also active in debates within civil society on the promotion of gender equality during South Africa’s transition to democracy in the early 1990s.

Between 1995 and 2000 she served on South Africa’s Commission on Restitution of Land Rights as Regional Land Claims Commissioner for the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Between 2007 and 2009 she contributed to the development of the African Union’s ’Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa’ as a member of the Economic Commission for Africa’s Expert Consultative Team and contributor to its background report on the SADC region. In this time she also published a number of research reports and journal articles on women’s land rights in sub-Saharan Africa, in the context of HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.

She is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) and has served on the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of Southern African Studies, the South African Journal of Science, and the Journal of Peasant Studies.