Ways of seeing land dispossession

Paul Hendler,

Recent Bolander correspondence provided contradictory views of land dispossession (September 26, October 24 and October 31).

Norman McFarlane emphasises violence. Hans Otto and Johan van Zyl see Mr McFarlane’s focus as one-sided (if not false) and stoking up hatred now.

All three lack a systemic analysis of the process. Furthermore, they have no constructive strategies on skewed distribution of land now.

Mr McFarlane’s examples (evidence) is borne out by Professor Sampie Terreblanche’s A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652 to 2002.

From 1701, trekboere commandos killed many Khoikhoi and stole much cattle (Terreblanche, pg. 165).

Initially the VOC (East India Company) organised this but increasingly local structures took over as trekboere moved further inland.

They killed many Khoisan in land, cattle and slave raids; and, the 1715 and 1767 epidemics took their toll (estimated 1650 Khoisan population = 200 000; in 1800 = fewer than 20 000) (page 176).

The British drove the Xhosa out. They allocated their land to prominent members of the settler community (page 193).

In Natal, the Voortrekkers occupied land on which relatively destabilised (due to the Mfecane) (page 208) black tribes lived.

Relatively independent black farmers struggled against white landowners (1840 to 1893), whose aim was to undermine their farming activities in order to turn them into a wage labour force (page 208).

Black societies in Natal resisted this encroachment and at times violent conflict ensued.

The white landowners eventually succeeded when the colonial state quashed the Bambatha Rebellion in 1909.

Mr Otto claims whites were only violent in self-defence.

This accurately describes resistance wars waged by Khoikhoi, Khoisan, Xhosa and Zulu (and other tribes in TransOrangia).

This is because of the asymmetrical (military-technological) power relations between the colonial state/trekboers/Voortrekkers/capital on the one hand, and the often-fragemented black groupings/tribes on the other

Professor Terreblanche records collaboration/cooperation between black tribes and the colonial state/Voortrekkers.

The Khokhoi “tamed” by the trekboere, functioned as auxiliaries against the so-called wild Khoikhoi and Khoisan in the wars of land dispossession and serfdom.

Martin Leggasick in The struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800-1854: Subjugation and the roots of South African democracy shows how the Khoisan also collaborated with British colonial forces in the first (of many) frontier wars, that aimed to drive the Xhosa out of the Zuurveld (1812).

The British Settlers, whose commercial farming enterprises required more land, drove these wars (pages 191 – 192), and the Xhosa resisted.

Mr Otto refers to cooperation, arguing that trekboers, Voortrekkers and colonial settlers acquired land through agreements: pointing to the Mfecane, black tribes were hardly innocent of violently dispossessing each other’s land.

Unlike Mr Otto and Mr McFarlane, Professor Terreblanche contextualises both violent (black or white) dispossession and cooperation/collaboration within a dynamic political economy, with grossly unequal power relations (between black tribes and white settlers), land deprivation (of the black groups), and unfree black labour (in the service first of Cape Town mercantile and Western Cape agricultural capital, and later Eastern Cape agricultural capital and then mining capital).

By the mid-20th century a white supremacist political system ruled the political economy, and whatever past violent dispossession by Zulus or Matabeles was of little consequence: black people were a subjugated class largely of workers (proletarians).

Professor Terreblanche called for a social democratic capitalism as opposed to the neo-liberal model.

At root this means significant, targeted state intervention on the side of the working classes and the poor to create work opportunities and make land accessible for productive and residential purposes.

Precisely how to do this will require detailed research and consultation, culminating in a left (or workers) party manifesto. (The National Union of Metal Workers [NUMSA] recently registered a Workers Party to contest the 2019 General Elections).

Three preconditions to set us on a developmental path for the majority are: public banks, municipalities as public developers, and fiscal reform, meaning the super taxation of the speculative financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors (to redirect investment into productive, employment creating processes).

Paul Hendler is the director of Insite: Sustainable Human Settlements: building capacity, formulating strategies, implementing social and economic programmes.

We have reopened correspondence on the land issue to give readers an opportunity and platform to discuss and debate a topic that is a big talking point; however, we will not publish letters of a racist or derogatory nature – Editor.

More letters on page 3