History of land ownership amongst black South Africans

As Sol Plaatje wrote in the opening lines of ‘Native life in South Africa’, “Awakening on a Friday morning, June 20, 1913 the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.

In the beginning,

According to archaeologists’ human beings have roamed the South African plains for more than 100 000 years and the Khoisan defiantly for thousands of years.

The Khoikhoi were nomadic and enjoyed free access to all the land, specifically along the southern and western coast strips where adequate grazing was to be found. Other long-term inhabitants were the AmaXhosa who have moved into the north eastern and eastern origin from the north, starting at least many of hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans. For all intents and purposes they lived in relative peace and harmony. But alas, as we moved towards the mid-17th century all of this changed. This would ultimately lead to irrevocably alternating

Setting the stage for things to come In the beginning of the enduring legacy of exclusion and the possession of land in South Africa dates back to 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. As a symbol, Van Riebeeck planted a massive hedge, with the intention of demarcating the extent of his property ownership and to prevent encroachment of neighbouring tribes. As you can imagine this must have been a massive culture shock for the Khoikhoi who had up to this point had free access to all the land. The great Khoikhoi leader Autshumato, was cordial at first but slowly a mutual animosity developed over access to pastures. By 1657 Van Riebeeck “granted”, by royal decree, title deeds to nine Dutchman in what is now known as Bishopscourt. For Autshumato this was not taken lightly and so began their 150-year resistance to prevent the Europeans from taking their land.


“The Portuguese and Hottentots”, from page 74 of “Pioneers in South Africa” (1914)

It is important to note that black farmers were prepared to buy property but the Act was passed to alleviate the problem of competition. According to Patricia Gratten Dixon, “The Native Land Act was also a measure designed to protect whites, not only the rich white farmers who were assured of the lion’s share of available land, but the landless by owners who were thereafter assured of work on farms of others, and the urban poor whites who could no longer be forced to compete with skilled or semi-skilled natives.”

In essence the act went beyond restricting land ownership it also limited opportunities of income for Africans other than to work for white farmers and industrialists. The Act seized the very asset which was central to the lives of African people and rendered them destitute. As a result black people were forced to live in overcrowded areas causing devastating poverty and starvation. The shadow of the Natives Land Act and other legislation that followed are still evident in post-apartheid South Africa as a significant proportion of land remains in the ownership of white farmers.

As centuries ensued confrontations developed with ever increasing intensity; stand-offs lead to massacres and land assumptions lead to restrictive legislation. By the early 20th century white expansionists had successfully tricked black tribal chiefs into trading their communal property rights and set the stage for the 1913 Natives Land Act.

THE NATIVE LAND ACT (NO. 27 OF 1913): The natives land act was specially created for the control of black access to land. This act had a profound effect on the African population across the country and fundamentally still maintains that same effect on black people today. The Act’s most devastating condition for Africans was the exclusion from buying or hiring land in 93% of South Africa.

Africans, despite being more in population numbers were only allocated 7% of land ownership and were only allowed to remain on white owned land as labourers and servants, which forced independent black farmers into the labour market by denying them the rights to purchase land.

The Group Areas Act of 1950 and the 99 Year Lease: The Group Areas Act was fashioned as the ‘cornerstone’ of Apartheid policy and aimed to eliminate mixed neighbourhoods in favour of racially segregated ones, which would allow South Africans to develop separately (South African Institute for Race Relations).

The Group Areas Act displaced hundreds of thousands of people; breaking up families, friends and communities. By 1983, over 600 000 people had been removed and relocated from their original homes (Pirie, 1983:348). In these designated areas; the townships, black people were not allowed to own a property instead they were forced to rent their properties from the local municipality under the ‘99-year lease agreement’. These laws affect the ability of black people to create or accumulate wealth. Consequently, significant numbers of South Africans have
never in the history of their families experienced formal property.

Despite significant progress since the establishment of a democratic government in 1994, black people continue to be significantly under-represented in the ownership of property. Everything considered this could also be attributed to socialisation. By stripping black people of the right to own property most of our parents and grandparents were conditioned not to pursue the ownership of property. As a result they were not in a position to install the culture of property ownership in their children.

A culture of property ownership has widely been considered the key to economic security and wealth creation. In fact, most white South African parents or grandparents are able to buy and own property because they were able to pay for their properties thanks to preferential treatment and employment; they were then able to leave the proceeds of these properties to their children, as either an inheritance or a financial jump-start in life.

These are the reserves of those who have had generations to build this kind of wealth to pass it on. Ownership and its wealth creation benefits. This has been a fundamental impact on the economic potential of South Africa and black people in particular.



What next? Today we live in a free country, where we have rights and can live wherever we choose to, and we can spend our money more wisely like investing in property. More importantly today we have the freedom to not only create true financial freedom but also the freedom to create lasting wealth for generations of black children to come.

If you do want to take advantage of opportunities that are now available to you in this country, look for a registered financial adviser in your area, set up an interview and get advice to aid you with saving plans. The next step is to look for a home of your own. Speak to an estate agent and see what’s out there. Put your plan of buying your dream home into motion now.

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