This paper deals with state–society relations in evolving land delivery processes in Maseru, Lesotho. It discusses the role of the Basotho people's hereditary chiefs, civil servants and the Maseru City Council (MCC) in evolving land delivery processes in Maseru. The paper argues that failure by the MCC and other central state agencies to deliver adequate and appropriate housing land to meet buoyant demand has created a vacuum in which alternative land delivery processes, often a hybrid of formal state rules and behavioural norms including custom, as re-defined by everyday contingencies of urban life, have emerged and flourished. In Maseru these processes have been reinforced by the ability of the chieftainship to respond to the changing socio-economic conditions of its subjects, as well as active involvement of central government civil servants. Evolving land delivery processes are found to be socially legitimate and the various sources of legitimacy are identified and discussed. The paper concludes that, instead of working against state efforts to implement land tenure reforms, the chiefs have behaved very much like any other customary landowner and have only used their de facto authority to assist their subjects against perceived injustices in state-sponsored land delivery systems. It recommends that, rather than proscribing the evolving land delivery processes, the government agencies responsible for land administration should work with the grain of informal subdivision processes.
International Development Planning Review (2006) 28 (2) 181-208[doi:10.3828/idpr.28.2.4]