Laws and land dispossession

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On the first day of his five-day Summer School course, Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza painted a grim picture of how the country's laws have been used to empower, and conversely, disempower South Africans regarding land.

Ntsebeza heads up the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Centre for African Studies. He holds the AC Jordan Chair in African Studies at UCT as well as the National Research Foundation Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa. With his expertise and widely published opinions, his course titled “The Land Question in South Africa” provided participants with a thought-provoking and interactive five days.

“The unresolved land question in South Africa is a time bomb and a threat to our democracy,” he said.

An entirely different approach than the one taken by the African National Congress (ANC) is needed if democracy in South Africa is to survive. But while making this point clear, Ntsebeza wanted participants to first understand the historical context.

Colonialism and the Glen Grey Act

“The ANC-led government inherited a very skewed, race-based distribution of ownership, access and use of land,” he said. This was the result of brutal and violent dispossession of land from the indigenous people of South Africa.

Dispossession became more aggressive in the second half of the 19th century with the discovery of minerals, particularly gold. Before the discovery, there existed a sizeable class of African commercial farmers, the black “middle class”.

But by the 1890s, things began to change for the worse and legally so. New mines required constant and cheap labour. The Glen Grey Act of 1894, which was spearheaded by Cecil John Rhodes, paved the way for this by restricting Africans’ access to land.

Starved of ownership and access to land, Africans were forced to sell their labour, cheaply, in mines, on farms and in the growing white-controlled towns and cities.

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