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The issue of land ownership in South Africa has been on the minds of millions of Africans for many decades, some with no place to bury their dead while being surrounded by luxurious golf courses and palatial hotels. This must change.

On 12 February 2015 President Jacob Zuma announced that his ANC government would soon be tabling the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which will limit land ownership by South Africans to 1200 acres and will no longer allow foreigners to own land in South Africa.

After 20 years, is this not too little too late and what will happen to land foreigners already own? Why did the ANC leaders abandon the land question in 1955 and chose to raise it now? Why was the equitable redistribution of land not even mentioned during the “negotiations” with the apartheid colonialist regime?

Why did the ANC accept a constitution that provided a “property clause” in section 25 for those who had acquired land colonially but said nothing about those who were colonially dispossessed of their land for over three hundred years? Why did the constitution of “New South Africa” allow land claims from before June 1913? A massive 87 per cent of land was colonially expropriated long before this date.

President Zuma has said that his Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Kwinti’s proposed plan to force farmers to share 50 per cent of their land ownership with farm workers will be allowed. Not long ago the ANC dangled the policy of “willing seller, willing buyer”, a policy that failed as dismally as it did in Zimbabwe because White farmers just inflated prices and the government that was wrongly buying back this African land ran out money.


Cicero, a Roman historian and philosopher wrote, “To remain ignorant of things before you were born is to remain a child.” Dr. Antony Muziwakhe Lembede, the first president of the 1912 ANC Youth League under whom people like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu served advised, “One who wants to create a future must not forget the past.”

People who ignore historical facts are like a doctor who does not cure the disease of a patient; constantly dealing with the symptoms of the disease instead of the disease itself. Life must be lived forward but it can only be understood backwards.

Indeed, that great African-American scholar Dr. Hendrik John Clarke was right when he said, “History is a clock that tells a people their historical time of the day. It is a compass that people use to locate themselves on the map of human geography. A people’s history tells them where they have been, where they are now … more importantly, where they still must go.”


The unresolved land question in South Africa is a ticking bomb. Those who colonised Africans must respond to the justice and truth this situation demands; something that would not have been very difficult if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not a fraudulent exercise in appeasement.

This land issue is getting so huge in South Africa that there is now not enough land for Africans to bury their dead and the ANC Government is persuading communities to accept cremation or to be buried on top of other people. This is in a country that is not only rich but is four times the size of Britain and Northern Ireland and Africans bury their dead in the land culturally.


The ongoing land controversy in South Africa started with the Berlin Act of 26 February 1885 through which this African country became a British colony. And even though colonialists called it the spreading of “Western Christian Civilisation” it was, in fact, colonial terrorism.

This pseudo civilisation was followed by a British colonial law called the Union of South Africa Act 1909. Its main aim was to unite the four British colonies of Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State to fight the “native danger” (African resistance against European colonialism). This act immediately legalised racial discrimination against Africans. Section 44 read, “The qualifications of a Member of the House of Assembly shall … be a British subject of European descent.”

Within four years of the Union of South Africa Act, the colonial parliament, with the approval of the British Government, passed the racist and genocide colonial law allocating a paltry seven per cent of their own country to over five million Africans and giving the remaining 93 per cent of the African land to 349,837 European colonial settlers. This was done through the Native Land Act 1913.

Sol Plaatje who was a writer as well as the first secretary of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) explained why this genocide law was made. “In the beginning of the last decade [of the 19th century">, there was panic among White farmers because it was discovered that some Natives had garnered three thousand bags of wheat … in a neighbourhood where their White neighbours reaped only 300 to 400 bags. ‘Where will we get servants?’ it was asked, ‘if Kaffirs are allowed to become skilled … if they are inclined to herd pedigree stock, let them improve their master’s (White man’s) cattle and cultivate for[White"> land owners – not for themselves.’”

In July 1914 Sol Plaatje, John Dube and three other leaders of SANNC arrived in London to present a petition to King George V. They demanded that Africans be put in possession of land according to population numbers and on the same conditions as the Europeans. The English king, whose country had colonised this African country, gave the African leaders neither sympathy nor any kind of help. They returned from Britain empty handed.

A London daily newspaper, however, was sympathetic and reported the plight of the dispossessed Africans in South Africa. “In carving out estates for themselves in Africa, the White races have shown little regard for the claims of the Black man. They have expropriated his land and have left him in a worse case than they found him … the Blacks as compared to Whites are in proportion of four to one but are in legal occupation of only one fifteenth of the land.”

The 1943 document Africans’ Claims in South Africa and The Bill of Rights, by the Youth League of the 1912 ANC, under the leadership of Dr. Antony Muziwakhe Lembede and A.P. Mda, reads:

“We demand the right to an equal share of all the material resources of the country and urge that the present allocation of 13 per cent of the surface area to eight million Africans against two million Europeans is unjust … demand a fair redistribution of land.”

The 1944 Youth League Manifesto inter alia states, “The White race possessing superior military power… has arrogated to itself the ownership of the land and country. This has meant that the African who owned the land before the advent of the Whites has been deprived of all security, which may guarantee or ensure his leading a free and hampered life.”


In July 1959, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who had earlier played a leading role in the Youth League and was now the leader of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania along with his colleagues P.K. Leballo, Zephania Mothopeng, Jafta Masemola, Nyati Pokela and Selby Ngendane, paid tribute to all African kings. They were the first freedom fighters against European colonialism in this country.

Sobukwe said: “Sons and daughters of Africa, we are going down the corridor of time renewing our acquaintance with the heroes of Africa’s past – those men and women who nourished the tree of African freedom and independence with their blood, those great sons and daughters of Africa who died in order that we may be free in the land of our birth. We meet here today to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Africa, to establish contact beyond the grave with the great African heroes and assure them that their struggle was not in vain. We have met here sons and daughters of the beloved land to drink from the fountain of African achievement, to remember the men and women who begot us, to remind ourselves of where we come from and restate our goals. We are here to draw inspiration from the heroes of Thaba Bosiu, Isandlwana, Sandile’s Kop and numerous other battlefields where our forefathers fell before the bullets of the foreign invader…”


There are lots of denials about land dispossession of the African people by colonialism that was never overthrown in South Africa. But there are some honest White people who have affirmed land dispossession of the African people. Surprisingly one of these is Jan Smuts who was one time Prime Minister of Colonial South Africa who in 1930 confessed, “The mistake we have made in South Africa in the past was our failure in not reserving sufficient land for the future of the rapidly increasing natives (indigenous Africans) and the land problem we have in consequence on our hands…” (J.C. Smuts, Africa and Some World Problems 1930, page 60)

For his part Sir Godfrey Lagden, author of The Basutos (1909) volume II, page 642, has written, “The active seizure, by force or guile, of lands actually in possession of the Africans, was a political blunder of the first magnitude as well as an act of injustice.”

C.G. Fichardt who was a member of the colonial parliament in Cape Town categorically proclaimed, “If we are to deal with the natives of this country, then according to population we should give them four fifths of the country.”(See Sol Plaatje – Native Life in South Africa, pages 339-340)

In June 1955, despite the overwhelming evidence of colonial land dispossession of the African people, a strange document emerged. Zephania Mothopeng, a veteran of the African liberation struggle in South Africa, called it “notorious”. Its preamble reads:

“We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white… And therefore, we, the people of South Africa black and white together, equals, countrymen and brothers adopt the charter…”

This document was represented as more progressive than the 1912 documents. This was not correct. The main purpose of the Freedom Charter was to derail the land question. It succeeded because from that time the 1955 ANC abandoned the land question. Their “negotiations” in CODESA also created a “New South Africa” with 87 percent of land and mineral resources still intact in the hands of the White minority of the country just like from day one of Union of South Africa 1909 and Native Land Act 1913.

Chief Albert Luthuli who was president of the 1912 ANC wrote in his book, Let My People Go, 1st edition. “The Freedom Charter is open to criticism … I can only speak vaguely about the preparations that went before it… The result is that the declaration is UNEVEN.”

Dr Wilson Conco, who was Luthuli’s deputy and was present at Kliptown where the notorious document was adopted, said he did not know who had drafted it. Jordan K. Ngubane, who had been an active leader in the 1912 ANC Youth League and was the author of An African Explains Apartheid, has written, “People who sat in the inner circles of this alliance stated privately that the ANC tended to accept instructions from White liberals rather than participate in the formulation of policies.”

The Freedom Charter caused a split in the liberation movement. Pan Africanists rejected the preamble in the charter. Sobukwe called it, “A colossal fraud ever perpetrated upon the exploited and degraded people. It clearly bears the stamp of its origin. It is a product of the slave mentality and colonialist orientation.”


Some authors of the ANC Freedom Charter have been named, such as Rusty Beinstein, Joe Slovo, Ben Turok, Arthur Goldreich and other Whites. Slovo was chief commander of the 1955 ANC military wing for many years until he handed over to Chris Hani.

In 2009 Turok confirmed his own authorship of the Freedom Charter. He wrote, “I was not a ‘typist’ of the economic clause of the Freedom Charter… As vice chairman of the Cape Provincial Acting Council and full organiser of the Congress of the People, I was invited to a meeting of the National Council of the Congress on the eve of the eventual event. A draft Freedom Charter was put to the meeting for approval and I proposed and Billy Nair seconded an amended version, which was adopted there and then … I had been asked previously to introduce the economic clause at the congress.”

And of course, President Albert Luthuli and his deputy Dr Wilson Conco did not know anything about this.

The White leaders of the Communist Party of South Africa had always been hostile to demand by Africans for repossession of their land. They also did not recognise that Africans in South Africa were colonised by Britain. As far as they were concerned there was no colonialism in South Africa. They were wrong historically as well as according to the principles of international law. These neo-liberals parading as “Communists” were exposed for what they really were at the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern (Communist International).

This congress observed that, “A characteristic feature of the colonial type of the country [South Africa"> is almost complete landlessness of the African population. The Africans hold only one eighth of the land while seven eighths of land has been expropriated by the white population.” (Independent Black Republic Thesis of the Communist International 1928)

The delegation of White settler Communist Party of South Africa to this congress was composed of Sydney Bunting and his wife Rebecca. They were unhappy about the position of the Comintern. Sydney Bunting said, “Expressions like ‘South Africa is Black country’ though correct as general statements, invite criticism by the working class and peasant minority.”

It is not clear whether Bunting was ignorant of the situation in South Africa at the time or was deliberately dishonest. The slogan of the white workers was: “Workers of the World Unite! Keep South Africa White!”

Anyway, Harry Haywood an African American who attended the Sixth World Congress of the Comintern has written, “Rebecca Bunting spoke in the commission session. Addressing the land question, she denied that the land (South Africa) belonged to the Africans in the first place. Both Africans and Whites from Central Africa and Cape Town respectively forced the aboriginal Hottentots and Bushmen off their land. Thus there is no Native land question.” Haywood concludes, “We listened to her in amazement and a laugh went through the audience.” (Black Bolshevik, Harry Haywood, pages 237,271 and 272. Liberator Press, Chicago Illinois.)

Now in 2015 Africans cannot even find a place to bury their dead except by being burned or laid on top of one another. And it is only then the president of the ANC and of “New South Africa” raises the land question. From day one of colonialism in Azania (South Africa), the liberation was about land repossession by Africans based on equitable distribution of land and its riches according to population numbers.

It is treacherous in the extreme that after 20 years of ANC rule Africans today have no land to bury their dead. Yet the country is full of golf fields where Whites play their golf luxuriously and without a pinch of conscience for the plight of the landless poor.


I was a member of the South African Parliament for 10 years. On behalf of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the land dispossessed African majority I made many speeches on the land question. Let me pull one extract from one of the many of the kind, “Chairman, because of my limited speaking time, I will talk only about the mother – the land and not the daughter – agriculture (laughter).

The budget vote on land and agriculture is the most important to the majority poor and landless of our country. The Pan Africanist Congress supports this budget but we repeat that there will never be enough money to buy back our own land, even after all prescribed land claims have been met. The land question will not go away. If the ANC Government can get only one thing right in the task of undoing apartheid, it has to be equitable redistribution of land and its riches…

The present land policy, however, has failed because its architects have ignored the history of colonial land dispossession. Land is economy. All over the world land is a critically sensitive issue because there is connection between land and economic power and true liberation…

Meanwhile, land is being sold to foreigners while its rightful owners do not have even a piece of land for decent homes. This parliament must make a law to stop this foolishness (applause)…”

* Dr Motsoko Pheko is author of several books such as, ‘Land is Money’ and ‘Power and Apartheid: The Story of A Dispossessed People’. He is a former member of the South African Parliament as well as former representative of the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

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