Al-Nakbas - Tears And Blood In Palestine and South Africa

2016-05-20 10:56

Did South Africa rid itself of the evils of apartheid only to have it passed over to Palestine? More and more, Israel is resembling the architecture of racial and ethnic segregation so cruel and unjust the very term “apartheid” may not be fitting to describe and capture the real lived essence of daily life for the people of Palestine. We are also reminded of this by president Nelson Mandela when he said “We know too well that our own freedom is incomplete without freedom for the people of Palestine”.

What makes president Mandela’s declaration important is not just its political instruction to ANC members but its teachable nature too. South African majority’s pain is similar to that of the Palestinians and the parallels are uncanny. Like South Africa, Palestine was also a British colony. Palestinian land dispossession in pictures can be equally swapped with South Africa’s. Both with armed aggressors forcing children and women into the cold and hunger out of their homes, arresting husbands and fathers.

As South Africa’s Nationalist Party was campaigning to win elections from the United Party to introduce Afrikaner (Dutch settlers) and white preference state, the same time in early 1948, Jewish paramilitary forces began to seize more land in Palestine, by July 1948, more than 400,000 Palestinians had been forced to flee their homes and land, this equated to 42 per cent of the population then.

The 'nakba', meaning the 'catastrophe', marks a period where Palestinians lost all that made them human, their land. Nakba is about the history of the Palestinian exodus that led to the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

For Palestinians, the Nakba did not begin in 1948. Its origins lie over two centuries earlier. Likewise, South Africa’s land dispossession did not begin in 1913 with the shuttering Land Act but its genesis is much earlier, arguably the very day Jan Van Riebeeck moored in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. Genesis to Palestinian nakba history starts back in 1799 with Napoleon's crusade and competition with Britain.

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly met to devise a plan for the partition of Palestine. UN Resolution 181 divided Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem as an international city.

The Jewish state was granted 56 percent of the land; the city of Jaffa was included as an enclave of the Arab state; and the land known today as the Gaza Strip was split from its surrounding agricultural regions.

Following the partitioning resolution, Britain announced it would end its mandate in Palestine on 14 May 1948 washing its hands off from the mess they had created. British part in the conflict is similar to the manner Britain acted over the people of Zimbabwe when the time to make right by the Lancaster (land) Agreement came. Britain bailed out.

For Palestinians, 1948 marks the 'nakba' or their 'catastrophe', when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes. We have a shared history and know oppression. Writing for my Column in The Citizen newspaper this week, I equated the Palestinian Nakba to our own experiences tracing native land dispossession well centuries prior to the 1913 Land Act which galvanized our people to say enough is enough.

In 1811, a Black Circuit Court was established in South Africa serving natives and in particular the Khoisan people. Analysis of the court archives show a court focussed on land and racism matters where most cases dealt with the Khoisan complaints against the Boer (Dutch) settlers’ slave ill treatment, murder, rape and land dispossession. Many of these cases being murder of the Khoisan by settlers. Studying this history, I concluded that had the Christian missionaries not come to South Africa circa 1799, natives would have been genocidally wiped out by settlers who grew more intolerant and aggressive as mineral wealth was found.

There were many other disastrous land and race based conflicts deep inland. King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana fought the Boer settlers in early-to-middle 1800’s over land as King Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu fought settlers over the same period up to Cetshwayo kaMpande’s Battle of Isandlwana in 1879. Inter-Nguni conflicts were also as a result of land dispossession by settlers.

In 1843, Natal became an English colony; the English gave Boers large tracts of farming land, small pockets to church missioners and native chiefdoms. The ANC’s founding fathers from JS Faku to JL Dube around these times started lamenting the land question. Africans were great technical farmers with unparalleled indigenous farming knowledge. The restrictive laws and violent land dispossession began well prior to 1913 final al-nakba (day of great catastrophe). Economically, land for agriculture and livestock were trade instruments for Africans. When defrauded of their native land, seed stock; cattle and goats were spoils. Often, native maidens were abducted to pleasure settlers.

Land dispossession disaster pours and wrenches the heart out from hand-written letters to the Russian Tsar in St Petersburg by AmaMpondo nation seeking Russian protection from the aggressive English and Boer settlers. In one letter dated 10 November 1886 signed by Umhlangaso JS Faku to the Russian Tsar Alexander III, Faku writes on behalf of the Paramount Chief that;

“…the English Government want to take away our country. They have recently taken forcibly a portion of our country occupied by AmaXesibi and have annexed it since we wrote to you on the 25th. Our country is taken away from us without any just cause. We have not fought the Colonial Govt. We are quite unaware of our crimes to the English. Things taken from us are 1st the land, 2nd Port St Jones River Mount they have taken it saying they will purchase it with money. So said they…”

This heart-wrenching letter found in Moscow archives tells a story of a heavily armed aggressor from the sea and a black nation seeking foreign military protection. It also tells of a proud people well aware of the world then. Faku asks “senzeni na kumaNgisi? (we are quite unaware of our crimes against the English). Faku knew of the Russian Tsar and geopolitics of the times without aeroplanes or cable news. Faku, in one of his letters to the Tsar confirms that, “our land has coal, gold and copper”.

President Zuma recently questioned the idea of 1913 as the supposed instance of the land question, evidence says once more the dispossessed are bedding to accommodate their oppressors; once more it is the victims of oppression that must make compromises. The genesis is that land belongs to African natives and no bending of history into a pretzel would alter their righteous cry.

Both the Palestinian and South Africa land question redress is urgent and can not wait another moment in history.

Bo Mbindwane On Twitter: @mbindwane

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