Land is not a black and white issue

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

Originally appeared on my news24 column, 2012-02-23 11:20

Land is a black and white issue, but it doesn’t have a black and white solution. Then we have land issue denialism by the likes of Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus, who wants to deny black people land by rewriting history. Mr Mulder clumsily tried to deny the “Bantus”, as he called us, claim to the land in the Cape by saying there was no Bantus when the white man came. He said that “Bantu-speaking” people had no historical claim to 40% of the land.

Mr Mulder is trying to use a strategy that was applied very well by his apartheid-loving ancestors. They divided and tried to conquer us as a people. The Xhosas were not meant to like the Zulus, the Zulus must not like the Tswanas and so on and so forth. We were to be suspicious of one another so that we didn’t unite to fight. These suspicions that were so well executed with evil genius that they led to the hostel violence between the Xhosas and Zulus in the 80s and 90s during the height of the struggle.

(Allow me an aside here.) My uncle, who is a priest in the Methodist church, went to these hostels to broker peace between the warring tribes. He told me that one of the most effective ways he employed to stop the fighting was by asking them one simple question. He would turn to the Zulus and ask, “Who amongst you has had his land stolen by the Xhosas?” There would be no answer. Then he would turn to the Xhosas and ask, “Who amongst you has had his land stolen from him by a Zulu?” Again, there would be no answer.

And then he would say, “You should not be fighting each other, but you should be uniting and fighting against those who stole your land. This is what they want you to do, to fight each other instead.” Mr Mulder is trying to decide who is South African enough, therefore dividing the black people of South Africa by saying who has greater claim to the land than the other.

It is not going to happen Mr Mulder. The Zulus, Sothos, Vendas, Khoisan and other tribes all have claim to South Africa before 1652. The land belongs to them. We just didn’t have maps or title deeds. The visitors of 1652 came and claimed the land, which was not theirs, with pieces of paper, guns and laws that were not written by the original inhabitants. But I digress.

Perhaps I should school Mr Mulder a little on the South African history he has so conveniently forgotten.

It was 500 years ago that the Khoisan established themselves as the dominant people in the Cape. Therefore Mr Mulder’s attempt to separate the original people’s of South Africa from the Nguni is rejected and deserves to be treated with contempt. In any case, before the 1600s, Xhosas were trading and intermarried the Khoikhoi in the Cape. Therefore the claim that “Bantu-speaking” people had no claim to the Cape is equally rejected.

Fast-forward to 1905 when the South African Native Affairs Commission recommended that certain areas be reserved only for Africans. In 1910, Parliament proposed legislation that included limits on African land ownership, which restricted blacks to only 7.5% of the land. Then in 1913, a Bill that would be known as The Natives’ Land Act was passed, which restricted 68% of the population to 7.5% of the total landmass of South Africa. In 1939, Barry Hertzog increased this to 13%.

The Natives’ Land Act meant that blacks could only buy land from blacks. They couldn’t buy anymore land than had been restricted to them; this meant no black could buy land from a white person.

South Africa’s economy was growing and needed cheap labour. In order to force blacks to leave the rural areas to go work and service white industry, land shortage was orchestrated. With too little land to graze and forced to reduce the livestock they had and not enough land to cultivate, people had little choice but to leave their reserves and service white industry for little money.

In proposing this land restriction for labour, the South African Native Affairs Commission recommended that labour from the black reserves should always be male, single, regarded as temporarily employed in the “white” areas and paid at a rate mining and agriculture or country could afford.

And I haven’t even touched on forced removals.

For a very long time, black people were not allowed to buy land outside their allocated 13% of the land even though they formed an overwhelming majority of the population. These historical imbalances are what resulted in the paltry black land ownership we find ourselves in today. There are millions of people who are alive today, who remember the forced removals, who remember being forced out of their land to make way for white people to move in. These people were moved to much smaller pieces of land – which they could not even harvest.

Therefore we cannot continue to sweep the land issue under the carpet. It is real for many people. The land issue is important and complex. It is not something that can simply be solved by employing the same techniques the apartheid government applied. So Mr Mulder needs to sit down.

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