The Land Bought, The Land Never Sold
This series features Dr Tlou Setumu’s works on our own history, heritage and culture. This week we feature an excerpt from The Land Bought, The Land Never Sold
AFTER the South Africa’s white authorities had confiscated land from blacks, and after surveying and demarcating that land into farm units, those units were then granted to white individuals, farmers and companies who then began to sell some of those farms back to blacks from the early 1900s. The whites found themselves owning massive tracts of land – thanks to the dispossession of that land from blacks – and selling some of the land by the new white landowners became a new phenomenon. Black communities who were now landless, were forced to be the buyers of land from the new white owners who were freely granted the land which was confiscated from the same blacks. As already pointed out, the confiscation and dispossession of land from blacks were emphasised and legalised by the passing of legislation such as the 1913 Natives Land Act and the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act by the white-only governments.
As a result of that situation, numerous blacks got together to form cooperatives which they used as vehicles to purchase land. In the Makgabeng area, the white landowners who had acquired land gratis made available large tracts of land for the purchase by blacks. According to one informant in the Makgabeng area, Mofotoloko Mashilo of Ga Monyebodi village, other farms which were put on sale belonged to the government (confiscated from blacks earlier) and they were made available for purchase by blacks because of the government expenses incurred as a result of the 1939 -1945 World War II. The government sold land which it owned in order to fund its involvement in that war. Most all the purchases of farms in the Makgabeng area were made during the 1940s, i.e. around the time of the Second World War.
Another interesting point to note is that the majority of blacks purchasing farms was from the east to the west, into the Makgabeng area. The availability of land which was on sale in the Makgabeng area led to the influx of buyers from the eastern areas, particularly from Botlokwa, Moletji, Ga Mamabolo, Ga Mothiba and Ga Dikgale. Another element in the exodus of those eastern communities was that they were relatively literate and had been exposed to Christianity.
By the 1940s, the foundation of the control of blacks on land had been solidly laid by the 1913 Natives Land Act, the 1927 Native Administration Act and the 1936 Natives Land and Trust Act. All the purchases of farms were strictly done according to the provisions of those acts, together with other laws and regulations which governed the lives of blacks. While the 1913 Act made provision for the purchase, leasing, occupation and ownership of land by blacks and “other persons”; the 1927 Act provided for “the better control and management of black affairs”; whereas the 1936 Act provided for the establishment of the South African Native Trust and to make further provision as to the acquisition and occupation of land by blacks and “other persons”.
The pieces of legislation mentioned above, did not allow individual landownership by blacks, and as a result, blacks were forced to club together and form themselves into “tribes” or “tribal entities” before purchasing land. The whites who came to own confiscated land reaped huge amounts of money because most of the farms were sold for staggering figures of over thousands of pounds, the prices which were very high by the monetary standards of the 1940s.
Besides those blacks who actively advocated and led the movement of the purchase of farms, there were those who followed and joined the pioneering leaders of that phenomenon. That section of followers was convinced by the persuasive views of those who led the purchases, and they succumbed and joined in. The majority of those people were not literate and they looked upon the pioneers of the purchasing movement with confidence, and were convinced that the purchase of farms was the correct route to take. Those people were also mostly non-Christians, but nevertheless, they still believed that their literate, Christian fellows were leading them into the right direction. On the other hand, there were those who vehemently opposed to the buying of land, arguing that they could not buy their own land from white who found them there. Such people were basically challenging the core of the colonial project, and as such they were ruthlessly dealt with by the white authorities.
With the blacks who advocated for the purchase of land supported by authorities gaining the upper hand over those who resisted, the stage was then set for the process of purchasing to roll on. Those who led the process contacted the landowners and negotiations commenced and deals were struck. In the Makgabeng area, blacks who were in favour of the purchase of land formed themselves into syndicates such as the Matlonkana Ramoroka Company and the Talana Matlou Company. On the part of the landowners, the farms in the Makgabeng were under the Blaauwberg Agency of the Transvaal Landowners’ Association, which was in the early 1940s represented by Roland Harrison, who was known to the local blacks as Ramakokoko.
According to Section 1 of the 1927 Native Administration Act, the Governor General was the “Supreme Chief of all natives in the Union”. Section 7 of the Act declared that the Governor General “may recognise or appoint any person a chief of a native tribe and may make regulations prescribing the duties, powers, privileges and conditions of service of chiefs so recognised or appointed, and of headmen, acting chiefs and acting headmen appointed under subsection (8). The Governor General may depose any chief so recognised or appointed”. According to Section 5(a) black polities could be constituted, adjusted or removed by the Governor General. Those provisions resulted in another major requirement before the purchase of a farm was approved by the minister: that blacks should be constituted into “tribes” or “tribal entities” under “recognised chiefs” before their applications for the purchase of farms could be approved. This is a further manifestation of an imposed form of identity creation in which the state uses its power to impose its values upon communities.
The constitution of farm purchasers into “tribes” and “tribal entities” resulted in the creation of new identities. In the Makgabeng area, people who came from different polities in areas such as Ga Mamabolo, Ga Dikgale, Botlokwa and Moletji, found those who were born in the Makgabeng area, came together in order to buy various farms. Almost each and every farm in the Makgabeng area was purchased by people of different origins as they were required by law to form themselves into “tribes” or “tribal entities.” For instance, of the 93 blacks who came together to purchase the two farms, Early Dawn and Millstream in 1945, 71 were the local Bakone of Makgabeng, 6 were Bahananwa, 9 were the Bakwena from Moletji, 4 were “Molima”, 1 each from Botlokwa, Senthumule and Ga Mphahlele. In another example, of the 47 blacks who purchased the farm Nan-Parella in 1946, 43 were the Bakone, 2 were the Bakwena, 1 was a Motlokwa and another 1 a Letebele.
Although those purchasers in each of the Makgabeng farms were from different backgrounds, the laws required them to register under one tribal name and a recognised kgoši. The result was that the original identities of most purchasers had to take a back seat as the identities of the majority buyers became salient. At the same time, the purchasers had to recognise the authority of the kgoši under whose jurisdiction the farm was bought. The latter requirement later brought tensions within bought farms which were struggling to establish their new identities as homogenous communal villages.
The following are few examples in which co-purchasers from different backgrounds formed themselves into “tribes” and “tribal entities” under recognised magoši or headmen in order to buy farms in Makgabeng:
1. Early Dawn-Millstream buyers formed themselves into the Bakone “tribe” under Kgoši Matlala.
2. Kirstenspruit (Sadu) purchasers formed themselves into the Bakone “tribe” under Kgoši Matlala.
3. Nan-Parella purchasers formed themselves into the Bakone “tribe” under Kgoši Matlala.
4. Norma B purchasers formed themselves into the Batlokwa “tribe” under Kgoši Machaka.
5. Old Langsyne purchasers formed themselves into the Bahananwa “tribe” under Kgoši Malebogo.
6. Rietterhouse (Mokumuru) purchasers formed themselves into the Mothiba “tribe” under Kgoši Mothiba.
Those joint purchases of farms by different people also resulted in the spontaneous re-creation of communal identities which had been earlier disrupted by the annexation of black lands by the whites through different laws, such as the 1913 Natives Land Act. As a result of the theoretical notion of “shared experience”, those land purchasers from different backgrounds found themselves faced with common experiences, and that further shaped their common identity. That kind of communal identity was further entrenched as the farm buyers stayed together over a longer period – even though in the first place, they had been forced to buy the land from the whites; the whites who did not buy that land; the whites who did not even bring that land with them from Europe in the ships they came with.