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Mashabela KN. Author of two books:Mirror of History & Road to Right, Mashabela is authorprenour and educator.

Land claim in South Africa (Whose land is RSA land?)

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A lesson learned too often was that of Jan Van Riebeeck‟s arrival in South Africa in 1652. It was also infused into our minds at the early years in school, that the Khoisan under the leadership of great Authumato met the arrival of the Europeans at the cape, first with hospitality and later with hostility and wars over the right of entry to the pastoral land. A land originally inhabited and owned by the Khoisan communities, yes, not Europeans. Whenever we deal with this issue, one must also be aware of the danger coming with distorted African history often written by the winners of frontier wars (the so-called agents of colonialism), because all they ever want is to disparage or obliterate the true history of the captured and then affirm theirs. Hence:

Imperialists have always tossed and played with history to justify land dispossession in Africa. They chose to divide and rule tactics to divide Africans as is the case with the Khoisan vs Bantu people on the claim for land ownership in southern Africa. Their divisive argument that “Southern Africa does not belong to Bantu nation, but Khoisan” is not only false but dangerous to the unity of Africans. The truth is that Africa belongs to all Africans. No African can be deemed to be a foreigner anywhere in Africa. It‟s only the pseudo-historic theorists who would say: South Africa belongs to Bantu, but not Khoisan or vice versa. The truth is that Khoisan and Bantu people are all Africans. They may look different, but surely they share blood, origin and reason d‟être. That is why science proved that Nelson Mandela had genes of Khoisan in him. To try to divide Africans (e.g. Khoisan vs Bantu) is tantamount to racism and tribalism.

The imperialists have always used history writing, missionary education and religion to justify and protect their colonial position in Africa. Even though the Dutch settlers had already dispossessed Africans off their land, the passing in of the Land Act of 1913 and all other laws such as 1923 Urban Area‟s act, 1936 Native and Land Trust‟s act and 1950 Group Area’s act subsequent to it came to take all that was left off South Africa. African Land is for Africans first, and the rest shall follow.

In his City Press article, Pieter Mulder, the leader of Freedom Front Plus defined the main cause of contestation on the land question when he admitted his confusion that “the Dutch came from Europe, where individual and private property rights to land were the custom – as opposed to the Khoisan, who believed the Land belonged to everyone for their use .”1   The problem (Land question) started right there. This shows that it was actually an ideological war between those who support western tradition of privatization (capitalism) and those who believed in African communalism (African socialism), and the winners get to write history that affirms their position, and unfortunately demonize or vilify the losers. This is the case with our land history in RSA. Land is very important to Africans as it is for the world.

The importance of the land issue was best defined in J.Edward‟s book, A history of politics which stated that “Property is the right vested on the individual or a group of people to enjoy the benefits of an object, be it material or intellectual. A right is a power enforced by public trust. Sometimes it happens that the exercise of a right is opposed to public trust. Nevertheless, a right is really an institution brought around by public trust, past, present or future. The growth of knowledge is the key to the history of property as an institution. The more man becomes knowledgeable of an object, be it physical or intellectual, the more it is appropriated. The appearance of the State brought about the final stage in the evolution of property from wildlife to husbandry. In the presence of the State, man can hold landed pr operty. The State began granting lordships and ended up conferring property and with it came inheritance. With landed property came rent and in the exchange of goods, profit, so that in modern times, the “lord of the land” of long ago becomes the landlord. If it is, wrongly, assumed that the value of land is always the same, then there is no evolution of property whatsoever. However, the price of land goes up with every increase in something benefiting the landlord. The landlordism of large land owners has been the most rewarded of all political services. In industry, the position of the landlord is less important but in towns which have grown out of an industry, the fortunate landlord has reaped an enormous profit. Towards the latter part of the Middle Ages in Europe, both the State – the State would use the instrument of confiscation for the first time to satisfy a debt – and the Church – the Church succeeded in acquiring immense quantities of land – were allied against the village community to displace the small landlord and they were successful to the extent that today, the village has become the ideal of the individualist, a place in which every man “does what he wills with his own.” The State has been the mostimportant  factor in the evolution of the institution of property be it public or private.”

The land issue has been at the center of controversy and politics since the arrival of the Bantu and European in Southern Africa. The debate had always been about who owns the land. Who has the rightful claim to the land? The Khoisan, the Bantu, and the European had historically been claiming their exigency and right of ownership to the land in Southern Africa; however, these were often Mara-fide claims. The land is the bases of all development; an important property or thing (res) for the people to survive.

Khoisan people were among many people who were dispossessed off their land by colonial rule, and other authorities in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the end of apartheid, the South African government allowed Khoisan communities up until 1998 to pursue land claims which existed prior to 1913. South African Deputy Chief Land Claims Commissioner Thami Mdontswa has said that “constitutional reform would be required to enable Khoisan people to pursue further claims to land from which their direct ancestors were removed prior to 9 June 1913”. Taking into consideration the most historic truth (that the Khoisan were first inhabitants of southern Africa followed by the Bantu and then Europeans); we can agree that they (Khoisan) have by default the first right to claim the South African land as their own.

When Jan van Riebeeck and his crew landed at the cape in 1652, they wanted the land and all resources found on it. They then dispossessed the khoisan off all they ever had; including the land. The khoisan were then forced to go and live in the hot and dry desert of Kalahari. After the European consolidated their power at cape; they now went ahead to take land that was used by the Bantus. This then resulted in what was to be called frontier wars. The frontier wars were fought on the land which was deemed to be unoccupied. The African regarded the land as theirs for grazing; whereas the European proclaimed it unoccupied land, which was open for discovery and occupation. During the discovery of minerals, the Cape Malay nation had also claimed their right to the land in Kimberley. The English businessman also falsely claimed their right to that land through the state or government channels.

Later on, the Europeans fought against each other over land, and this resulting in South African War. The issue on land ownership had always been at the center of South African politics and contestation.

When South African colonies were united into a Union of South Africa in 1910; land was still the bone of contention. Later on, in 1913 the land was divided amongst the whites South Africans. A new land act (Native Land Act of 1913) was passed into a law by the government of the time. This also dispossessed Africans and Khoisan off much of the land they inhabited so long.

When the ANC was formed in 1912, it was established with one amongst its main goals, the continuation and intensification on fighting for land („stolen land‟), however, it lost momentum and direction as the results of ideological diversity and confusion: Especially between 1923-1940 when it was in crisis under what was arguably its weakest leadership of all times. The formation of the ANCYL in 1943 also tried to redefine and revive the struggle for land, but they also lost momentum after most of their leaders were assimilated into ANC mother body.

In the early year of 1940‟s, the land issue also reappeared with the emergence of Squatter Movement let by James Mpanza of  Sofasonke in Masakeng, SOWETO. Well, in late 1940 Afrikaner nationalist (members of Broederbond) came into power in South Africa, and too rewrote history by also claiming much of the fertile land as their own; while leaving mountainous areas to Africans.  This resulted into a struggle for land between African, particularly Bantu and whites South Africans. This was evident during the resistance against homelands policy introduced by apartheid.

During the adoption of the freedom charter in kliptown Soweto 1950, the land was still the main issue. Some within ANC believed that the freedom charter‟s “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” was a direct betrayal or a move backward against the black struggle to get the land back from the Europeans. These critics of the charter later resolved to establish PAC to advance their Pan-African agenda of “Africa belongs to Africans”. The land issue also reappeared again during the formation of Black Consciousness Movement, which called for African people to claim their land back.

The land issue also reappeared during  CODESA in the early 1990s, with some within  ANC believing that the land should be expropriated without compensation, while some supporting (‘willing seller, willing buyer’). The land issue was still at the Centre of all debates. When ANC won elections in 1994, they too rewrote history by trying to redistribute land. The DA’s ” Land of Opportunity” programme which supports the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle, though it also allows for expropriation for reform purposes in certain limited circumstances. The party has been critical of the resources that government has allocated to land reform, claiming that government has not been sufficiently active in buying up land that comes onto the market during the first 20 years of democracy; the PAC was championing the fight on the restitution of land in parliament. Now the new formed EFF has revived the land issue debate. Will we ever have a solution to this challenge?


If we use the notion that says: “land belongs to first arrival”, then, the Khoisan will be the answer. If must use the notion that says: “Africa belongs to Africans”, the Khoisan and Bantu would be the answer. The notion of Africa belongs to all who live in it will give rise  to (Indians, Khoisan, coloureds, blacks and whites as the rightful owners of the land), but it will still be difficult for any South African to claim the land, because this land was inhabited and inherited by different people over times, People who often inter-married each other as was the case with Khoisan and Xhosas. To make the claims process more difficult is fact that many people have ancestry from three to four racial groups in RSA. This means they can as well claim the land from a different direction. A good example is the fact that the coloureds/cape-Malay people can claim the land either as Bantu, whites or Khoisan descendants.

Historically speaking, the land belongs to the Khoisan because they were the first inhabitants of the area. Some argue that the Khoisan must be the first to claim ownership over the land, followed by second arrivals, Bantus, and lastly by the Europeans of Portugal, Holland and then Britain, in that order.

This is the truth. A  historical truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not that I‟m a racist or nationalist, but I‟m an honest narrator of truth “nothing but the truth”.  The land issue (“land question”) is a time bomb waiting to burst out. The people of South Africa must be frank and bold about this issue, and solve the problem before is too late. The wind of change is coming; it is just around the corner. Take notes of what is happening in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world.


Expropriation of land without compensation will be highly unlikely if not impossible, the fastest, the best and the most practical way to achieve expropriation of land without compensation in South Africa, a country still ruled under the Roman law; will be to follow the footstep of Squatter Movement (also called Sofasonke) let by James Mpanza (who occupied land by force in SOWETO in 1940s). The practicality of this concept (Expropriation of Land without   Compensation) will be highly impossible without the mobilization of society. Expropriation of land without compensation can happen through mass mobilization or the changing of the constitution through active public engagement. It is either the claimants go to war for land, go to court (which is highly unlikely to allow ELWC), establish CODESA on land or take the Zimbabwean road. The powers needed to change the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation are assigned to parliament but are also highly unlikely to be realized in this diverse and complex political system of South Africa. The only possible solution is to establish economic CODESA.

It is obvious that the questions on the land are sensitive and emotional to all people who live in South Africa. It must also be acknowledged that during the negotiation for democracy in South Africa prior to 1994, the issue of land retribution and economic freedom was ignored. The perceived democracy was actually a political freedom without economic emancipation.

Without land, the key to economic emancipation, the people shall never be free. The land is the most important asset of the people.

In his interview by Janet Smits in early 2014, Julius Malema gave this warning statement: he said “there is going to be an uprising in South Africa if we are not careful, and that is why we founded the EFF- to give guidance and direction on how the struggle should be conducted so that it does not become anarchic, it doesn’t‟t become  violent and directionless, and gets  to be hijacked by nobodies who don‟t have genuine agenda to change the lives of our people”. This statement was in support of his claim that „nature does not allow a vacuum (political vacuum)‟, and that EFF was God-send to occupy such a vacuum. He went on to say that “EFF is the vanguard of the working class”. For obvious reason, I will agree with Mr Malema because I also believe that we can‟t afford to leave a sensitive or a time bombing (risky) situation such as the unresolved issue on Land (land question) undirected and leaderless. There needs to be direction and modifications on this question (land question). Most South African today still feels like they do not reap the benefit of the land of their ancestry.

I also believe that one of the factors that are still dividing our country is the ever-widening inequalities between the rich and the poor, which comes mainly as the result of slow economic and land retribution.  It is obvious that most people in South Africa still believe that 1992 CODESAs did not do them justice by leaving economic status of the country to remain the same. I therefore strongly feel that the government shall make provision and platform for the country to go to another CODESA (economic CODESA), where the land shall be the main focus of discussion. All racial groups, different genders, people of diverse ages and diverse tribes must be included, and this question (land) shall be discussed in good faith (bona fide). I end not to stop, but to pause………..

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