By Carl Niehaus
In November 1837 the King of the Zulus Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu met the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, and a Boer delegation at UmGungundlovu. The Voortrekkers claimed that one of the King’s subjects, Chief Sekonyela, had stolen some of their cattle and they demanded compensation in the form of a Deed of Session of Land.
It was a treacherous proposal with which the Boers were claiming massive tracks of land in return for a few, probably not very valuable, cattle. On top of this the Boers had actually recovered the cattle that had been stolen from Chief Sekonyela, but failed to disclose this important information to King Dingane. It was straightforward fraud and deceit!
The Deed of Session of Land that was presented to King Dingane was written in English, an entirely foreign language to him. It did not matter to the Boers that the Zulu King had no formal education and could not read the contents of the document. Neither did it matter to them that there was no concept of permanent land ownership in Zulu culture, and that the Zulu people had absolutely no concept of the implications of ceding permanent land ownership to them. All they were interested in was to gain ownership of huge parts of what is today known as the province of KwaZulu-Natal, by imposing Western-European Roman-Dutch Law. They could not care less that these colonialist laws meant – and could not mean – anything whatsoever to King Dingane and the Zulu nation. They were imposing foreign law on the Zulu people, in what was nothing else but an act of land grab and theft sugar coated by what the Boers considered to be ‘legal’.
King Dingane quiet correctly did not trust the Voortrekkers. He saw them for the land grabbing thieves that they actually were, and he had no intention to yield the land that the Boers wanted him to cede in the treaty. While the Boers were at UmGungundlovu to give their theft of the land the flimsy seal of legality with a treaty that only carried weight in terms of their law, King Dingane gave instructions for them to be killed uttering the words: “Bambani aba thakathi” (which freely translated meant, ‘Catch the wizards’).
Yes, these white Dutch colonialists were wizards indeed! Using lies about their stolen cattle and the trickery of their laws and customs to steal the land which, together with the cattle that grazed on the land, constituted the very wealth of the Zulu nation.
In the history books that have been written by the white historians, who are the descendants of these Dutch colonialists, the Voortrekkers are portrayed as victims of barbarian savagery. Nothing could be further from the truth. King Dingane understood the serious threat that the Boers posed to Zulu land, and proceeded to take the necessary steps to eliminate it.
With the wisdom of hindsight – knowing what the descendants of the Voortrekkers subsequently did years later with the 1913 Land Act – King Dingane’s actions were insightful, and perfectly rational and correct. Sadly for him, the Zulu nation – and in fact for the whole geographical area that later became South Africa – he could not follow through with the actions that he undertook (subsequently to the killing of Retief and his delegation) to wipe out the remainder of the Voortrekker invaders. After having killed the Retief delegation his Impi also wiped out the rest of Retief’s party at Weenen, but they ran into serious trouble when at the Ncome River, where a Boer commando armed with cannons and guns against the spears of the Zulu army shattered the attack led by King Dingane’s commander Ndlela kaSompise with their firepower. Over 3 000 Zulu soldiers were killed and the Boers triumphantly renamed the Ncome River ‘Bloed Rivier’ (Blood River) because the water in the river had turned red with the blood of all who were killed and wounded. This was one of the most decisive battles of colonialist subjugation of the local African people by the white colonial invaders. Sadly the next major battle included an act of betrayal when King Dingane’s own brother Mpandela joined the avenging Boer Commandos with thousands of Zulu soldiers and defeated King Dingane’s army at the Pongolo River on the 30th of January 1840. Defeated, and his courageous resistance to the Boer colonialists broken, King Dingane fled north into Swaziland where he was killed.
From hence on the Voortrekker colonists proceeded to take away most of the land of the Zulu people pushing this proud nation more and more into what was called ‘reserves’, ultimately culminating in the 1913 Land Act completing the theft of most of the land from the indigenous people of southern Africa. African people were forced onto marginal and over-populated pockets of land that the white colonialists did not want. It suited them that the African people lived on these ‘throw-away’ pieces of land in poverty and subjugation because thus they were forced – like slaves – to work for starvation wages for the whites who had become the owners of the land and therefore owned the wealth of the country.
When one wants to understand life in any country history is the key. The history that I have recalled here is the key to us still understanding our South Africa of today. As critical as the land was to the wellbeing of the indigenous African people when the Voortrekker colonialists were stealing it, just as important is the land today for the African majority if they ever want to recover from the cruel subjugation that they have been subjected to.
It is that basic: Without regaining ownership of the land African people will continue to languish in poverty and be disempowered. Their economic disempowerment started with the loss of their land, and their economic empowerment will only be possible when regaining ownership of the land.
Recently I watched Dr. Pieter Groenewald, who is the leader of the white rightwing Vryheids Front Pus (Freedom Front Plus) party, declaring in the National Assembly: “Let me put it quiet frankly to you, if anybody thinks in South Africa, that you can take the land without compensation you are living in a dream…. If you want a civil war in South Africa do that!” One may gasp with surprise at the temerity of such a statement 23 years into our democracy, but there he was saying it getting red in the face and hyperventilating with self-righteous indignation. (See him here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B1zidcaVfns0WXVZektLOUxBTD)
Groenewald was speaking during a parliamentary debate on the need to speed up of land reform. Instead of engaging in a constructive debate about how to address this critical issue, he repeated the usual lie about the land, that whites with his entitlement mentality usually peddles. I quote him again verbatim because it is important that all of us understand there is no miss-quotation, but that these were his actual words: “It is not true that the whites took most of the land in the country from the blacks by violence and war. In many cases the land was either given to the Voortrekkers or there was some kind of trade.” (http://www.poiticsweb.co.za/politics/anc-and-eff-deceiving-themselves-about-land-reform)
Apparently Dr. Groenewald had learnt absolutely nothing from a lecture in the history of South Africa that President Jacob Zuma gave the Freedom Front Plus last year in the very same National Assembly about why the “trouble started when Jan Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope”. President Zuma pointed out how since 1652 when Van Riebeeck landed various incarnations of ‘Van Riebeecks’ (ala Piet Retiefs) robbed the indigenous people from their land (and thus their wealth), turning them into marginalised paupers in their own country. No-one listening to that remarkable speech then, could be left with any other understanding but that there is a direct and irrefutable link between the loss of land suffered by Africans and their continuing impoverishment, and whites having stolen the land and their continuing enrichment in South Africa. Having explained this with great patience and insight President Zuma stated the obvious that this situation cannot continue, and made a call to the Freedom Front Plus and the white (mainly Afrikaner) population to work with him and the ANC to address it because without returning the land to the rightful owners there can be no justice and peace in South Africa. Sadly, instead of taking President’s Zuma outstretched hand for cooperation to address this most critical matter, Dr. Groenewald saw it fit to brush it aside with his irresponsible talk of civil war.
Having sat through the free history lesson that President Zuma gave him, and being able to see with one glance at a map of the 1913 ‘Natives’ Land Act’ how the majority of African people had been pushed-off most of their land onto small pockets of marginal land, called ‘Bantustans’, Dr. Groenewald and other whites of his ilk are not ignorant or innocent about what their forefathers had done, and how they continue to benefit from it.
Once this reality sinks in, the nature of the beast that we have to deal with is revealed in all its ugliness. It actually boils down to the realisation that King Dingane was back in 1837 correct that the Voortrekkers were land grabbing thieves. Groenewald and the rest of the descendants of those very thieves now want to benefit twice from their land grabbing crimes, expecting that the land that they have stolen must be bought back by the very same people that they have stolen it from! Let’s not beat about the bush that is what ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ and ‘market related land compensation’ boil down to. This is crookery and wizard-like trickery of the worst kind! Indeed, King Dingane was right when he said: “Bambani aba thakhati”.
If we are serious about Radical Socio-economic Transformation the return of the land to the rightful owners is absolutely key. It just cannot be reasonable to expect for the scarce resources of our fiscus that need to be used for education, health care and in general the development and empowerment of black people, to be used to re-purchase stolen goods.
Radical Socio-economic Transformation must – as a bare minimum – be underpinned by nationalisation of the land. The state should take ownership and determine the preferred developmental objectives and tenure of the land as a national asset.
The procrastination about the implementation of the Restitution of Land Rights Act as basic first step has to come to an end. Whatever legislative hurdles there are need to be overcome urgently whether Dr. Groenewald and the Freedom Front Plus, or whoever else, like it or not. If it is necessary to make changes to our Constitution in order to proceed with comprehensive land restitution the African National Congress should not simply reject the possibility of forming strategic alliances with other political parties in order to be able to secure a two thirds majority to make those required changes.
There can be no further dilly-dallying about undoing the crime of land theft that have been committed against the African people of South Africa. Allowing this fundamental injustice to underpin the continuing economic exploitation the majority of South Africans is a crime itself.
Yes, indeed: Sekunjalo! The time is now to finally catch the white wizards and return the land of our beloved country to its rightful owners.
The article first appeared in African Times.
*Carl Niehaus is a former member of the NEC of the ANC and an NEC member of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Conference (MKMVA)
All Carl’s articles can also be found on his blog, Carl’s Corner: www.carlniehaus.co.za