by Ewald Wessels
ALLISTER Sparks labels the 1913 Land Act “the original sin of all SA’s racist laws” (It’s time to end the disruptive migrant labour system, September 26), but he neglects to mention a critical fact: the 1913 Land Act was the work of a commission appointed by Lord Alfred Milner, under the chairmanship of Sir Godfrey Lagden, soon after the occupation of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State by the armed forces of the British Empire.
Not only did the Lagden Commission, which consulted closely with the mining industry, recommend a separation of land ownership along racial lines but it also created the system of pass laws that regulated labour influx into the towns and cities.
British thinking of the era, about matters of this kind, is illustrated by a statement that Sir Winston Churchill made in the House of Commons in 1944 to justify the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.
“Expulsion”, he said, “is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble… ” This was “grand apartheid” by another name. According to historians, about 500,000 to 1,5-million people died in the process of its enforcement in Europe.
It is not surprising that facts of this kind are seldom mentioned — the British empire benefited from a “divide and rule” strategy in SA. And it was convenient for its apologists to deflect the blame for the consequences of its actions onto “white” South Africans. Land alienation is a case in point.
The Xhosas were subjugated by imperial armies in a series of wars between 1811 and 1853. The Zulus fell victim to an imperial army in 1879 and the Pedi soon after in the same year (in the campaign against the Pedi the imperial force was aided by a Swazi contingent) and, finally, the Boers in the brutal war of 1899 to 1902.
While South Africans must certainly share the blame for messing up their own affairs (and, to be fair, apart from the damage that it suffered, SA gained much from the British empire), the interests of the entire community would be best served by healing internal divisions through mutual understanding.
It is the future that is important and the past is relevant only insofar as it reveals potential future hazards that should be avoided. The continuing potential for foreign forces to stir up domestic conflict to weaken SA and gain control over the country’s natural resources, as the British empire once did, is one such potential hazard.