South Africa: The Solution - published by Amagi Publications in 1986

Extract from: Chapter 1: Black South Africans: Their rise and fall 

Where once black farmers took with alacrity to the market economy, western technology, literacy and the use of money, and competed as equals with immigrant farmers from Germany and England, there is now poverty, malnutrition and stagnation. Where whites were once dazzled by black entrepreneurship, they now look disparagingly at blacks, and pronounce them inherently bad farmers and poor entrepreneurs.

What went wrong? Why did blacks do so well in the Eastern Cape, and indeed throughout South Africa, in the nineteenth century and fail so badly in the twentieth century?

Have blacks retrogressed over the past 100 years? Have agricultural and climatic conditions deteriorated? No – the answer lies in changes which occurred in their economic and political conditions. Until the last two decades of the nineteenth century, blacks enjoyed a considerable degree of economic freedom; in this century-they have been allowed almost none. How did this come about?

The truth was that white farmers felt threatened by blacks. Not only were the blacks better farmers but they were also competing with white farmers for land. Moreover, they were self-sufficient and hence not available to work on white farms or in industry - particularly in the: Transvaal gold mines where their labour was badly needed. As a result a series of laws was passed which robbed blacks of almost all economic freedom. The specific and stated purpose of these laws was to prevent' lacks from competing with whites and to force them into the work: force. This was the beginning of the 'black socialism' which exists throughout South Africa today.


A people dispossessed

During the nineteenth century white expansion and black migration increased the demand for land and the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony moved further and further eastward. The areas allotted to blacks became smaller and smaller.

We have seen that by the 1870s blacks had purchased .or been granted crown land as well as land in locations and in mission reserves. Many of them also leased land from white farmers in exchange for cash or labour.

During this period, white landowners were experiencing a severe shortage of labour. The blacks and Hottentots preferred self-employment, or working for higher wages in the towns, to being agricultural labourers.

In order to 'remedy the evil' the Cape Assembly passed a series of Location Acts in 1869, 1876, and 1884 to reduce the number of' ‘squatters’ on white-owned lands. These 'idle squatters' were the black farmers we have mentioned, who rented land from white farmers and developed it for themselves. The purpose of the legislation was to prevent them from being self-sufficient so that they would be forced to become wage labourers.

However, many white farmers were perfectly happy to lease land to blacks in exchange for labour, so the anti-squatter legislation was largely evaded and the shortage of labour continued.

In 1893 the Cape Labour Commission was appointed to look into the matter. When the commissioners asked why there was a labour shortage they were told: 'The natives are independent. They have land and grow what they choose, and their wants are extremely small'; in Alice, a white farmer said that the blacks 'seem to be able to raise sheep here, the Europeans not'; in Alexandria and Stutterheim 'the native can live by agriculture, but not the white man'; in Port Alfred they were told:

‘Europeans cannot compete with natives. The labour kills them.’


Act 33 of 1892 put the onus on the white farmer to register blacks on his farm. The number of blacks living on his farm and not earning wage (tenants) was limited. If that number was exceeded he had to pay a fine. As a direct consequence of this Act a number of black 'squatters' were turned off the land and suffered great losses of stock, homes, cultivated fields and other possessions. However, as in the case of the Location Acts, Act 33 was widely evaded.

In 1894, the Glen Grey Act drawn up by Cape Premier Cecil Rhodes became law. This Act was popular amongst socialists because it provided for individual land tenure in black reserves on the basis of equal distribution. It did this by splitting the reserves into agricultural holdings of ten acres each. No man was allowed to own more than one lot.

The aim of the Act was, on the one hand, to make the reserves self-supporting and, on the other, to boost the labour supply. The government was well aware that ten acres of poor land could not provide for the needs of one family, and that most of the men would be forced out of the reserves onto the labour market.

In addition, the ten-acre limitation prevented black farmers from competing with whites as it made it impossible for any black farmer to expand his holdings. Black commercial farmers were well aware of this, and strongly protested the violation of their property rights. Charles Pamla, one of the most influential black spokesmen, observed: 'No man is allowed to occupy more than one lot. This shuts out all improvements and industry of some individuals who may work and buy … surely Mr Rhodes can't expect that all natives will be equal. He himself is richer than others; even trees differ in height'.

Further anti-squatting legislation was introduced. Act 30 of 1899 permitted whites to employ any number of blacks and made them buy licences costing £36 (R720±) per annum before they could lease land to blacks. The cost of the licences was passed on to the blacks in the form of prohibitively high rents.

Despite all these laws, many white farmers continued to rent land to blacks illegally, so Act 32 of 1909 was passed. This raised licence fees and tightened the definition of bona fide labourers.

Authors: Frances Kendall and Leon Louw.This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the authors. The views expressed in the article are the authors' and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

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