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The centenary of the notorious 1913 land act and its consequences

By Paul T. Shipale

On 15 July 2013, the Namibian Supreme Court ruled that Sections 3 and 4 of the 1985'Squatters Proclamation' which entitled the municipalities to demolish squatter shacks without a court order or prior notice was unconstitutional.

The judgement came after the City of Windhoek demolished shacks belonging to 14 people who illegally occupied municipal land. In light of that ruling and in the 47th Anniversary of the Launching of the armed liberation struggle and the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, it is worthwhile to shed some light on the historiography of this Act.

I agree with the former PM, Nahas Angula, when he wrote an opinion piece in the Namibian Sun on Monday 29 July 2013 that poverty is a time bomb, especially among the unemployed youth as well as in rural areas and settlements. Nevertheless, I argue here that the 1913 Land Act which took away the best land from the African people in order to turn them into a cheap reservoir of labour marked the beginning of all problems we face today, such as landlessness, poverty and inequality.

According to the jurist Kgolane Alfred Rudolph Phala, presently serving as the Speaker of the Limpopo Provincial Legislature, in his seminal piece on the Historical Roots and Significance of the 1913 Land Act, the 1913 Land Act laid a basis for the balkanisation of our countries, handing the best and most land to white settlers and giving the arid and least productive parts of the country to the indigenous Africans. It was a foundation stone on which all other subsequent legislation dealing with land was based.

Lest we forget, the Act of 1951 which severely dealt with the blacks who came to settle in towns was an extension on the notorious 1913 Land Act which essentially aimed to legalise the land robbery that had been taking place in Southern Africa for a period of more than two centuries. Such dastardly robbery started with the systematic extermination of the Khoikhoi and San communities who had peopled the land for millennia. The white settlers initially related and bartered with them, but they mistook their hospitality and ubuntu for cowardice and weakness.

They attacked and decimated them with horrible brutality and inhumanity. They took their land, cattle, and livestock, and turned most into vagrants and slaves. Such bloody land and cattle robbery continued in the wars of resistance and dispossession. Thus, the 1913 Land Act was the culmination of this massive land and cattle robbery which started with colonisation itself, Phala says and further elaborates that beginning in 1652, Dutch and British colonialists waged wars of conquest against the indigenous population, to usurp their land and its riches and to establish an outpost which would act as a source of natural resources, as a terrain of expansion and settlement, and as a market for their goods. Great Britain finally established its colonial authority over the full extent of South Africa at the end of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

African communities waged heroic resistance to colonial occupation. Despite being outgunned, they showed rare stoicism in many battles spanning over two and half centuries. However, their resistance was fragmented among and within various ethnic groups, and it could not stand the tide of superior armed force backed by a developed economic and political base of the imperial powers.

The 1913 Land Act was itself a successor to another notorious piece of legislation passed in 1894 in South Africa referred to as the Glen Grey Act. This ancestor of the Land Act removed all the communal land rights that the indigenous Africans had from time immemorial. It introduced individual tenure which limited the original rights that the people had to the land and even forced many off their land. The 1913 Act was therefore an intensification of this process, taking away many of the remaining property rights of Africans.

The 1913 Land Act had a number of both intended and unintended consequences. The formation of the ANC in 1912 was itself partly a consequence of the 1913 Land Act which was already been debated as a Bill in 1911. However it is a historical fact that even without the promulgation of the Act the process of forming a Native National Congress for the entire territory of the Union of South Africa was on from as early as 1909. With and without the Land Act a National Native Congress was going to be formed after the White-only Union in 1910.

The Land Act was also the basis for a plethora of subsequent segregatory, divisive, exploitative and oppressive legislation. Once the Land Act was in place further legislation was promulgated to support it. That legislation included the Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 which allowed local authorities to regulate and control the socalled influx of Africans from the reserves into the urban centres.

This Act was further tightened by the Black Urban Areas Consolidation Act of 1945. The Immorality Act of 1927 banned sexual relations between whites and blacks, which prohibition was extended to the coloureds and Asians in 1950. This Act was further tightened and extended through the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1950.

The 1913 Land Act was itself tightened by the demonic 1936 Native Trust and Land Act which declared rural areas settled by the Africans in reserves as trust land. It initiated a process of the betterment schemes and cattle culling mechanisms in African rural areas. It regulated evictions of the so-called undesirable Africans on so-called white-owned land. The Group Areas Act of 1950 consolidated these Acts and ensured that there was a racial geography in the commercial and residential areas.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 was followed by the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951. Indeed, the continuous process of proletarianisation of landless Africans led to their unstoppable urbanisation just as we are seeing today. These Africans came to settle in the environs of the urban centres no longer as migrants but as dwellers. There was massive overcrowding and the conditions were inhuman and despicable.

In the same year, the colonial authorities instituted the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 which initiated the establishment of Bantustans in the reserves by introducing the tribal, regional and territorial authorities system. Forced removals of black settlements from areas regarded as 'black spots' in white areas and suitable only for white settlement were enforced through the Black Resettlement Act of 1954.

This implementation of the Bantu Authorities Act was further consolidated through the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970, the Bantu Homeland Constitution Act of 1971, Self-governing Territories Constitution Act of 1971 and the Black Affairs Administration Act of 1971.

All these various pieces of legislation were also a direct response to the resistance struggles and its intensity. Whether it was the anti-pass campaigns, the urban squatter movement, the rural uprisings, the anti-forced removals, strikes, boycotts, marches and demonstrations, the regime responded with even more ferocious legislation to stem the tide of the struggle.

In 2013 we must look back at the hundred years since this Act was passed, particularly in the context of the land restitution and redistribution work of the new democratic government to spur the nation to redouble efforts to undo the damage done by the 1913 Act.

We must replace the principle of 'willing buyer, willing seller' which has not sufficiently addressed the problem, with the 'just and equitable' principle when expropriating land for land reform purposes in order to complete our freedom and diffuse the ticking time bomb. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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