The land bought, the land never sold

  • by African Times
  • 2 Years ago
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This is a new series featuring Dr Tlou Setumu’s works on our own history, heritage and culture. This week the excerpt is from a book touching on the thorny question of land in South Africa.

LAND DEAL: Poem by Mzwakhe Mbuli

Remember, remember, remember, khumbula (X 7)

Let me remember

I can’t remember

Who can remember?

Do you remember?

I cannot remember

Yes, I do remember World War I

I do remember World War II

But I do not remember the land deal

I do not remember the auction sale

The land bought, the land never sold

The land sold, the land never bought

Remember, remember, remember, khumbula (X7)

I can’t remember

I cannot remember

I can’t remember

I do remember World War I

I do remember World War II

But I do not remember the land deal

I do not remember the auction sale

The land bought, the land never sold

The land sold, the land never bought

Philosophers, historians, hear my call

Philosophers, historians, disclose the truth

Philosophers, historians, disclose the facts

Disclose to me the vouchers of the land deal

Disclose to me the unknown price

Who sold the land?

And who bought the land?

Today people pay for the unoccupied land

People pay for the no man’s land

People pay for the mother land

People pay for the father land

People pay for the so-called farmers’ land

What freedom kind people died for?

What freedom you and I struggled for?

When land unoccupied is long sold?

The land bought, the land never sold

The land sold, the land never bought.

(This poem is taken from Mzwakhe Mbuli’s album, RESISTANCE IS DEFENCE, 1993)

This powerful and thoughtful poem by Mzwakhe Mbuli – The Peoples’ Poet – centres around one of the biggest and thorniest issues which was affected by historical phenomena such as slavery, colonialism, imperialism and apartheid, viz., the land question. This issue had affected Africa as well as anywhere such phenomena took place. Land ownership, acquisition and occupation have been central factors which had influenced those historical phenomena mentioned above, to a very large extent.

In this poem, Mzwakhe refers to how land was dispossessed from its owners without being negotiated or being sold. In Africa, the European colonial forces simply annexed land and took it to themselves without having bought it. Later, the same white colonial authorities sold that land, which they had never bought in the first place. That is why Mzwakhe is exclaiming, “The land bought, the land never sold. The land sold, the land never bought!”

Slave trade was one of the cruelest forms of human interaction in which human beings were traded as commodities. Slave trade left indelible scars wherever it happened as it obliterated kingdoms, communities and places where they lived. In Africa, in addition to slave trade, the advent of colonialism and its related dispossessive phenomena which had been perpetuated by foreign forces, also had negative impact on land and communities. The pre-colonial interaction between continents – Europe and Africa for instance – had been initially minimal, but it began to intensify as resources and opportunities attracted people across continents. At around the 15th century, the Europeans had already touched the African shores, mainly during their trips to the East where they had established trading posts. Africa soon attracted European travellers, hunters, explorers and traders who made brief sojourns on the continent. Later, more purposeful and permanent occupation and settlement in Africa took place as led by missionaries and European political authorities.

Coming back to the land issue: the Europeans who had resolved for permanent settlement, used various means at their disposal to acquire resources for their survival, land as one of the most important. Conquest was one of the main forms in which indigenous communities were dispossessed of land, livestock and other resources. Therefore, conquest was one of the land deals which Mzwakhe is asking philosophers and historians to disclose the truth and facts about. The vouchers and the price of that land deal (conquest) were blood, sweat and tears of the vanquished indigenous communities!

In South Africa, by the end of the 19th century, almost all indigenous communities were subjected under colonial rule. As a result, such communities had lost land by conquest and in addition, they had lost their independence. The two white colonial nations in South Africa – the Boers and the British – fought each other towards the end of the 19th century, but they soon closed ranks and formed a white-only government at the beginning of the 20th century (what came to be known as the 1910 Union of South Africa). The unity of the two white groups enabled them to face indigenous Africans as a united front and the land issue was one of the factors which united them in the first place.

The land policies of that white-only government of the early 20th century were racial and they completely deprived Africans of their land as such policies became institutionalised. Successive white minority governments in South Africa continued to entrench land policies which were based on initial dispossession by conquest. Africans were encamped into rural reserves with all their earthly possessions such as livestock. By formally adopting segregation as an official policy, the white governments in South Africa not only ensured separation of people, it also deepened and consolidated land deprivation of Africans. This was evidenced by the homeland system in which Africans’ “official” homes were in rural reserves.

After the demise of the white minority rule in South Africa in 1994, various steps were taken to address the land question. White and green papers on land were produced and various policy initiatives were taken and numerous pieces of legislation were passed, all with one aim: to resolve the mammoth task about the vexing land question. The post- 1994 policy makers in South Africa identified three key elements of land reform, viz., restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. All those elements were also enshrined in the post-1994 South African constitution.

At present (2017), almost twenty-three years after the burial of white minority rule in South Africa, the land question seems to be far from being resolved decisively. Perhaps it is still too early to think of the total, conclusive and permanent solution of the land issue. The pace and the progress so far have led to criticisms and review calls from various quarters on the whole land reform process.

One of the reform areas which has been heavily criticised was the 1913 cut-off date of land claims. According to that arrangement, only land dispossessions which occurred after the passing of the notorious 1913 Natives Land Act would be considered for restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. In other words, large tracts of land that had been forcefully annexed from the indigenous African communities prior to 1913 were not negotiable. The 1913 Act which gave blacks only 13% of land was being used as a basis and point of departure in land reform in a new democracy in South Africa. Perhaps part of the problem was that the land that has never been bought in the first place, was being sold, and the land that has never been sold, was being bought! That approached was constantly reviewed over the years especially because the land “owners” (read whites)charged hefty prices for “their land” in an arrangement called “willing-buyer-willing-seller”.

This book uses the Makgabeng area in the north-western corner of Limpopo Province, South Africa – as a case study. It picks up the land issue from the earliest occupation of land in the Makgabeng area by the Khoisan and Bantu-speaking communities; through to the mid- 19th century when land occupation and ownership were affected by the arrival of Europeans. The book continues to examine communal identity creation in that area until lately. Various theories of identity creation as advanced by various schools of thought and authors are discussed and applied in the Makgabeng area in order to lay down a theoretical framework of analysing identity creation around land in the Makgabeng area.

Land has been a very important factor in shaping identities in the Makgabeng area. Firstly, as an environmental factor, the inhabitants of Makgabeng – since the earliest ones – had depended on land and all its natural resources for their survival. The role of the environment – land in particular – in shaping identities is espoused by Asante-Darko, who identifies various connotations that the evocation of flora, fauna and the landscape, have in the determination of social, racial and socio-cultural identities.

Secondly, in accordance with M. Castells’ notion of the importance of “shared experience” in identity creation, land played an important role in communal identity formation in the Makgabeng area as far back as the earliest occupants of that area. This happened when different communities settled on the same area and began to define themselves as belonging there. From the earliest occupants of the Makgabeng area, the San, the Khoikhoi, the Bantu speakers, the missionaries and the European colonial settlers, people defined themselves as part and parcel of the land they occupied. Their occupation of land also affected their social, cultural and political aspects which are said to be decisive in creation of identities. In this book, changes which took place regarding land issues will be traced as far back as the earliest occupants of Makgabeng up until the current 21st century.

Finally, the book exposes facts about how land-dispossessed black people were dumped and cramped in rural reserves which came to be overpopulated, overgrazed, eroded; while large tracts of land teeming with dense bushes, lush grasses and roaming wild animals were electric-fenced off and owned by whites, together with their international capitalist friends and multinational corporations. The poor indigenous black communities, deprived of their land, came to compete for space with their cattle, donkeys, pigs, sheep, goats and children in those bantustan villages.

Dr. Tlou Setumu is Author and Researcher of History, Heritage and Culture. His books include: Biographies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mojapelo; His Story is History; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Footsteps of Our Ancestors; etc. Books are available on www.mak-herp.; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).

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