How long will Africans celebrate their land dispossession?
In South Africa, this year marks 100 years since John Dube, Sol Plaatje and three other leaders of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) presented a petition to King George V of England. They were protesting against the colonial land dispossession of the African people of this country which created massive poverty.
Britain had in 1913 allocated five million African people 7 percent of their own land against 93 percent to its 349 837 colonial European settlers. In this petition the African leaders demanded “…that the natives [indigenous Africans] be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same conditions as the white race.”
* African Demand for Land
King George V and his British government ignored this petition. This was not surprising. A British colonial official Earl Glen had earlier said, “The Blacks [Africans] are generally looked upon by Whites as an inferior race whose interests must be systematically disregarded when they come into competition with their own and should be governed with a view to the advantage of the superior race. For this reason, two things must be afforded to white colonists obtaining land….The Kaffirs should be made to furnish as large and cheap labour as possible.”
In 1902 just seven years before the British formed its colonies of Cape, Transvaal, Natal and Orange Free State into a Union of South Africa in 1909, Cecil Rhodes that arch agent of British imperialism had said, “I prefer land to niggers…the natives are children. They are just emerging from barbarism.”
An informed London daily newspaper, however, when reporting the land dispossession of Africans in South Africa, on July 20, 1914, said:
“In carving out estates for themselves in Africa, the white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black man. They have appropriated his land and have taken away his economic freedom and have left him in a worse case than they found him….The blacks as compared with whites are in proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one-fifteenth of their land. The deputation of natives now in England has appealed to the imperial government for protection.”
* European Denial of Dispossession
All genuine African leaders in Azania (South Africa) have always rejected the land dispossession of their people. When Jan van Riebeeck, a colonialist from Europe told the Khoi Africans to reduce their cattle as there were not enough pastures for the cattle of the colonising settlers and those of the Africans; the leader of the Khoi, Doman asked, “Who then, with the greatest degree of justice should give way to land, the natural owner, or the foreign invader?” Doman added, “If we [Africans], were to come to Europe; would we be permitted to act in similar manner you act here? It would not matter if you stayed at the ‘provision station’ [at Table Mountain on your way to Asia for trade in spices], but you come out here to the interior. You select the best land for yourselves. You never ask us even once whether we like it or not, or whether it will disadvantage us.”
For his part when the Boers seized over half of his country, Lesotho, despite the 1843 Treaty between the Basotho and the British government, King Moshoeshoe said, “The white people seem to be bent on proving that in politics Christianity plays no part….It may be you whites do not steal cattle, but you steal whole countries. If you had your wish you would send us to pasture our cattle in the clouds…whites are stealing Blackman’s land in the Cape to here [Free State part of Lesotho] and call it theirs.”
* Land is the Fundamental Issue
Land was the primary contradiction of the African liberation struggle until it was betrayed by some African leaders in South Africa in June 1955 misled by white neo-liberals masquerading as “communists.”
In 1943 the Congress Youth League under the leadership of Muziwakhe Lembede and A.P. Mda launched a manifesto which declared, “The white race, possessing superior military power has arrogated to itself the ownership of land. This has meant that the Africans who had the land before the advent of whites, has been deprived of security which may guarantee or ensure his leading a free and unhampered life.”
The constitution of the “New South Africa” has ignored all these facts of colonial history in Azania (South Africa). Section 25(7) is simply a disguised name for the Native land Act 1913. It does not allow land claims by Africans before June 1913.
The Mandela-de Klerk “negotiations” were not about land dispossession of the African people. Their main purpose was to save a collapsing apartheid colonial economy. John Pilger in his article entitled “South Africa: the liberation’s betrayal” reminds how in September 1985, the “Freedom Charter” ANC leaders met a group of whites in Lusaka led by the chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, Gavin Relly. The Chairman said:
“The stock market had crashed the apartheid regime defaulted on its debt and the chieftains of the South African capital took fright. Their message to the ANC was that transition was possible, only if ‘order’ and ‘stability’ were guaranteed. This was reference to a ‘free market’ state where social justice would not be a priority.”
Prof Sampie Terreblanche, in his book “A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002” corroborates that the “negotiations” in CODESA in South Africa were not about the liberation of the African people and their repossession of their land and its riches. He writes:
“The ANC’s core leaders effectively sold its sovereign freedom to implement an independent and appropriate socio-economic policy for a mess of pottage when it entered into several compromises with its corporate sector and its global partners. These unfortunate ‘transactions’ must be retracted or re-negotiated.”
* The Myth of Freedom
Political power without economic power is a myth. Land is life. Life is land. Food, houses, farms, herbs for medicines, animal pastures, gold, diamonds, platinum and other mineral wealth are not in the sky or air. They are in the land. Land is the principal means of producing all the necessities of life. That is why colonialists always target the land of other people. When Cecil Rhodes said, “I prefer land to niggers,” he was making the crude and barbaric philosophy of imperialism very clear.
Celebrating “freedom” without the colonially seized land and its riches returning to its indigenous owners is self-cheating. A vote without ownership of land by the dispossessed is political docility.
* Celebrating Appeasement
After 20 years of “freedom” and “democracy” in South Africa, Africans are still celebrating appeasement to the forces of colonialism and apartheid. This appeasement has resulted in “two nations” living side by side. One is extremely rich living a first world economy. It is a white minority. The other one is extremely poor living a third world economy. It is an indisputable 79.2 percent African majority.
In the “rainbow nation” Africans are evicted from land with monotonous regularity. They are the most unemployed and unskilled people. Many young women who could have been educated to become medical doctors, engineers, geologists, agric-economists, pilots etc are today suffering the humiliation of living on the proceeds of prostitution. They are now called “sex workers.”
In the “New South Africa,” many young African men who joined the armed struggle and fought against the crime of apartheid have been languishing in prisons of the “New South Africa” for twenty years. This is despite the fact that the United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity through its International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
The poorest people in South Africa are Africans. Millions of Africans are living in squalid shacks and inhuman squatter camps. They often burn or flood killing many people. Africans live on unhealthy diets. They suffer the shortest life expectancy and highest child mortality.
That is why the African petition to King George V in July 1914 demanded “that the Africans [must] be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers and on the same conditions as the white race.”
“Liberation” of a dispossessed people without the return of their land, that is, its resources is a gigantic colonial fraud. Let the dispossessed celebrate land repossession and its riches on 27 April 2015 and be truly liberated. – Pambazuka News
*Motsoko Pheko (Dr) is former member of the South African Parliament and author of books such as “The Hidden Side of South African Politics”, “Towards Africa’s Authentic Liberation” and “100 years of Native Land Act.”