Land Reform

Is Nkandla the spoils of colonial collaborators?

Zuma the traditionalist

 President Jacob Zuma’s suggestion that the historical date used as basis for the land restitution and reform process be moved back to somewhere in the 1800s immediately came back to bite him.

On the day after he, while addressing the 2016 session of the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) in parliament, pondered the question of whether the cut-off date should not be moved back to some – unmentioned – date in the 19th century, a number of commentators suggested that it might mean he will ‘redistribute’ the Nkandla area. This, of course, is where tax-payers’ money was used to establish his controversial luxurious private residence.

In his NHTL address Mr Zuma said that the year when the Native Land Act was passed by the then South African parliament, 1913, “…was (only) when the colonialisation of South Africa was consolidated’.

“I believe . . .  percentage-wise, the land taken after 1913 is very insignificant . . . Eighteen-something, that’s when the biggest chunk of the land was taken,” he said.

This triggered at least one commentator to remind him of an assessment by author Jacob Dlamini in an article of July last year about the role of Zuma’s own family during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. 

Dlamini, the author of book Askari: A story of collaboration and betrayal in the anti-apartheid struggle, wrote that to defeat the armies of Zulu king Cetshwayo the British needed “far more than their sophisticated weapons and training to defeat the Zulus. They needed collaborators — Zulu collaborators — and there were plenty of these to go around.”

He goes on to claim, based on the research captured in the 2014 book, Ekhaya: The Politics of Home in KwaZulu-Natal by Meghan Healy-Clancy and Jason Hickel, that among those “who collaborated with the British against Cetshwayo were the ancestors of one Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Far from helping to build and protect the Zulu kingdom, the Zumas helped the British destroy it.

“For their exertions, the Zumas, like many other Africans who collaborated with the British, were rewarded with land that had belonged to the Zulu kingdom until 1879.”

The impression left is that it was then that the Zuma clan got control over the Nkandla area, leading to the suggestions that Mr Zuma might have to hand Nkandla back to the Zulu nation if the restitution date is moved to somewhere before 1879.

Broader perspective

In fairness to Mr Zuma and his family, it has to be stated that this is an over- simplification of the turbulent times of the mid-19th century in southern Africa and of the interaction between black and white – tribes and colonisers from Europe on their way to nationhood.

First it should be recognised that the whites and their ex-slaves, some of them of mixed blood, who set off on their trek to the northern territories of what is today known as South Africa, was then themselves not much more than clans and/or tribes. Nationhood would only come with the establishment of formal states in the then Transvaal, the Free State and, briefly, Natal.

Especially after the discovery of gold and diamonds the colonisers from Europe would follow. It overlapped with a process of conquering and colonisation among the black clans and tribes in the same territories. ‘Collaboration’ was the order of the day at the time – and that was not even restricted to what are today the northern provinces of South Africa.

As an article by Bongani Majola on the Custom Contested website in July last year put it: “The collaboration of black people with white colonial power was certainly not a phenomenon that began with the Anglo-Zulu War.

“For instance, amaMfengu mostly fought on the side of white authorities during the Frontier Wars in the Cape, while amaSwazi assisted the British colonial army when it fought with King Sekhukhune of the BaPedi in the early 1880s.

“In the Battle of Maqongqo, King Mpande ka Senzangakhona fought against Dingane, his half-brother and the reigning Zulu king at the time, with the assistance of the Boer military force led by Andries Pretorius and Gert Rudolph.”

It is no secret that Cetshwayo’s rule over his own people was tyrannous. For example, Bishop Schreuder (of the Norwegian Missionary Society) described Cetshwayo as “an able man, but for cold, selfish pride, cruelty and untruthfulness, worse than any of his predecessors.”

Tribal warfare among the Zulu clans was common at the time and some of them, in their own interest and for pragmatic reasons, sided with the British in their battle against Cetshwayo.

There is ample evidence that this was also the case with the Nxamalala clan from which the Zuma family stems.

Fact is also that the Nxamalalas were long settled in the Nkandla area under the reign of the Zulu kings Shaka, Dingane and Mpande, Cetshwayo’s farther.

And those who are tempted to make racist deductions about the collaborative ‘pragmatism’ of the Zumas, should take some lessons from the great Afrikaner hero of the time, Paul Kruger.

It is a lesser known fact that Kruger, after the signing of the Pretoria convention in 1881, was quite happy to receive a salary from the British government for a time until the Anglo-Boer War broke out.

Dealing with reality

The mistake that Mr Zuma might be making is that by moving the cut-off date back, he will probably drag the baggage of history with it. This includes the fact that a good number of the members of the present NHTL from the former so-called homelands hold their positions courtesy of collaboration with the apartheid regime.

The challenge of the government of the day is not to try and remake or try and erase history, but to rectify the mistakes of the past in the face of the realities of the day.

In this regard it should take note of an observation in a paper delivered at a 2014 panel discussion of the now defunct South African Civil Society Information Service and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on the subject of “rural land reform with a special focus on traditional authorities and their impact on access to land and economic opportunities for South Africa’s rural poor, notably rural women”.

In the conclusion of the paper by Aninka Claassens of the Rural Women’s Action Research Programme at the Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town it is stated that the South African government “… has rejected the post-94 rights-based

approach to land reform in favour of outsourcing power and control over 17 million South Africans to traditional leaders in a context where power relations are notoriously unequal and the content of customary law deeply disputed”.

It has become untenable that in a democratic South Africa just about a third of its population effectively lives under a feudal system. It is a situation that needs urgent attention and we will take a look at that in a follow-up article next week.

It is also a reality of the day that South Africa and its borders is the result of a process of colonisation, which brought together different clans, tribes and developing nations who did not necessarily want to be together. The challenge and task at hand is to forge them into a united nation. Giving new life to battles of yesteryear won’t be helpful.

Also read: Zuma drags thorny issue of tribal land into public debate

by Piet Coetzer

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