Liberation without repossession of land by the dispossessed is a gigantic colonial fraud.There can be no true nationhood and national sovereignty without land. There can be no national identity without land. Land is life. Without land there can be no food, water, houses, farming and plants with medicinal value. Minerals and all kinds of raw materials to make furniture, cars, airplanes, cell phones, glass and all Cattle, sheep, horses and goats cannot live without pastures. Pastures are in the land not in the clouds.
When people are deprived of their land they suffer humiliation, servitude, poverty, ignorance and disease. Their life expectancy becomes shorter and their child mortality higher. Colonial dispossession of land was genocide and continues to be genocide inflicted on the people of Africa and other peoples of the world.
Where are the aborigines of Australia? Where are the Khoisan in South Africa? The Khoi people fed Jan Van Riebeeck and his people in the Western Cape when they arrived here from Europe. King Moshoeshoe and Chief Moroka fed the Voortrekkers when they arrived in what is today called Free State for many years until their guests turned against them. Loss of land is loss of nationhood and economic power.
In South Africa, it has been taboo to talk about land dispossession and land repossession. The critics ask, “Why do you always talk about the past? Let’s move on! Apartheid is dead. There was no colonialism in South Africa. This country became independent in 1910 and was granted dominion status through the British Westminster Statute of 1931. South Africa also became a member of the League of Nations. Moreover this country was ‘empty land’ when Europeans arrived here.”
If this country was “empty land” why did Africans have to fight against colonial invasion of their country in 1510 and in 1657 soon after Jan van Riebeeck arrived here in 1652 up to 1905 in wars of national resistance against colonialism led by African Kings in Battles such as Keiskamahoek, Qoboqobo, Amalinde, Sandile’skop, the War of Mlanjeni, Thababosiu, Kolonyane, Seqiti,Qalabane, Labu Mountain, Blood River, Ulundi Isandlwana etc? These wars were not fought by roaming animals. They were fought by human beings who understood what it would mean for their children to be dispossessed of their land. With their inferior weapons, they stood their ground against colonial military terrorism.
Dispossession of Africans began with the European Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Africans were sent all over the world to go and build the economies of poor western countries such as Britain, America, Holland and France. Writing about the barbaric slave trade, the Rev. J.H. Soga wrote, “Murder was the order of the day. Men, women and children were massacred, and the captives sold without regard to the ties of fatherhood or offspring…. Family on family, tribe on tribe was often completely swept away not even an infant being spared. Millions upon millions of the sons and daughters of Africa were sent to destruction as if they had been wild animals.”
The industrial revolution would never have advanced in England without African slavery and colonialism. The Prime Minister of England, Sir Winston Churchill acknowledged this fact. “Our possession of West Indies gave us the strength, the support, especially the capital, the wealth…which enabled us to come through the great struggles of the Napoleonic Wars.”
When the slave trade became discredited in the consciences of civilised people, another vile system of dispossessing Africa came into play. Its European architects under their chairman Otto von Bismarck met at the Berlin Conference from November 1884 to February 1885, “to slice this magnificent cake” as Bismarck put it. Through the Berlin Act of 26 February 1885, imperialist Western countries partitioned Africa into ‘’British Africa’’ ‘’French Africa’’ ‘’Portuguese Africa’’ Belgian Africa’’ ‘’German Africa’’ ‘’Spanish Africa’’ and ‘’Italian Africa’’. There was no Africa left for Africans, except modern Ethiopia. A tiny country like Somalia had the triple misfortune of becoming ‘’British Somaliland,’’ “French Somaliland,” and “Italian Somaliland.” This laid the foundation for the present political chaos in Somalia today.
Through colonialism the riches of Africa fuelled the economies of Europe. When colonialism was fearlessly challenged by Africa’s people, the European colonisers retreated and in many cases ‘’granted independence’’ without economic ownership and control by Africans. Africans merely owned the flag and parliament. There were no reparations for the many years that the riches of Africa had enriched and developed Europe. Instead African countries were strangled with what was termed foreign debts initially called “foreign aid.’’ African economies are still owned and controlled by their former colonisers that neglected the economic development of Africa and suppressed her technological advancement by making sure Africans remained backward educationally and therefore, easily cheated.
Economically, European colonisers never meant for Africans to fully repossess their continent and own its riches. For instance, over 50% of arable land in Namibia is owned by less than 4,000 Europeans. In Kenya, many former Mau Mau fighters who fought the war of liberation against colonial dispossession recently won a case in a High Court in London for atrocities that British colonial government inflicted on them. Kenya still has a problem of Land dispossession fifty years after their fight for the liberation of their country.
In Rhodesia, through the Land Appropriation Act 1930, the Zimbabweans were dispossessed of their land. There has been a great deal of ballyhoo about ZANU depriving white farmers of their land. There was no such noise when Cecil Rhodes, that arch-agent of British imperialism, dispossessed Africans of their land and dished out the African land to British colonial settlers. Nobody raised any alarm when Cecil Rhodes proclaimed: “The clearing of the land of savages could be achieved in two to three years with the aid of a certain number of machine guns. I contend that we are the first race in the world. That the more world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. I contend that every acre of territory provides the birth of the English race and a greater portion of the world under our rule.”
King Moshoeshoe after studying this brutal thinking of European colonialists said, “The white men seem to be bent on proving that in politics Christianity plays no part….It may be you white people do not steal cattle, but you steal whole countries; and if you had your wish you would send us to pasture our cattle in the clouds…whites are stealing Blackman’s LAND in the Cape to here [Free State which was part of Lesotho] and call it theirs.”
When Jan van Riebeeck told the Khoi Africans that the Khoi must reduce their cattle because there were not enough pastures for the cattle of the colonial settlers and those of the indigenous Africans, the leader of the Khoi, Doman asked, “Who then, with the greatest degree of justice, should give way to LAND, the natural owner, or the foreign invader?” He further asked “If we (Africans), were to come to Europe. Would we be permitted to act in similar manner you act here? It would not matter if, you stayed at the ‘provision station’ [in Cape Town], but you come out here in the interior. You select the best land for yourselves. You never ask us even once whether we like it or not, or whether it will disadvantage us.”
I am mentioning these facts of colonial history so that those who are dispossessed of the resources of their countries must know what kind of people their dispossessors are and stop being naive.
The question of dispossession of Africans has been observed by some justice-loving people in Europe. Pope Benedict XVI has boldly said, “Our Western way of life has stripped Africa’s people of their riches and continue to strip them.’’ A Member of the Scottish Parliament, the Hon. Mark Ballard has affirmed this statement by Pope Benedict XVI when he said: “Our relationship to Africa is an exploitative one. The West no longer needs to send standing armies in Africa, to strip its resources, because it can do so more effectively with multi-national companies.” Indeed, Africa is like a country which Prophet Isaiah saw centuries ago, when he said, “Your country is desolate….Your LAND, strangers devour in your presence.” (Isaiah 1:7). The New International Version of the Bible says, “Your country is desolate…your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you” (Umhlaba wenu udliwa ngambasemzini phambi kwenu).
South Africa was built on crude colonial injustice and criminal disregard for the indigenous African majority of this country. The Union of South Africa Act 1909, a British Statute handed the African country it had colonised to 349,837 colonial settlers against the then population of five million Africans. This barbaric act is not surprising when it is recalled that Cecil Rhodes who was the first Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, had just before he died in 1902 said, “I prefer land to niggers…the natives are children. They are just emerging from barbarism.”
It is 100 years since the Rev. John Dube and Sol Plaatje of the South African Native National Congress formed in 1912 handed a petition to King George V of England, on behalf of the land dispossessed Africans in what is today called South Africa. In that petition of 20th July 1914, they demanded that “the Natives [indigenous African people] should be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same conditions as the European race.” The meeting of the five African leaders with King George V and members of his British Government in London did not bear any fruits. At that time the European settlers had been allocated 93% of this African country through the Native Land Act 1913. This was against 7% allocated to the five million Africans. Reporting this crude injustice, a London Daily newspaper, said: “In carving out estates for themselves in Africa, white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black man. They have appropriated his land and have taken away his economic freedom and have left him in a worse case than they found him….The blacks as compared with whites are in proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one-fifteenth of their land. The deputation of natives now in England has appealed to the imperial government for protection. They asked for suspension of the Native Land Act 1913.”
The national dispossession of the African people did not end in 1994. The Native Land Act 1913 is hidden in section 25(7) of the ‘’New South Africa’’ constitution. It is important to point out that the colonisation of Africans was not only of their land. It was also of their knowledge and minds. Everything African was destroyed especially indigenous knowledge. African artifacts show how advanced Africa was before slavery and colonialism and the practice of racism against Africans. This precious African asset was stolen and is hidden in European museums. European countries have refused to repatriate these artifacts to their owners in Africa.
To reverse dispossession, Africans must speedily acquire knowledge and not act out of ignorance. There must be massive education in Africa in all fields of knowledge. The Continent must move forward rapidly economically and technologically. No one on this African Continent should be without education, tailored to the needs of Africa, especially the youth. The dependence on foreign skills is national suicide. Prophet Hosea was not joking when he told his people in 735 B.C. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
This paper was delivered by the writer at the Africa Century International African Writers’ Conference in Johannesburg on 8 November 2013. His recent book is 100YEARS OF NATIVE LAND ACT 1913 – Womb of African Poverty and Marikana Massacre.