Reblogged from/Read full article at: The South African Civil Society Information Service
“…But as English colonialism, frequently driven by actual rather than metaphorical enslavement, gathered momentum from the seventeenth century onwards, people around the world who sought to hold on to their land and autonomy in defiance of an advancing storm were presented as monstrous – a many headed hydra that needed to be destroyed so that land and labour could be exploited. Liberal philosophy presented this violent assault on the commons – which ranged from Ireland, to India, Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas, in terms of enlightenment and progress. From the underside it was often experienced as catastrophe borne on the terror of burning and killing.
This history is our history. But of course here it has been and remains profoundly inflected by race. Today people flying in to Port Elizabeth to travel on to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown will pass one luxury game farm after another. Grahamstown still carries the name of John Graham, the British soldier who drove the Xhosa people off this land, the Zuurveld, between 1811 and 1812 by burning their homes, destroying their crops and killing any man that resisted. John Cradock, the governor of the Cape Colony, had given Graham his orders. Cradock knew what he was doing. He had crushed anti-colonial rebellions in Ireland and India before being posted to Cape Town. In 1812 he could report to the British cabinet that the inhabitants of the Zuurveld had been forced across the Fish River with ‘a proper degree of terror’. A hundred years later Jan Smuts, speaking at the celebrations held to celebrate the centenary of the founding of Grahamstown, declared, “South Africa was a home for a great white race.” On the 19th of June the following year the Natives Land Act came into force.
In the famous opening lines of his Native Life in South Africa, Sol Plaatje wrote, “Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth”. It was the colonial wars of the previous century that had left Africans with only 7% of the land in the new Union of South Africa. But the Land Act entrenched this dispossession by preventing Africans from buying or renting land from whites, outlawing share-cropping and opening the way to the establishment of ‘reserves’, later known as Bantustans. It became a legal cornerstone of the segregationist project.
The ANC, founded the year before the Land Act was passed, was committed to the restoration of land to Africans. But it was the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), founded on the docks in Cape Town in 1919, that became a mass movement of rural people. It claimed more than a hundred thousand members by 1927. But like all movements that rise on a tide of millennial fervour it didn’t take care of the details of organisation very well, or work out a viable strategy for achieving its goals, and its hopes were dashed on the unforgiving shores of South African reality. There have been many rural struggles since then, perhaps most famously the Mpondo Revolt that began…”;
Author: Richard Pithouse