The return of land to black South Africans, ‘expropriation without compensation’, is once again a crucial issue for the government. There have been proposals for transfers, and a few actual transfers, for 25 years, but now there is strong pressure, with threats of action, from the radical left.
Land seizures began as soon as Boer colonists arrived in the 17th century, and were institutionalised
after the second Boer war (1899-1902), when the two sides were reconciled and joined in exploiting the black population, later becoming comrades-in-arms in the first world war.3 The 1913 Natives Land Act limited the property rights of the indigenous population to 7% of the territory (extended to 13% in 1936), dispossessing four million people. ‘The trick was to obtain a cheap labour force,’ said Tseliso Thipanyane, head of the South African Human Rights Commission. ‘Black farm-owners were forced to become tenants or miners. My family was from Kroonstad [Orange Free State]; they were evicted from their land. Imagine how we feel when we drive across the country and see all these lands.’
This article first appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique in October 2019.
Cédric Gouverneur | Translated by George Miller