If only the original owners of South Africa should be allowed to own land here, F W de Klerk and Julius Malema have no such right. Both are descended from colonial conquerors. If they should “go back to where they came from”, de Klerk should go back to Europe where his forebears came from over three centuries ago and Malema should go back to West Africa where his came from fifteen centuries ago.
Are we allowed to say this? Are we allowed to tell the truth about the history of land ownership in what is now South Africa? The debate about the “rightful ownership” of land in South Africa is so angry, ignorant and confused that the truth is buried under myths. Often indeed the truth is banned. “Expropriation Without Compensation” (EWC) has made the truth even more difficult to tell. I shall try to tell it now. Everything I say is backed by a massive store of data going back hundreds of thousands of years, consisting of artefacts, fossils, DNA, linguistics, and written and oral history.
Modern humans, Homo Sapiens, evolved in East Africa, probably about 200 thousand years ago. In this sense every human on Earth is an “African”. When Sterkfontein describes itself as “The Cradle of Mankind”, this is only true in the wider meaning of “Mankind” as any hominid (a hominid is a man-like ape). Sterkfontein might have been the origin of some hominids far older than Homo Sapiens but it is not the Cradle of Homo Sapiens. (The history of the earlier hominids is very complicated and not well understood.)
About 60 thousand years ago (the date keeps changing with new finds) a small group of Homo Sapiens, probably only about a hundred in number, crossed from northern Africa into the Middle East and from there gradually radiated all around the world, founding all the modern populations of Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. This is why the genetic variation of people living outside Africa is so small compared with those who have always lived here. Margaret Thatcher and Mao Tse-tung are far closer genetically than two black people in Central Africa living a hundred kilometres apart.
The original modern humans in what is now South Africa were the Bushmen. But this sentence immediately leads to two cries of outrage. First I have admitted there was no such entity as South Africa in ancient times. It is a modern colonial construct. The borders of South Africa were drawn up by British Imperialists. Second I have used the correct term for our indigenous people: Bushmen. The word “San”, favoured by patronising, politically correct white academics, is actually a racist insult, first coined by the Khoikhoi, who came later. It means roughly the same as “Nigger” in America. The people didn’t have a name for themselves but now seem happy with “Bushmen”. I care what the people themselves want not what snobbish whites want, so I’ll use “Bushmen” too.
The Bushmen have lived in South Africa for at least 100 thousand years. They were hunter-gatherers, probably the greatest trackers of all time.
The first new wave of humans to enter South Africa were the Khoikhoi. The name means “men of men” or “real people” They are the most mysterious of all South Africans and their origins are not wholly understood. They entered from the north, probably just over two thousand years ago. They were pastoralists, herders of sheep, goats and cattle. They moved into the land of the Bushmen and there was much conflict between the two groups.
Then came the colonists who now dominate the population of South Africa. They are probably the most important and genetically varied group of all peoples: the Bantu. They entered the northern border of South Africa probably in about 500 AD. Again, two cries of outrage. First, you are often not allowed to mention that the Bantu came from outside South Africa; you have somehow to believe that they have always been here. Second, the term “Bantu” is shunned by the politically correct and never used officially. Officially the correct word for “Bantu” is “African”, which is absurd because biologically all humans are African. “Bantu” means “human”, and is used widely and proudly by all Bantu living outside South Africa, including black Americans. It is an honourable and scientifically accurate term, though one now tainted in South Africa by its misuse by white racists under apartheid.
The Bantu originated in West Africa. A large group of them migrated east into East Africa, where they acquired cattle and iron working. They learnt how to make small quantities of steel of high quality. Some of them moved south. They entered South Africa as colonists with superior technology to that of the existing inhabitants. They had crops, livestock and steel weapons. They moved south into what is now KwaZulu Natal and then west into what is now the Eastern Cape. They stopped at the Fish River because this is where the summer rainfall zone ended. The Western Cape has winter rainfall and the Bantu’s summer rainfall crops, including sorghum and millet, could not grow there.
The Bantu displaced the Bushmen and Khoikhoi. They dispossessed them of their land. They drove them out with their steel weapons and better organisation. Did they systematically slaughter Bushmen, as some European colonists subsequently did? We don’t know. Did they kill Bushmen males and rape and enslave Bushmen females? We don’t know. But we do know there was considerable intermingling between Bushmen and Bantu, both genetically and linguistically. The click sounds in modern isiXhosa and other Bantu languages come from the Bushmen. DNA testing shows many Xhosa people have Bushmen genes. Nelson Mandela is one of them. His DNA showed a fairly high percentage of Bushmen. Mandela, like some men and even more women, became more handsome as he grew older. His high cheekbones and slanting eyes were gentle and distinguished, like so many Bushmen faces, and became more pronounced as he aged.
Then came the colonists from Europe. They arrived by sea. First the Portuguese, arriving at the end of the 15th Century, set up various little outposts. But the permanent settlement by whites started with Van Riebeeck in 1652. Dutch settlers began farming near what is now Cape Town. Their numbers grew and they expanded their territory north and east. They had even better weapons and organisation than the Bantu. They also drove out and dispossessed the Bushmen and the Khoikhoi, often with the outmost brutality and sometimes with deliberate extermination.
They never acquired any Bushman words or sounds in their language, which suggests their encounter with the Bushmen was more harsh and racist than those of the Bantu, but perhaps it was just more sudden.
They took on slaves from the Far East and elsewhere, and sometimes treated them more ferociously than the white plantation owners in the southern states of the US treated their African slaves. There is often a cruel and horrible past to the gracious Cape Dutch farm houses of the Western Cape.
Finally came the British. Their arrival was fitful and unplanned, like so much of British Imperialism. They took Cape Town from the Dutch at the beginning of the 19thCentury for strategic reasons in their war with Napoleon, and then stayed there and expanded their territory. The Dutch settlers, who had now become Afrikaners or Boers, with their own distinct language, resented them and fled from them in the Great Trek beginning in 1835. The Boers moved up into what became the Orange Free State, the Transvaal and Natal. They sometimes clashed with the Bantu and dispossessed them of their lands.
Sometimes for reasons they didn’t understand they found country eerily empty of people. They set up their republics. They clashed even more with British, especially in Natal, which the British annexed. The British treated the Zulus there far worse than the Boers had done, eventually smashing them and humiliating them and taking over all their land. Diamonds were discovered in Kimberly in a corner of the Orange Free State, so the British took it over, with bogus justification. Gold was discovered in the Transvaal, with immense implications for South Africa. Then there was the Boer War. In 1910, South Africa finally became a united country under an Afrikaner leader thanks to the British.
The reason for the strangely empty parts of the country the Boers saw in the 1830s and 1840s was the Mfecane (“the crushing”, “the scattering”), the most violent and bloody episode in South African history. King Shaka, South Africa’s greatest soldier, had from about 1818 transformed the Zulu nation and, by using new techniques, forged a frighteningly powerful and aggressive Zulu army. It invaded and conquered other Bantu tribes far and wide, with great bloodshed, scattering them to the ends of the country, sometimes indeed beyond it. The Matabele occupation of what is now southern Zimbabwe was a consequence. The Zulu’s dispossessed other tribes of their lands.
Apartheid, from 1948 to 1990, was nothing more than a continuation of colonial rule under a white minority. The difference was that the Afrikaner Nationalists were more honest about it. They changed the unspoken understandings of white power and privilege into actual laws, written down. In 1990 President de Klerk’s famous speech ended it, and in 1994 the ANC came to power in a democratic election.
So what now about land ownership in South Africa? Following President Ramaphosa’s announcement of “Expropriation Without Compensation” there has been angry, often hysterical, debate about it, and public hearings full of sound and fury. Who owns what, and should ownership be measured by area or by value? Who is the more privileged, who has more dignity: the man who owns 1000 hectares of desert in the Northern Cape worth R2 million or the man who owns 100 square metres in Clifton worth R3 million? But the biggest debate is about the “rightful ownership” of the land. It is about “our people”.
If the rightful owners are the original owners, all of South Africa belongs to the Bushmen. Everybody else, including Europeans like FW de Klerk and Bantu like Julius Malema must get out. But there could be this argument: “We can hardly give the land back to the Bushmen since we’ve killed most of them”. That is logical, I suppose. But you could give lots of land to the existing Bushmen or you could give land back to people who have some Bushmen genes. The more such genes, the more land. Nelson Mandela, with a percentage of Bushman genes, would be entitled to a proportional amount of land; a full Bushman would be entitled to more. The “Coloured” people have lots of Bushman genes.
Or could you say that your claim to land should be proportional to the length of time your ancestors lived in South Africa. The Bushmen have been here for 1,000 centuries, the Bantu 15 centuries and the Europeans 3 centuries. Give each land in proportion to these times.
Or could you say that each piece of South Africa should be given to those who got to each area first? The Bantu got to the north and the east before the Europeans but the Europeans got to the Western Cape before the Bantu. And of course the Bushmen got to the whole country long before anybody else. Or could say that the land you be given proportionally to the population of each race group in South Africa?
Or could you say … ? But let’s stop these silly proposals which are all practically absurd. My point is only to show how difficult it is to award land based on “rightful ownership”.
I don’t believe there is any problem about land ownership and I don’t believe there is any great hunger for farm land among poor black people. Most people, black and white, myself included, don’t want to own a farm. They want 500 square metres in a suburb not 5,000 hectares on a farm. Farming is exhausting, perilous and badly paid. The great movement of people all around the world from the countryside to the cities and towns is simply because people prefer urban life to rural life, and factories to farms. The movement is good for humans and good for the environment. In the ideal world of the future, most people would live on a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface in cities and suburbs, a small group of commercial farmers would own a large area of land and feed the rest of us, and the biggest area of all would be returned to nature in great games reserves, parks and wilderness.
South Africa has more than enough land for everybody. There are very many farms and plots for sale at low prices, and indeed a great shortage of buyers. The government owns huge areas of land it doesn’t use. Every black person who doesn’t own property now should be given free of charge a good piece of this land with full title deed. If he or she decides to sell it the next day, which might well be the case, that is his or her business
The present fury about land ownership has no basis in history or human yearning. It is politically driven nonsense. I have given a logical and practical solution to the land question.
Andrew Kenny. 6 Sep 2018
Andrew Kenny is a contracted columnist to the Institute of Race Relations (IRR, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you support what we stand for and would like to see more of our writing in the media, join us here.
1. Everything I have said here is backed up by a mountain of evidence but really it is well known by everybody who troubles to look at human history since ancient times.
2. I have just put in one link on references to what I said, about “San” being a term of abuse. I don’t think the white academics who use it are racists; I just thing they are horribly politically correct, offended by the plain, earthy word “Bushman” and hoping that “San” somehow sounds respectable and scientific.