The brutal history of the land issue

2013-06-28 00:00

CHRISTOPHER Merrett’s article in The Witness (June 19) titled “Cornerstone of white supremacy” has been an eye-opener to all people who were not aware of the brutal history that lies behind the land question today.

The honesty in which he has discussed the topic of the 1913 Natives Land Act lays bare the painful experience of black people’s land disposition.

It is also enlightening as it dispels the myths that continue to cloud the discourse about land and black people: that black people are lazy and they cannot farm.

The land grab, according to Merrett, was meant to address two “closely connected white economic fears: labour shortage and competition from African farmers”. This, together with abolishing the practice of sharecropping, a practice where white and African farmers could work co-operatively, summarily disempowered black people.

The dignity of black African men, who were farmers and providers for their families, was extinguished as they were forced to leave the only work they knew, and their families, to go begging for work from white people as cheap labour.

The destruction of the African family unit had begun, as a leadership void was left in the communities, with detrimental consequences still felt by African families to this day.

The physical and spiritual humiliation that men suffered at the hands of their employers left wounds that are still here today. Black and white people became permanent enemies.

According to analysis, only about six million acres of land was put aside for black people here in KwaZulu-Natal, while the white people, who were in the minority, took about 27 million acres. Moreover, despite being small, the land given to black people was not of any substantial value as most of it was bad for crop production and animal grazing, hence the people’s condemnation to suffering.

Land disposition continued well into the apartheid era and it was not the only thunderbolt to hit black people.

Many other pieces of legislation were introduced, which ensured that they suffered permanently. For example, the ownership of cattle was limited to a certain small number per family, and human and dog taxes were introduced.

All these were meant to change irrevocably life for black people as they knew it.

These are well-known documented facts, but it seems that the sincerity and urgency that are needed to deal with the land problem are ignored. Instead, finger-pointing and political bickering take centre stage.

This perpetuates the animosity between black and white people, which makes genuine reconciliation seem very far away.

Ordinary criminals use this animosity to their advantage, and the minor land invasions, especially by the landless, are also born out of the pain of loss.

Skirting around the land issue will not help; it will eventually bring in the Zimbabwe-style land revolution, of which everybody knows the results.

The notion that land given back to black people becomes wasted land should give way to genuine commitment by commercial farmers, the government and the private sector, to train, mentor and guide continuously all people who want to use the land productively.

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