Nkutšoeu Motsau, Chairperson of Azanla MVA:
When the white men met the Africans in Africa, both were living under kings. In Europe, the kings, the nobility, clergy and all sorts of landlords owned the land. The rest of the population, the peasants, were given small patches of land, and had to work for the landlords. The Africans had a ritualistic, kind of mysterious or spiritualistic relationship with the land, this will be explained later. How the Europeans related with land differed diametrically with how the Africans related with land! In Europe they had feudal relations, in Africa there were communalist relations.
The Europeans came to Africa looking for land and other riches. Now a group of Europeans and a group of Africans are sitting down to discuss about the purchase of land by the Europeans. The Africans do not understand this. First, they don’t understand the concept of selling; secondly, they don’t understand how land could be sold. And now they try bartering . Still, how is land sold? And so the Africans left and came back with loads of soil which they poured in front of the Europeans. The Europeans said they didn’t want the soil, they wanted the land! That is what the Africans could not understand.
The Africans did not own land individually. They owned the land collectively and it was held in trust for them by the King. It did not belong to the king. To the Africans, the land—the grasses that grew on it, the forests, the wild beasts, the valleys and mountains and the minerals under the soil—was indivisible and belonged to them; it belonged to their forefathers and to their children and to their children’s children. Their ancestors were buried here, in the land, their parents were born here, they and their parents would be buried here. It was allocated to those who came to stay here and those who had just gotten married. They took great care of their fauna and flora. They were notable conservationists!
The only way the Europeans could get this land was by way of conquest, or by use of force, or by destroying the way of life of the Africans so that they should work for them. This, the Europeans did in the Americas, the Caribbeans, Australia and New Zealand; everywhere they went. The Europeans started to take the Africans away from Africa to sell and use them as slaves overseas. The church of England declared that slaves had no souls. The slave trade roared and flourished. More than 3 million Africans were carted away! As if that was nothing and as if to give Africa something to really cry for, now the Europeans sit around a table and carve Africa up, dividing it up amongst themselves—this is for you Germany, this is for you Portugal, this is for you France and this is for you Great Britain!
In South Africa today, 67% of agricultural land belongs to white commercial farmers. The Africans own no more than 6% of agricultural land. Of the so-called 15% of the land that is owned by the Blacks, most of it is state owned. Look at the slums around the urban areas. The black people own only about 10% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. More than 50% of the black people live in abject poverty. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
That my friend, is excruciating land expropriation without compensation and its aftermath!
* The writer of this column, Nkutšoeu Motsau, was born in Top Location in the Vaal Triangle in 1953. He grew up in Sharpeville. He is a tetraplegic as a result of a car accident in July 2005 in Sharpeville and now resides in Cape Town, but still feels a deep rooted connection with the Vaal. Nkutšoeu is Chairperson of Azanla MVA.