Let’s use the right words. It’s about repossessing our land, not expropriation

Words like “expropriation” are being used incorrectly when it comes to the land debate. Land should be “repossessed” by black people, says Dr Motsoko Pheko. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
Words like “expropriation” are being used incorrectly when it comes to the land debate. Land should be “repossessed” by black people, says Dr Motsoko Pheko. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

“A people without knowledge of their past are like a tree without roots,” says an African proverb.

On February 2 1835 John Macaully, a widely travelled English tourist in Africa, addressed the British Parliament.

Among other things, he said: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa … I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country [Africa]; such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we could ever conquer unless we break every backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage …

“Therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture. For if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their own system, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated people.”

We are here to see how best we should divide among ourselves this magnificent African cake.
King Leopold of Belgium, 1885

Today in South Africa (Azania), we are sitting in a situation that was brought about to this country through colonial terrorism.

We are faced with the results of the mutilation of history and manipulation of international law.

We are confronted with the attempt by some people to conveniently forget the words of the chairperson of the Western European Berlin Conference, King Leopold of Belgium.

He said, “We are here to see how best we should divide among ourselves this magnificent African cake.”

This was 50 years after John Macaully had talked about the riches and high morality of Africans in Africa.

Through the Berlin General Act of February 26 1885, the African country called South Africa [today] became a British colony. The colonialists named it Union of South Africa on September 20 1909.

By the Native Land Act 1913, passed by the Union of South Africa Parliament, European colonial settlers were allocated 93% of this country.

Their population was 349 837 people. Africans were more then five million people at that time.

They were left with 7%. In 1936, 6% was added to this, making 13% of land allocated to the African indigenous majority – which is today is 80% to 9% Europeans (excluding coloured and Indian people).

There is glaring injustice in South Africa concerning land ownership. Injustice and untruth cannot solve the problem of a land dispossessed and impoverished Africans, many of whom do not have even a place to sleep.

Justice cannot live side by side with injustice. Truth cannot go to be with colonial lies.

Africans are the most magnanimous people in the world with their uBuntu/Botho.

On July 20 1914 the leaders of the South African Native National Congress presented a petition to King George V of Britain to resolve the colonial land dispossession of the African people.

Among other things their petition demanded that Africans “be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers”. This was 114 years ago.

The Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe has since April 6 1959 continued to fight for “equitable redistribution of land and its riches”.

That is that the colonially land dispossessed African indigenous majority must be “put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers”.

This is the language the South African Native National Congress used in their petition on this matter to King George V on July 20 1914.

This principle was betrayed in the preamble of the Kliptown Charter by the 1955 ANC.

Today, there is talk of “expropriation of land without compensation”. This is the wrong terminology.

This African country was expropriated from Africans through colonial guns and the Native land Act 1913.

Africans are demanding what is theirs in the first place to be restored and returned to them so that they can once again repossess this precious national asset of their ancestors which colonialists so brutally ravaged and looted.

African magnanimity however is not driving any whites to the sea. Africans demand land and its riches be shared in proportion to population numbers.

Prince Maqoma, a warrior in the national resistance against colonialism, was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1859. He died there for land repossession in 1873. He was not wrong when he told a British soldier, Colonel Wade: “We, [Africans], are to repossess our land again. It was bequeathed to our ancestors, to hold, nurture and make it produce for their progeny … You [colonialists] made us vanish, not exist ... We cannot give up. We cannot rest. Without land we cannot be.”

Izwe Lethu! Shango Lashu! Fatshe La Rona! Tiko Ra Hina! The land is ours.

Dr Motsoko Pheko is a lawyer, author, historian, theologian, academic, and politician.

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