South Africa is Undoing the 1913 Natives Land Act

By Gugile Nkwinti – (The Herald Zimbabwe) The centenary of 1913 Natives Land Act, instituted by the colonial authorities to dispossess blacks in South Africa, has left a legacy that speaks to a century of unfathomable hardship for black South Africans, particularly blacks.

Davenport and Hunt (Miller and Pope, pl9) put the motive behind this law succinctly when they say: “The (Natives) Land Act imposed a policy of territorial segregation with a very heavy hand. It aimed specifically to get rid of those features of African land ownership and share-cropping which white farmers found undesirable, and enlarge reserves to ease congestion and facilitate the recruiting of labour for the mines.”

According to Miller and Pope (2000), “In Its primary role, as a segregating measure, the Act commenced the monstrous unfairness which was to be the norm for most of the remainder of the century.”

Another Sout African historian, Charles van Onselen, (p20) has the following to say about the brutal effect of the Act: “The Act was designed to eventually confine 80 percent of the country’’s population to the ownership or occupancy of about 13 percent of land.

It has, therefore, been imperative that as we intensify the struggle to reverse the legacy of this notorious Act, we stepped back and examine the circumstances of the enactment of this Law, and its intended results.

It became clear to us that the primary route to adopt in the struggle to reverse the legacy is to review the land tenure system; and, to decongest the 13 percent land space by resettling people from it to the 87 percent historically white area.

The Green Paper on Land Reform addresses this question by introducing a Four-tier Land Tenure System for the country: State and public land – Leasehold tenure; Privately-owned land – Freehold tenure, with limited extent; Land ownership by foreign nationals –  Freehold, but precarious tenure and Communal land – Communal Tenure with institutionalised use rights.

There are three principles underlying the LTS, namely, deracialising the rural economy, democratic and equitable allocation and utilisation of land across race, gender and class and sustained production discipline for food security.

The strategic thrust is growth through redistribution as envisaged, or, espoused, in the Freedom Charter and the Reconstruction and Development Programme. The effects of the 1913 Natives Land Act were not confined to humans. The extensive soil degradation and deforestation are a direct result of this Act.

If we are to successfully and rapidly rehabilitate the soil and re-green the environment in this land space, we must resettle people, particularly those who have, notwithstanding limited space, resources and absence of state support, demonstrated ability, passion and commitment to farm.

Addressing the recent Conference of the African Farmers Association of South Africa, the President suggested, amongst other things, District Committees. Part of the function of these Committees would be to identify and select the said persons and, or, groups.

A Rural Development Agency, underpinned by a Rural Co-operatives Financing Facility, housed by the Post Bank, because of its extensive reach, in the short-to-medium term; and, a Rural Co-operatives Bank, in the long-term will be critical in addressing the land problem.

This facility would be capitalised by deposits for land reform programmes, including restitution, the National Rural Youth Service Corps (the Narysec) and rural women Crafters.

It is envisaged that other rural enterprises would join this public-private sector-partnership. It is imperative that black people took control of their country’s economy; otherwise the liberation struggle would have been in vain!

Many South Africans, particularly those who have had their land restored to them, after Apartheid’s painful forced removals, have called upon the government to re-open the lodgement date for land claims. They say many of their former neighbours with whom they had been force-removed have not been restituted.

They have either been excluded through poor research and verification by our department, or, they had failed to lodge claims.

They are, also, questioning the 1913 cut-off date for considering claims to land.  Reversing the impact and the Legacy of the 1913 Natives Land Act is by no means a simple task.

In many parts of the world “rural” means tranquil, peaceful and equates to a very desirable and relaxed way of life.

In our country it means intolerable hardship, poverty and wasted human lives and natural resources. Our job is to put a stop to this; to make life meaningful, productive and rewarding in rural communities. –

Gugile Nkwinti is the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform of the Republic of South Africa.
Via The Herald – Zimbabwe

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