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The Land Question: A historical perspective on form and content

The Land Question: A historical perspective on form and content

By Jeff Rudin | Original Source: Daily Maverick | 3 July 2018

Land expropriation, with or without compensation, dominates South Africa’s over-abundance of contemporary controversies threatening to solidify existing divisions in our fractured society.

All South Africans agree that the land issue is highly emotive. Most South Africans agree that the 1913 Natives Land Act – an expression of the white supremacy upon which the then recently formed Union of South Africa was built – consolidated the sequence of uncompensated land expropriations, achieved by force or fraud since 1652.

What cannot be disputed is that the Land Act, legitimised by an all-white Parliament, reserved 92% of South Africa for the exclusive ownership of white colonial settlers, their descendants and any immigrants from anywhere in the world provided they were white.

This is to say, regardless of how one might see the question of compensation in 2018, land, in what became South Africa in 1910, was subject to an explicitly racist expropriation, sanctified in law in 1913.

And, yet, it is a serious mistake to understand the 1913 Land Act solely – or even mainly – in racial terms.

An over-racialising of the Land Act over-simplifies history, as will be made clear. Apart from the concerns of historians, this unduly racialised history has contemporary consequences that compound the binary distortions of our already heavily racialised present: white oppressors, black oppressed; white wealth, black poverty; white privilege, black pain; white robbery, black deprivation; white assertiveness, black deference.

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