“We are to have land again….Our land is us. We are our land. You took our land …. Without land we cannot be.”   Prince Maqoma was imprisoned on Robben Island by British colonialists in 1859. He died there at the age of 75 years. 

During elections in South Africa in 1994, the American government heavily financed the ANC. In addition President Bill Clinton organised Stanley B. Greenberg and Frank Geer to direct the ANC election campaign. These were Clinton’s own pollster and image-maker respectively in the American elections. 

In his book, DISPATCH FROM THE WAR ROOM pages 126 and 127, Greenberg writes: “The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was the only other party with standing in the anti-apartheid struggle and thus a majority of Africans viewed it favourably….The PAC boycotted the elections with de Klerk…and when it joined…advocated expropriation of white land without compensation.”

In my book  The Hidden Side Of South African Politics (page 65), I have pointed out that: “The truth of the matter is that the Pan Africanist Congress policy was to compensate for improvements made on the land, but not buy back their own land that was colonially expropriated from African people. The historical fact is that it is European colonial settlers who expropriated land from Africans.”

Honest Europeans on Colonial Expropriation of African Lands 

After observing what colonialists were doing to Africans in Africa, William Ellis, a British humanitarian made reference to, “especially seizing the land of the people whose country we may colonise and the expulsion of or annihilation of its rightful possessors. It has been our custom to go to a country, and because we were stronger militarily than the inhabitants to take and retain possession of the country, to which we had no claim, but to which they had the most inalienable right.”

Thomas Farewell Buxton of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Society in England acknowledged this point when in 1926 wrote, “My attention has been drawn to the wickedness of our proceedings as a nation towards…the natives of countries we seize. We have usurped their lands, kidnapped and enslaved them. Their greatest crime is the LAND of their forefathers”(Sir Thomas Farewell Buxton, Edited Memoirs, London 1926 page 106).  

African Kings Who Fought and Spoke against European Colonialism 

King Moshoeshoe of the Basotho in 1859 said, “The white people seem to be bent on proving that in politics Christianity has no part…It may be you white people do not steal cattle, but you still 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 Colony to here [Free State which was part of Lesotho]. 

Prince Maqoma of the Xhosa-speaking Africans in the Cape Colony was imprisoned on Robben Island by the British colonial government in 1859, told a colonial soldier Colonel Wade that:  “We [Africans] are to have land again. It was bequeathed to us by our ancestors; to hold, nurture and make it productive for their progeny….You came out of the sea to our land. Like a serpent you emerged from the water….Besides you had no tongue to speak to us. We waited to know why you had come. Instead we heard you are settling and taking possession of our land. But this is our land. You made us vanish, not exist. Our land is us. We are our land….From the sea you had no cattle. Now you have many cows and sheep….War you made to dispossess us….Blood you spilled, to take even more land. We cannot give up. We cannot rest. Without land, we cannot be.” This African Prince Hero died in Robben Island mysteriously in 1873.

 In 1652, King Domas of the Khoi Africans also had a confrontation with colonial terrorists. He asked Jan van Riebeeck from Holland who had claimed African land: “Who with the greatest degree of justice should give way to land, the natural owner, or the foreign invader? He added, “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 [at Table Mountain on your way to Asia for trade in spices], but you come out here to the interior. You select the best land for yourselves. You never ask us even once if we like it or whether it will disadvantage us.”

Colonialists Took African Land through the Barrel of a Gun

The question of land dispossession of Africans by European colonialists was an unprecedented tragedy for Africans together with its twin sister the European Trans Atlantic Slave Trade in Africans. In the year 2000, a Kenyan Presidential Candidate Mr. Koigi Mamwere commented on the issue of land dispossession including South Africa. He said:

“Today, Europeans own almost all land in the America’s, almost all good land in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and almost the best land in African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya. To acquire this land outside Europe, Europeans did not use law, justice and money. They took the land and its riches with the gun….”

Colonialists were brutal and almost devoid of human conscience. Earl Glen, a British colonial official defended the insidious racism of dispossessing Africans of their land unashamedly. He declared, “The African people are generally looked upon by whites as an inferior race, whose interests ought to be systematically disregarded, when they came into competition with their own and should be governed mainly with a view to the advantage of the superior race…. For this advantage, two things should be afforded to white colonists for obtaining the possession of land….Secondly the Kaffir population should be made to furnish as large and as cheap a supply of labour as possible” – (Political Economy of Race and Class in South Africa page 71 Monthly Review Press 1979, London).                               

The ANC Policy on Land  

 In 1994 the ANC became the ruling party in a “government of national unity” with the apartheid Nationalist Party. This was under the Eurocentric constitution which in Section 25(7), in particular confined the indigenous African majority to the land they were allocated in 1913 and 1936.  This was 13% of the land. But even from this small piece of land for Africans, land had been confiscated by the apartheid colonialist regime under the Group Areas Act 1950.

In 1994, the ANC enacted The Restitution of Land Rights Act 1994. Through this law, Africans could claim only land they had lost from this 13%. They were however, to do so quickly because 31 December 1998 was the deadline. Consequently many claimants were left out.

The ANC government came up with the policy of “willing seller and willing buyer.”  Many Africans found it unjust and ridiculous that they should now buy their own land which was taken from them with colonial guns. This injustice and insult to the intelligence of the African people prompted Daniel Mokonyane a veteran freedom fighter, lawyer, academic and author of the book SELL OUT to write: “This is just as the crude spectacle of a rapist who comes to the scene of his nefarious act and demand payment for loss of his semen and exertion.”

Why the ANC will not Resolve African Land Dispossession

In the South African Parliament this writer, on behalf of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) called for the amendment of the present constitution with regard to Section 25, especially sub-section 7. He raised this land issue for ten years. The ANC rejected this. PAC and AZAPO Members of Parliament offered their votes for a two-thirds majority to change the constitution; to rectify the land dispossession of the African people, the ANC rejected this.

This writer proposed that there be at least a moratorium on sale of land to foreigners. This was also rejected by the ANC in Parliament. They went out of their way to say that even if they got two- thirds majority in Parliament, they would never change the present constitution on land. Today over 3000 huge farm land is reported to be owned by Britain, France, Germany and Canada. And of course, all gold, platinum diamond mines etc are controlled by those who own the land colonially.

In February 2016, after the ANC has been ruling for twenty one years, President Jacob Zuma, in his State of The Nation Address spoke about land expropriation. Is this another dummy or ploy to lull Africans into a false sense of security over their land dispossession? Can the ANC make its laws retrospective and repossess massive land already bought by foreigners for over 21 years during its rule? The doctrine of retrospectivity instructs that, law looks forward not backward (lex prospicit non respicit).

Colonial issues are not governed by domestic law. They are resolved through the principles of international law such as “Nemo dat quod non habet” (no one can give a legally valid title than he possesses or for what is not his). This applies to states and territories. The Palmas Island Case in the Permanent International Court of Justice before Judge Max Huber stated the law as follows: “It is an established fact of international law that if a state transferred a territory, the legality of the transfer depends on the title it holds. If it is defective, the title of the state to which the territory was transferred or ceded will be vitiated by the same defect.”

Colonial land titles which Britain gave to its colonial settlers through the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and Native Land Act 1913 have no legal validity. A colonial thief especially one armed with a gun had no right to transfer African land to itself or to anyone. It is the principle of international law and justice that “Natural reason concedes ownership to the first occupier” (Qoud nullius est id ratione naturali occupant conceditor).

The ANC became the victim of colonial mutilation of African history and manipulation of international law by Britain and its allies, especially at forums such as the League of Nations and later at the United Nations. Today, the ANC as a former civil rights movement in South Africa cannot reinforce its policies with principles of international law. It has to play the game by the very domestic constitution and laws which were largely influenced by the beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid.

At any rate, the ANC “Freedom Charter, renounced the land question in 1955. Its “willing seller and willing buyer” policy on land has been an unmitigated disaster. Its CODESA negotiators did not even try to touch the land dispossession of the African people. The ANC “expropriation” too, is headed for a dismal failure. Why? Because the ANC leaders do not know to whom this African country belongs. In 1988 the ANC assigned its official Francis Meli to write the authorised history of the ANC. The title of his book was “SOUTH AFRICA BELONGS TO US.”  The author sat on the fence concerning who was this “US”. The reviewer of SOUTH AFRICA BELONGS TO US had to write: “Even in a book like this, the ANC does not spell out to whom it believes the country belongs. At the end of reading SOUTH AFRICA BELONGS TO US, we still do not know to whom the ANC believes the land belongs” – (South Africa Belongs to Us: A History of The ANC by Francis Meli, Zimbabwe House Review – October-November 1988.

Today, in many parts of the country the ANC government has plans “to exhume human remains from cemeteries and bury them in mass graves to make room, for new burials.” This is repugnant to African culture. So even the dead are now being dispossessed of land.

Anyway, Prince Maqoma who the colonial regime imprisoned on Robben Island for fighting for the return of land to the colonially dispossessed Africans has spoken: “We are to have the land again….Our land is us….Without land we cannot be.”

By Dr. Motsoko Pheko

The writer is author of books such as: Land Is Money and Power; Apartheid: The Story Of A Dispossessed People; and South Africa: Betrayal Of A Colonised People. He is a former Member of the South African Parliament.


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