THE HISTORY OF LAND-ownership in South Africa once came before the International Court of Justice. From 1960 to 1966, Ethiopia and Liberia had fought a fierce legal campaign against South Africa in the World Court at The Hague, to put South West Africa under the guardianship of the United Nations. They alleged that “South Africa was already effectively occupied by non-whites before Europeans began to settle in the country and the Europeans proceeded to take occupation of non-white land.” By using the works of well-known historians, doctoral theses and archives, the South African legal team refuted these allegations effectively and Ethiopia and Liberia eventually accepted South Africa’s version of the history of landownership. South Africa, referring to the occupation by black tribes up until 1652 maintained that: “Although no exact calculation is possible, it would appear that all the areas inhabited by the Bantu tribes comprised approximately one-eighth of the total area of South Africa including the protectorates.”
New settlers were black and white
In fact, the whole country had actually belonged to the San and the Nama or Khoikhoin for centuries (Khoisan is the collective name for these two groups). They were equally “non-black” and “non-white”. Over a long time, Bantu-speaking nations migrated from central Africa southwards and the Khoisan communities were driven away, exterminated and absorbed. From 1652, Van Riebeeck and his successors also fought the remaining Khoisan communities in the south and decimated their numbers. In addition, diseases overwhelmed the original nomadic occupants of South Africa. So, in effect, both black and white were actually colonialists and new settlers.
Now let’s examine the occupation patterns of these new settlers. South Africa covers an area of 1 219 090km². Historically, not a single Zulu, Tswana, Basotho, Pedi or Swazi resided in the Western Cape and few Xhosas were to be found in the northeastern region. The Western Cape has a surface area of 129 386km², which is 10,6% of South Africa. In the Northern Cape, no Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho, Pedi or Swazi was to be found and very few Tswanas. The province covers 361 830km² or 29,7% of South Africa. What all this ultimately means is that black tribes did not have historical residence in 40% of the country and our borders are not even a century old. Regarding the other 60%, we are faced with contradictions. The Voortrekkers occupied areas where, at the time of the Great Trek, there were no settled black communities.
The Free State and Transvaal were largely uninhabited back then, especially in the aftermath of the Mfecane genocide which was launched by black tribes against other black tribes. These two Boer republics were under threat from England and not from black tribes. In fact, there were several agreements made with black chiefs to recognise borders and promote good neighbourly relations. But in Natal and the Eastern Cape, things were different. There Britain ruled. At the time, the Boers of the two republics and the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope occupied 60% of South Africa. Historically, the Tswana, Basotho, Pedi, Swazi, Shangana, Tsonga and Venda did not occupy more than 40% of the land in these provinces, that is 15,3% of the whole country. And even if they had occupied 60% , it would have only been 22,9% of the whole country.
If the colonial powers hadn’t carved Africa into pieces, the Tswana of North West and the Tswana of Botswana would have occupied one huge country. KwaZulu-Natal comprises 7,6% of South Africa. If we were to accept that the Zulus can claim 85% of this area, it’s still a mere 6,5% of South Africa. The Eastern Cape comprises 13,9% of the country. If we accept that the Xhosa can lay claim to 85% of it, this amounts to 11,8% of the country. So from a historical perspective, this leaves us with 15,3% + 6,5% + 11,8% = 33,6%. Or 22,9% + 6,5% + 11,8% = 41,2%. And what percentage of the best agricultural land is occupied by blacks today, including their traditional tribal land? Obviously much more than 41,2%. It’s easy to deny historical facts, but these facts can’t be erased.
The relevance of history A serious oversight in the negotiations of 1990 to 1994 between the National Party government and the ANC was that we didn’t discuss our history. We were caught up in the necessity of creating a constitution which would form the foundation for the continuation of government. The burning issues that were part of our country’s history weren’t discussed and expounded frankly. Mostly we negotiated like enemies forced into a ceasefire because we’d realised that if we were to continue shooting, only a mess would remain over which to govern. There are many reasons to wake up our educational authorities and urge them to compile curricula which will portray the past in a balanced manner. A gripping account of all of the main events among black nations from about 1800 can be found in the book Stamme en Ryke by JS Bergh and AP Bergh and should be a prescribed work for all history students.
A new legacy of hope The “white superiority and black inferiority” approach was applied politically, socially and economically by colonial powers for more than a century resulting in South African citizens having forefathers with a history of war, genocide and oppression. The end of the war in Angola in 1988 and the election in Namibia in 1989 were pivotal, opening the way for Mandela’s release, which was the final watershed in South Africa’s centuries-long history of struggle and oppression.
Tribal land and expropriation
A very important, often-overlooked aspect of land reform applies to the vast areas occupied by traditional tribes. Whites, coloureds and Indians don’t have such tribal areas, compared to millions of blacks who enjoy privileges in theirs such as being exempt from taxes. Questions which remain unanswered, are: what is the yield/ha in the tribal areas? How many employment opportunities are created there? What do the income tax proceeds amount to? Is land tax levied there? What are the expenses in terms of education and health care? Who pays these expenses? Who are the beneficiaries? Can agricultural units be surveyed and allocated to skilled black farmers, who’ll be able to use them as security to obtain capital for agricultural activities? In terms of the proposed expropriation legislation, will it be possible to expropriate tribal land in the public interest and how will its value be determined? Percentage claims (or the quota occupancy) must also be subject to a proper analysis of, for example, rainfall, pasture carrying capacity, arability, distance from markets, etc.
It could happen that residents of the Knersvlakte are prepared to swop 10ha or more of their land for 1ha in the East Coast area. The Eastern Cape comprises 169 580km² and the Northern Cape 361 830km². The advocates of quotas regard our country as uniformly arable. What would they say if the people of the Northern Cape were to ask to swop half of their province for the Eastern Cape? They would immediately reject the idea based on the different arability of the land and of course, their cultural-historical attachment to their areas.
Policy criticisms and learning from the past A new constitutional dispensation would not have come about in South Africa if the ANC had demanded that the stipulations of the Employment Equity Act, and especially the manner in which it’s currently being applied, to be part of the constitution. Ironically, the National Party government would have been able to rely on the support of the International Labour Organisation. Neither the National Party government nor the ANC would have wanted to govern this country if there had been a civil war. Therefore, and because we regretted the injustices of apartheid deeply, we took steps in our negotiations to remedy the disadvantages it had caused.
However, we did not agree that the injustices of the past could be compensated for by creating injustices in the present. In terms of the constitution, positive remediation can be brought about by promoting the welfare of the disadvantaged in all walks of life via education, land reform, health care, housing, job creation, skills training and economic participation. Have the central, provincial and local authorities empowered to do this been successful? As in the past, they have been driven by a fatal obsession – for the National Party it was apartheid; for the ANC it’s quota madness based on demographic racial representation. Black empowerment requires quotas and affirmative action requires that a substantial number of the disadvantaged must benefit from rectification. We acknowledge that the ANC inherited a lot of misery from the past, but they also inherited the most advanced infrastructure in Africa.
White farmers aren’t opposed to this country having more black farmers, but it’s imperative to ensure that they have the necessary skills and capital and that their farms don’t end up being sold, rented, unproductive or squatter camps. The decisive point in our negotiations of 1990 to 1994 was when we jointly realised that we needed each other to bring about prosperity for all of our people. And just as in the case of affirmative action, white and black need each other to conclude land reform successfully. A country which can’t feed its own population faces serious problems.
The proposed Expropriation Bill is unconstitutional and instead of contributing to the welfare of black South Africans, blacks will eventually pay the highest price. Zimbabwe is a tragic example of this. Within ANC ranks voices have been heard saying, “We can’t all be Mandelas.” We can, however, all emulate Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation, tolerance, equal opportunities for all and the upliftment of the poor in a fair and effective manner. I am convinced that blacks will agree that we need each other to ensure that black farmers become successful. It’s also in the interest of white farmers, because then we can feed our people together. – Peter Mashala |fw