Ideas with no space

  • by African Times
  • 2 Years ago
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This is a new series, featuring Dr Tlou Setumu’s works. This is an excerpt from the book, Ideas With No Space, a compilation of all his opinion letters (unedited) previously sent to various newspapers for publication. Two letters are featured here with dates of their submission.


25 October 2005


THE continent of Africa has been subjected to various forms of foreign intrusion, assault and robbery from time immemorial. In addition to the damage inflicted on this continent by slave plunders, the purposeful partition of Africa by European nation states had profound and far-reaching consequences which we still feel to this day. The interest in, and the acquisition of, colonies in Africa by European states was formalised in the 1884 Berlin Congress in which Africa was sliced into colonies which were shared among those European countries.

The carving of Africa into colonies was done precisely to enable European states to rule Africa conveniently and it was a way to avoid competition and conflict among themselves. With that partition of Africa, the new European-orientated artificial boundaries were drawn. These artificial boundaries which in reality were imaginary lines, tore the continent of Africa apart. They also divided African communities apart, while in some cases they lumped different and hostile communities together. The devastating effects of those artificial boundaries were not clearly visible during the colonial era because the colonial forces were dominant and ruthless.

It is interesting to note that when Africans fought for independence, and eventually won it long after the 1884 drawing of the artificial boundaries, they accepted independence based on those artificial boundaries. From Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1957 to Sam Nujoma of Namibia in 1989 and Nelson Mandela of South Africa in 1994, no liberation leader seemed to have worried about, and questioned, the validity and authenticity of the 1884 artificial boundaries. In actual fact, our African freedom fighters readily accepted these 1884 boundaries at independence and in some cases, those who dared to challenge those “national’’ borders were ruthlessly suppressed. The Biafra and Katanga civil wars in Nigeria and Congo respectively, are some of the cases where liberation leaders fought to defend their independent “national” states, based on the 1884 artificial borders.

The internal conflicts which Africa went through after independence were primarily the effects of the artificial boundaries drawn in Europe and imposed here. The conflicts in the Congo, Chad, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, etc., were in one way or another related to these artificial boundaries. For instance, a Motswana in South Africa regards another Motswana in Botswana as a foreign national. A Tutsi in Burundi regards himself as a different person from a Tutsi in Rwanda, while living together with Hutus within the same artificial boundaries of Burundi. In South Africa, our brothers from Zimbabwe are regarded with contempt and suspicion as if they come from another planet – as they are regarded as foreigners. How can an African be a foreigner in Africa? That is precisely the levels of confusion the artificially-drawn border lines have created.

Now, what? The Pan African leaders and thinkers such as Marcus Garvey, WEB Du Bois, Bob Marley, Muamar Ghadaffi, and so on, have been advocating for the dismantling of these artificial boundaries and the creation of a united Africa. Today the African Union is in existence and it remains to be seen how far will it tackle the negative effects of artificial boundaries drawn in 1884 in Berlin.

As Africans, should we eventually settle for these artificial boundaries as a way of life or should we work towards dismantling them? Or should we still regard ourselves as different people because of these artificially-drawn imaginary lines? Or should we work towards uniting the 54 countries to form one United States of Africa, pooling all our natural, economic, political and human resources together from Cape to Cairo? The United States of America has 50 states, and that is precisely the main source of its power: unity. And by dismantling these artificial borders Africa can be the power to reckon with, and can become one unmatched global giant.


15 August 2008


TODAY there is a great deal of congestion around South Africa’s major urban centres. People and vehicles compete for space in narrow streets of towns and cities that were built by previous white minority governments. These towns and cities were initially meant to accommodate only the whites (other race groups were banished to their separate areas and locations in accordance with the apartheid philosophy). Now, after the 1994 “freedom” everybody flocks to these towns, and the result is massive, suffocating congestion.

How can people, especially blacks, be so congested like this with so much vehicles scrambling for space while crowds of people almost trip one another in stampede? Don’t we really have enough space for all of us in this country? Is South Africa really overpopulated and overcrowded? Besides this congestion in towns and cities, black people are also overcrowded in squatter camps and townships. In provinces like Gauteng and Western Cape, congestion in townships and squatter camps is so intense that there is hardly any space between shacks and houses.

All these suffocating conditions are very dangerous for human lives. In rural provinces like Eastern Cape and Limpopo, masses of poor people are still trapped in reserves in which they had been locked by previous land policies and laws of the white apartheid governments such as the notorious 1913 Natives Land Act. In these rural reserves, the overcrowded black people share and compete for space with their donkeys, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken and their children. Their overcrowded rural lands are overgrazed, deforested and exhausted, and they can no longer produce any crops – they are literally barren.

In contrast to those adverse conditions in congested, overcrowded cities, townships, squatter camps and rural reserves, there is another face of South Africa in which millions of hectras of land are fenced off into privately-owned property. I recently drove between the small towns of Alldays and Musina in the northern end of Limpopo Province and on both sides of the road I saw hundreds of privately-owned farms, most of them with plush lodges inside. Each one of those large farms is heavily and highly protected with electric fences. These hundreds of privately-owned farms have healthy vegetation of wild trees, tall grass and some of them are teeming with wild animals – the fertile and tranquil conditions there are because there is no overcrowding nor overgrazing.

These thousands of hectras of rich private land are still owned by whites (local and foreign) and all the natural resources on these lands belong to them privately: minerals, water, trees, dry wood, grass, wild animals, mountains, rivers, everything – by the way, land is everything. This is in direct and sharp contrast to the black masses who are congested in cities, townships, squatter camps and rural areas.

Dispossession of land (and all resources going with land) has been the main reason why Africans resisted and fought against European colonisers. From Makana, Hintsa, Dingane, Cetshwayo, Moshoeshoe, Sekhukhune, Malebogo, Makgoba, Makhado, Ngungunhane, Mankopane, Mokopane to Dube, Plaatjie, Luthuli, Sobukwe, Tambo, Biko, Mandela and many others, the struggle was about fighting for their fatherland and preventing the greedy colonial looters and conquerors from dispossessing land and all the resources on it.

But now, if at this age under a black majority government, the black majority people are still congested and suffocating in cities, townships, squatter camps, and rural reserves with no land of their own, while few whites and their multinational corporations still occupy millions of hectras congested with rich natural resources, can we really say this is victory and freedom for which many people sacrificed and died for? To the leaders of the black masses – ANC, PAC, AZAPO, SACP, COSATU, and others – the question is: is this the ultimate prize of the struggle which was waged over the years? I sincerely believe that the masses need speedy resolution to this land/ space question and the leaders must focus on it as a priority rather than being obsessed with being elected into positions in their organisations as they currently do.

Leaders must also not lose focus on this fundamental issue because the western-controlled media, multinational corporations, as well as the western imperialist forces will fight very hard to maintain the status quo of owning large tracts of lands with lucrative resources. The western imperialist forces will try every trick in the book to confuse these leaders and sow divisions among them so that they see one another as enemies, so that these forces can buy enough time to cling on the resources they had dispossessed the people.

“South Africa belongs to all who live in it” and “the people shall share the wealth of this country”, so says the 1955 Freedom Charter. The leaders must also be reminded that: THE PEOPLE’S PATIENCE IS NOT ENDLESS. And if these leaders continue to bicker, and concentrate on fighting among themselves for positions of power, rather than addressing real issues such as the black people’s suffocating congestion in cities, towns, townships, squatter camps and rural reserves, then the struggle of so many decades would have been in vain.

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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