In Dr. Tlou Setumu’s works on history, heritage and culture, this week feature is from, THE LAND BOUGHT, THE LAND NEVER SOLD: Land Dispossession In South Africa – Makgabeng As A Case Study.
The communal identity of black communities around land in the Makgabeng area (like in all other parts of southern Africa) had been disrupted by the arrival of early European travellers, traders, explorers, and later by the missionaries, Boer settler farmers and the British colonialists. Although the early European travellers showed no signs of permanent settlement on land occupied by other groups, it was the latter groups of colonialists which showed interest in permanently occupying land, especially after the establishment of the ZAR/ Transvaal republic by the Boers in the mid-19th century. Up until then, the Makgabeng communities lived communally on land which they knew was held for them in trust by their respective magoši, Malebogo of the Bahananwa royal house and Matlala of the Bakone dynasty.
That communal arrangement came under siege when the ZAR authorities began the willy-nilly surveying, carving and granting of pieces of land in that area to different white individuals, farmers and companies. However, those original processes did not immediately affect the communal identity and the clustered clan settlement pattern of the Makgabeng communities as most of the new “owners” who were granted land, did not physically occupy them from the outset. During the South African War (sometimes referred to as Anglo- Boer War), black communities, including those in Makgabeng, took advantage of the confused situation by consolidating their possession of their land by even repossessing some of the land which the Boers had annexed from them.
By the 1920s, identities in the Makgabeng area were totally changed from those before the arrival of Europeans, especially with regard to changes which were effected on land. The communal nature of the Makgabeng communities was totally disrupted by the surveys, granting and transfers of land by the white colonial settlers. With the new policies and laws, the Makgabeng black communities of the Bahananwa, Bakone, Batau, Batšhadibe, Babirwa and other small clans, found themselves fenced into the new farm units which were granted to white farmers, white individuals and white companies. Indigenous place names in Makgabeng such as Ga Ngwepe, Ga Sankobela, Ga Monyebodi, Ga Mankgodi, Ga Masekwa, etc., were also marginalised and came to be overshadowed by new European mames such as Early Dawn, Millstream, Oldlongsyne, Schoongezicht, Uitkyk, Baranen, Kirtenspruit, Goedetrouw, etc.
Because of the eviction of most of the people from their original areas of settlement, families, clans and relatives became scattered, thereby disrupting the original communal nature in the area. The original communal identity in Makgabeng was replaced by new fenced farm units with the new white landlords, while the local communities became tenants, sharecroppers and mere labourers on the land which was theirs.
Communal land tenure also gave way to an individual form of “landownership” by whites, the system which was hitherto unheard of in the Makgabeng area. For the first in the Makgabeng area, there emerged new identities of white “landowners”, black tenants, sharecroppers, labourers, white missionaries, black converts and such related new identity markers which were mushrooming all over the place.
The negative effects of the 1913 Natives Land Act and its provisions proved to be unbearable for black communities throughout the country. The small amount of land surface allocated to blacks, who were in the biggest majority, created congestion which soon became unbearable. The white colonial authorities even tried to alleviate that situation by adding more land for black settlement by the Native Land and Trust Act of 1936, which was in actual fact, an amendment of the 1913 Act. However, those measures did not alleviate the shortage of land for black communities whose lives and welfare were negatively affected. In the Makgabeng area, the land reserves which were a result of the 1913 Act were added by the 1936 Act in which trust farms such as Bays Water and Windhoek were added to people to alleviate congestion.
One of the results of the white colonial governments’ land policies was the overcrowding of people and livestock on land reserved for blacks. The “native locations” could no longer provide for agricultural needs anymore, because there wasn’t enough pasturage and water. As already alluded to earlier, most black communities lived on farms “owned” by white individuals, farmers and companies. On these farms, blacks were subjected to forced and unpaid labour while on other farms, particularly those owned by companies, they were forced to pay rents and taxes. All those further worsened the situation of blacks who were reeling from their loss of land, livestock and freedom.
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. co.za; and also in Polokwane – Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).