Defending Afrikaners’ land

2015-01-27 06:00

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A 1956 photo shows a sign that was common in Johannesburg in that period of SA’s history. Picture: Ejor / Getty Images

Afrikaners must fight against insults and false claims of land theft. It’s the right thing to do

“It is, after all, a fact that they colonised us and took our land.”

President Jacob Zuma made this statement on SABC radio in reaction to the criticism by Zelda la Grange against his statement that all South Africa’s problems started with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck.

President Zuma’s “they”, of course, refers to Afrikaners as descendants of Van Riebeeck and his people, while the “us” refers to black people.

I and many other Afrikaners share La Grange’s disgust with the polarising statements by Zuma and the ANC that make whites, and particularly Afrikaners, the punching bag of the country’s political discourse.

However, in contrast to La Grange, I and many others do not intend apologising for the fact that we are distressed by Zuma’s statements.

Afrikaners have reason to be upset. History shows that in countries where minorities have been tyrannised by the majority, everything started with statements that made these minorities the scapegoats and insulted them.

Zuma’s accusation that Afrikaners are, in effect, land thieves must also be disputed. Zuma and the ANC believe that if they can credibly depict Afrikaners as land thieves, they will be justified in circumventing the internationally recognised property rights principles, diluting ownership or even totally disregarding it.

If one looks at the series of bills that affect property rights, as the recent report on property rights by AfriBusiness sets out clearly, it is evident that it is not just agricultural land that is being targeted, but a multitude of other forms of ownership.

In Zuma’s argument that Jan van Riebeeck’s people are colonisers and land thieves, he is deliberately silent on the following five facts:

1.?The Khoisan were here first

Long before the ancestors of Zuma, Julius Malema or myself arrived at the southern tip of Africa, the semi-nomadic Khoi and nomadic San were already roaming all over the territory.

My ancestors entered the country from Europe in the region of Cape Town, while Malema and Zuma’s ancestors migrated south from central Africa. It is, therefore, wrong of Zuma or Malema to regard my ancestors as “colonialists” without placing themselves in the same category.

2.?Only 30% of the land was permanently habitable without technology

EL Pringle’s research report, An Assessment of the 1913 Natives Land Act, points out that in the absence of the technology to use groundwater, only 30% of South Africa’s territory was suitable for permanent settlement by humans.

Before the arrival of technology from Europe to extract groundwater, 70% of South Africa’s territory could not be inhabited permanently. There can, therefore, be no question of the entire country being inhabited when my ancestors arrived here.

3.?Before the arrival of the Voortrekkers, the Mfecane had left large parts of the interior uninhabited

In the early 1820s, Mzilikazi, one of the Zulu King Shaka’s generals, broke away and terrorised other tribes in the interior of South Africa in the period known as the Mfecane.

The tribes in the interior fled before Mzilikazi’s attack. Large parts of these areas were left uninhabited in the process. There was, therefore, no question of people being driven from their land in great numbers with the arrival of the Voortrekkers in these largely uninhabited areas.

In my opinion, the Voortrekkers did the tribes who had been attacked by Mzilikazi a favour when, under the leadership of Andries Potgieter and Piet Uys, they defeated Mzilikazi and his followers and drove them across the Limpopo River.

As was the custom at the time after a conflict, the Voortrekkers took possession of the area that had been controlled by Mzilikazi. Only then did some of the fleeing tribes start to return to the area and were allocated land in specific areas.

4.?The Voortrekkers acquired land through legal agreements

One of the examples of how the Voortrekkers acquired land through legal agreements was the agreement concluded with the Swazi king in 1846.

The area between the Olifants and Crocodile rivers was given to the Trekkers in exchange for cattle.

In 1855, a similar agreement was concluded for the Lydenburg district. In the same year, the Swazi king also donated the area along the Pongola River to be added to the Voortrekkers’ new republic.

The Swazi king’s aim was to create a buffer zone against attacks by the Zulus. There are also other examples of agreements that counter the myths that the Voortrekkers stole land on a grand scale.

5.?The Land Act of 1913 applied only to 45% of South Africa’s territory

The ANC likes to refer to the Land Act of 1913 to justify its attempts to dismiss right of ownership. It fails to mention that the act applied only to 45% of South Africa’s territory.

The act did not apply to the former Cape Province, which constituted 55% of the country’s territory.

The ANC also does not mention that the land in South Africa and in Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana (which were all British colonies at that stage, and large parts of which were inhabited by black people) was all taken into account in the allocation of land.


The above five arguments do not even try to pretend that there were no cases of black people losing their land unjustly. Where proof of such cases exists, they must be rectified.

However, these involve a minority of cases and cannot be used as an argument to allege that land was “stolen” on a large scale.

The current generation of land owners who are descendants of Van Riebeeck’s people and their ancestors did not receive what they have today on a platter.

There are numerous stories of how their ancestors lived in poverty at first and developed their land by working hard to uplift themselves.

They deserve recognition for their role as pioneers in establishing a successful agricultural industry that feeds the country. Other property that Afrikaners own today also did not come to them on a platter. Hard work and sweat were still required.

The group of politically correct commentators who describe La Grange’s criticism as an excessive reaction are making the same mistake as farmers in Zimbabwe did when whites were insulted and were made scapegoats in the run-up to Robert Mugabe’s land grab programme.

They decided to ignore the accusations and the result of that can be seen by all. Keeping quiet and doing nothing is, therefore, not an option.

The better option is to actively oppose statements that declare Afrikaners to be scapegoats and accuse them of land theft. That is why AfriForum actively opposes insulting statements against Afrikaners or any other population group.

That is also why AfriForum did not hesitate to file criminal charges against Malema after he recently encouraged his supporters to occupy land. Fighting against insults and false accusations of land theft is the right thing to do.

Kriel is chief executive officer of AfriForum

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