The Natives Land Act in South Africa, later renamed the Bantu Land Act, was one of the early laws in the African nation that aided in the establishment of the divisive Apartheid system. The law, passed on this day in 1913, set aside a small percentage of useful land to Blacks on separate reserves, even though they were the overwhelming majority.
Keep Up With Face2Face Africa On Facebook!
The South African Parliament ordered by way of the law the prohibition of land sale in White areas to Blacks; Whites in turn also could not by land in Black areas.
Black South Africans made up 67 percent of the population in the nation, compared to 20 percent for Whites.
Despite the numbers, only 7 percent of farmlands were given to the Black farmers with the White farmers gaining a reported 80 percent.
The reserves essentially became de facto holding areas for Blacks, and they were essentially separated from the rest of the colonized nation. Black residents could not live outside these reserves unless they bought from another Black South African. Further, Blacks could only live off the reserves if they proved they were employed.
According to accounts, the nationwide law was mostly applied in the Transvaal and Natal regions, as a similar law was already in place in the Free State province. A BBC report last year detailing the act on its 100-year anniversary featured comments from University of Oxford professor William Beinart and University of the Witwatersrand professor Peter Delius, who both stated the law wasn’t to seize and keep land from Blacks but instead it served to essentially trap them as workers for White land owners.
As reported on BBC:
“By and large, dispossession had already taken place, following the colonial wars of the nineteenth century. The Land Act came at the end of this process,” they said, speaking at the Land Divided Conference at the University of Cape Town in March 2013.
“The 1913 Act was, however, also designed to control the forms of tenancy allowed in the White-owned areas. An increasing proportion of White landowners wanted fuller control over their land.”
African sharecroppers, who cultivated White-owned land and, in return, shared a portion of the harvest with the landowner, lost out significantly.
“The Act did not aim to move Black people off the commercial farms but to keep them there as workers rather than tenants,” Beinart and Delius explained.
There was some resistance to the Act, with activist and ANC President John Dube as one of the more vocal opponents. Other activists, such as Sol Plaatje, also sought an end the divisive nature of the Act.
Although lawmakers claimed the law was established to halt growing tensions between Black and Whites in the nation, the Black South Africans later discovered it as a tactic to ensnare them as farm workers.
Still, there were even Black supporters of the Act, amazingly enough.
With the ending of Apartheid and the rise of the ANC as the nation’s ruling party, 30 percent of White-owned farmland was promised to Black farmers. According to reports, the figure was only met at 10 percent as of 2012.
Face2face Africa invites you to join us for our annual Pan-African Weekend July 25-27 in NYC, honoring Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Alek Wek, Femi Kuti, Masai Ujiri, Bethlehem Alemu, and Dr. Oheneba Bochie-Adjei. Click here for more details and register to attend.