Talking Point 17.11.2016 09:13 am

‘Dear Mr Malema, who really owns the land?’

Award-winning author Rian Malan has asked the EFF leader to explain what he meant by ‘peaceful Africans’ and challenged him to provide his historical facts.

Malan, a research fellow of the Institute of Race Relations, spent decades as an author and journalist, most celebrated for his autobiographical book about living in apartheid, My Traitor’s Heart.

His letter to Malema was, in part, a response to the EFF commander in chief saying outside court in Newcastle last week:

“We are here unashamedly to disturb the white man’s peace. Because we have never known peace. We, the rightful owners, our peace was disturbed by white man’s arrival here. They committed a black genocide. They killed our people during land dispossession.

“Today, we are told don’t disturb them, even when they disturbed our peace. They found peaceful Africans here. They killed them! They slaughtered them, like animals! We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now…. But 1994 means nothing without the land! Victory will only be victory if the land is restored in the hands of rightful owners. And rightful owners unashamedly is black people. This is our continent, it belongs to us.”

Writing on politicsweb this week, Malan said that he, “personally had nothing to do with what the EFF sees as the ‘mass butcher/slaughter of black people’ by white land thieves in the colonial era. On the other hand, I am an Afrikaner with capitalist inclinations, so I am clearly guilty by association in your eyes.”

He said that he was okay with and the least he could do was try to contribute to sorting out the problem.

Malan then writes, concentrating on one particular spot in South Africa, Joburg’s suburbs around Emmarentia. He discusses early hominid history and the human-like ancestors who lived in caves until the first humans appeared 100 000 years ago.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know their names and their descendants have proved untraceable.”

He says the same proves true for the San or Bushmen people who took residence in caves in Joburg about 20 000 years ago.

“Around five hundred years ago, the first Tswana showed up. These were sophisticated people who used Iron Age furnaces to work minerals mined nearby. They also owned sheep and cattle and grew millet and sorghum along the banks of the stream which flows past my house.

“On its face these Tswana would appear to be the only previous owners whose descendants are still living in the area, so in theory I should give my land to them. But when you look closely at the Tswana, a complicated picture emerges.”

Malan then explains that the Tswana fractured over the subsequent centuries, with as many as 26 civil wars as a result.

“In response, Tswana kingdoms became increasingly militarised and autocratic, which is to say, they moved from level 3 societies, which were chilled, to levels 4 and 5, where kings and chiefs practised an early form of capitalism, extracting labour and tribute from weaker vassals. Since the vassals did not necessarily like this, the more powerful Tswana chiefs began to concentrate their people in large towns, usually sited on easily defensible hilltops and surrounded by stone walls.”

As a clear attempt to refute Malema’s assertion of how “peaceful” Africans were, Malan writes that “of 71 chiefs mentioned in oral traditions, only 48 percent died in their beds. The rest were assassinated or killed in battle.”

As a result, it becomes hard to know which Tswana grouping was in charge in the Emmarentia area, but he says it appeared to have been the “Po, a Nguni people who controlled the Witwatersrand from a headquarters located near the Gillooly’s freeway interchange”.

“Have you ever heard of these people? Ja, me neither, but don’t worry, because they were soon swept away by the Mfecane.”

He says that, contrary to popular belief that the Mfecane was caused by Shaka Zulu, “more recent research holds that Shaka was just one of many southern African kings who more or less simultaneously embarked on a program of militarisation and nation building, thus leaping from level three to level five and in the process destabilising their neighbours”.

He writes about how the highveld was turned into “a zone of ‘persistent raiding and displacement’ that shattered African social structures and turned many people into refugees”.

“Around 1824, Mzilikazi and the Ndebele arrived on the scene, also fleeing the Zulus. Mzilikazi was by far the most efficient of the level-five autocrats. He ate up all the tribes in his path, usually killing males and incorporating women and children into his own ranks. One exception to this was the Po, who reportedly saved themselves by submitting to Mzilikazi and joining his cause as ‘allies or slaves’.”

Malan then writes how in the aftermath of Mzilikazi’s purges, “in 1836, an aristocratic British sportsman named Robert Cornwallis-Harris came this way to hunt big game. When he reached a range of hills which could have been the Witwatersrand he began to see the ruins of ‘extensive villages’, deserted save for a handful of ‘half-starved persons’ hiding in the bushes. According to Cornwallis-Harris, the abandoned villages were strewn with broken earthen vessels, fragments of ostrich shell and game skins. And that’s almost exactly what archeologists find when they dig trenches on the koppie above my house.”

Malan then pokes direct fun at Malema for talking about ‘peaceful Africans’. He jokes about a “DA-style army” that arose to combat Mzilikazi:

“The first white settlers showed up in Emmarentia a few months after the hunter Cornwallis-Harris. You seem to imagine these Voortrekkers as an army of genocidaires using guns and horses to drive peaceful Africans towards extinction. Not so. Mzilikazi opened the hostilities, massacring a party of Trekkers near the Vaal River and then stripping the Boers of all their livestock at Vegkop.

“At this point, the Tswana who’d previously dominated the area came out of hiding and offered their support to the Boers, which led to Mzilikazi’s defeat at the hands of multi-racial DA-style army at the battle of Mosega.”

In the wake of Mzilikazi’s defeat, he writes that the Boers claimed his land as their own and, emulating “the African kings who came before them, exacting tribute (especially in labour) from subject chiefs and periodically raiding more distant neighbours for cattle and captives. Some of those captives, especially the children, became inboekelinge, or indentured servants, working on Boer farms for nothing until they were 25.”

He says that this was slavery “and we must answer for it”, but the same would hold for the Fokeng and the Kgatla, because “they were our partners in crime, constantly joining the Boers in “mutually beneficial” raids on surrounding tribes.

“As a result, the Kgatla (who lived around Sun City) and Fokeng (near Hartbeespoort) became rich and powerful.”

Malan then delves into further historical details about the development of civilisation in the country, before ending with the sentiment that “the victims and villains of history are beyond my reach, but I am not without conscience. I am sorry about all the Zulu who perished at the hands of Lord Chelmsford in 1879, and the Shona and Ndebele slaughtered by Rhodes’ Gatling guns. But I am particularly sorry about the Bushmen who used to live in the kloof above my house. They suffered greatly at the hands of people like us, and their claim to being the original and thus ‘rightful’ owners of Emmarentia looks unassailable.

“I therefore think it might be best if I share my land with my friend Errol, an Afrikaans-speaking coloured person with at least a bit of Bushman blood in his veins. He’s not black, strictly speaking, but at least he has an Afro. And his apartheid victim credentials are impeccable.

“But before I go ahead, I would like to make sure this accords with the fast-track land reform scheme you envisage. If I do the right thing by Errol, will my life be spared?”

To read the full, original letter, click here.

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