Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s Death: Time to Rediscover our Common History

The death of apartheid stalwart, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, laid bare the South African psyche and how much still must be done to heal the wounds of our troubled past. Troubled as it is, our past however presents at the same time, in my view, the ideal vehicle to build social cohesion that our society so clearly lacks. 

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and in the above article Winnie’s funeral a missed opportunity he writes as follows:

“If there is any subject that brings out the differences in people, it has to be history.

Most conflicts in society are not about how to shape the future, but how to read the past and apportion responsibility. Religious conflicts that divide societies and have resulted in sustained conflicts such as the one we see in the Middle East are based on a historical account of the past. In this instance, religious convictions are largely a historical account of how our ancestors adopted religion and spirituality in their struggle for self-determination and survival in a hostile world characterised by good and evil.

Modern religious convictions are often a choice regarding which historical account of past events you believe, and the corresponding beliefs closely reflect one’s historical ancestry.

History is a window through which to look into the future. A nation that has a sense of a shared history, tend to develop a sense of common destiny. South Africans have conflicting versions of history. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death has laid bare the fact that we do not agree on a common version of history for this country. In fact, the history of South Africa relating to the apartheid years and the struggle against the regime remains the most contested history and source of major differences in the country. 

Instead of using Mama Winnie’s passing as a moment to forge a common reflection on the glorious history of this country, including the courageous anti-apartheid struggle, South Africans resorted to desecrating that history by casting aspersions on the struggle role played by the giants such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.”

His words rings so true and that goes for White people’s understanding of the history and struggle of Black people but also just as much for Black people’s understanding of the history and struggle of White people.

In response to the above article Let’s not stray back in our historical laagers, I wrote as follows recently on Facebook when the author, Solly Moeng, asked for input on the question “How do we recover ourselves as a united, diverse nation, hold hands again and build together for a better shared future?”:

“…………The second aspect that will in my view make a tremendous difference is not to vilify the history of especially the Afrikaner as if it was all just bad as opposed to the all righteous struggle waged by mainly Black people. Fact is our troubled history is not always as clear cut as black vs white or good vs bad. It’s much more nuanced than that and it takes careful consideration to arrive at a fair, balanced and objective view.

The Afrikaner history for example is full of bad and evil, which we all know of and which will be to our eternal shame, but it’s just as much filled with struggle and patriotism. Struggle in overcoming prejudice by the British who saw Afrikaans speaking people as lesser human beings in the 1800’s, struggle in overcoming poverty when in the 1930’s one in three Afrikaner households were living in abject poverty, struggle in overcoming the trauma of losing thousands of men, women and children during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War in the cruelest circumstance etc. Patriotism in fighting for and securing South Africa’s independence in 1961 from British colonial rule, patriotism in realising the error of our ways and breaking from South Africa’s past of segregation by having the courage to vote overwhelmingly yes in the 1992 referendum for change etc.

Fact is we have a common history rather than an White/Afrikaans or Black/Zulu/Xhosa history and if we celebrate it together, and in the right way, it has the potential to unite us as a country, troubled as it may be. Just a small example to illustrate this – when I worked at one of the big 5 auditing firms, I had a consultant working with me Zwile Zulu, who comes from a Zulu Royal background. We one day discussed our common history and realized that in February 1838 his forefathers killed one of my 8th distant cousins, Stephanus Johannes van Vuuren, together with Piet Retief and all his other men. I indicated that five of my forefathers exacted revenge on Dingane in December 1838 for this at the battle of Bloedriver and probably in doing so killed some of his forefathers. Rather than indulging in a debate about who was right or who was wrong back in 1838, we rejoiced the fact that somewhere back in our history our forefather’s tracks did cross, bonding the two of us inexplicably and irretrievably together, Black and White. Does the same not apply to all who are citizens of this country?”

I must admit that I had mix feelings about the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. I worked in the townships of the then Witwatersrand and also the Munsieville township in the 1980’s where on 13 April 1986 (ironically a day before the date she would be buried exactly 32 years later) she said her by now infamous words “… Together hand-in-hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country….”. A few days after her speech a township resident, Doctor Nakale Kgogome, suspected to be a police informer was dragged into an open area in Munsieville where he was set alight with a gasoline filled tyre around his neck. He died of his horrific injuries in hospital and this tragic event left an indelible mark on my consciousness.

Given the aforementioned, it was difficult for me personally to deal with the fawning adulation bestowed on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela following her death. At the same many so-called expose’s, documentaries and interviews came to the fore that added nothing new that was not already in the public domain, but which many and especially those in the EFF fold grabbed onto with their life, to erroneously show that Winnie’s has been misrepresented and that their was a conspiracy to defraud her legacy or even worse that she has been sold out by her comrades. This was a crude attempt at revisionist rewriting of history that went as far as to taint the role played by people such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as highlighted by  Ralph Mathekga above, and even the reputation of of three respected journalists, Thandeka Gqubule, Anton Harber and Nomavenda Mathiane was called into question (in a rather weak apology the Huffington Post astonishingly said that “they felt the public would understand” and that it was “not making a literal accusation”).

In the end I however had to temper my own personal feelings about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, by appreciating her role in the wider struggle to rid South Africa from Apartheid and what she meant, wrongly or rightly depending on each person’s own perspective, for so many South African’s. I took a lot of personal convincing for me to do so but in the end, just as in the example of me and Zwile Zulu mentioned above, I came to the realization that somewhere in my past, my path and that of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela crossed, and that this bonded the two of us inexplicably and irretrievably together as South Africans with a common history. 

As Palesa Morudu, a publisher and writer based in Cape Town wrote in the above article  Has truth become a casualty of Winnie’s rejection of accountability?, I in the end also added my voice to those that prayed “May she rest in peace” and “Let us celebrate the glory of her legacy” but who also said lets at the same time “condemn its horrors”.

As Ralph Mathekga noted above a nation that has a sense of a shared history, tend to develop a sense of a common destiny. My wish is therefore for all South African’s to reconsider our common history, troubled as it may be, and what this history tells us it means to be a South African. That we all at the same time acknowledge the past hurt that we caused one another but also recognize that, at various points in our past people, of all races and backgrounds suffered. That we in doing so take off our lenses of prejudice and hatred, and attempts to score points by selectively quoting history, and that we look one another squarely in the eyes, saying that its our common history that binds us all together,  inexplicably and irretrievably, Black and White.

Postscript 1: I’m busy reading a fascinating book by Harry Booyens “AmaBhulu – The Birth and Death of the Second America”. In it he documents the birth of the Afrikaner nation, its struggles to find a home it can call its own in Africa just to be robbed of it every time by the British imperialists and the many interactions my forefathers had with the various African tribes. The book brings vividly to life the fact that many times in our troubled past the Afrikaner and the African tribes worked together for the common good and in many instances exchanged land for goods or assistance rendered which goes against the prevailing narrative the Whites always stole the land. I will therefore in a few posts to follow focus on these aspects namely the cooperation between Afrikaner and Black people throughout our history, the history of land occupation in Southern Africa and also highlight the extent to which the Afrikaner suffered under British imperialism and domination.

Postscript 2: I quoted above the second aspect that I thought would assist to recover ourselves as a united, diverse nation,  and to hold hands again and build together for a better shared future. The first aspect that I thought would make a big difference are the following as I worded it in my Facebook post:

“The first thing that will in my view make a tremendous contribution is to accept all South Africans as rightful citizens of our beautiful country and for our government to be unequivocal about it in all their messaging. For as long as the word settler or colonialist is being branded around, it will make a lot of people, including me, feel that we are not welcome in the country of our birth and make us to doubt the sincerity of our fellow South African’s. These utterances creates unnecessary breathing space for racists to come to the fore and spew hate.”


Rian Malan and the prevailing narrative of White people dispossessing Black people and committing genocide

In this day and age, history as we know it are continually being questioned and revisited, which I don’t have a problem with, so as long as its backed by new historical evidence and not just to simply support a new prevailing political narrative. I think that in the debate about expropriation without compensation we all should also guard against a one-sided historical view of dispossession of land and any violence that accompanied it, especially if it says that it was only group A who did it to group B without critically questioning it.

I wrote about the same aspect in my recent critique of Parliaments motion on expropriation without compensation which can be read here:

It might be an uncomfortable truth, but fact is that not only Black people were the victims of land dispossession in our recent past, White people also suffered dispossession.  Also, the perpetrators of dispossession were not exclusively White people, but Black people also dispossessed their fellow Blacks.

The above article Land-restitution demands driven by the pain of the ‘colonial wound’ highlights but one of the instances in which the White community, in this instance the Afrikaner, was disposed in a violent way from their farms –

“A version of this model was used to instigate a much more calamitous event, the Anglo-Boer War. It ended in by far the largest and most intense land grab in SA’s history (my emphasis), through martial law.

“Rebel” Boer farms were seized, and their inhabitants sent to the century’s first concentration camps, where 40,000 people of all races died. In an orgy of slaughter as part of a scorched-earth campaign decried in the British parliament as using the “methods of barbarism”, livestock and improvements were destroyed.”

Another example is the Boer Republic of Natalia with its capital Pietermaritzburg. The area was ceded by the Zulu king Dingane to Piet Retief and his followers in 1838 but the British simply annexed the territory in 1843, dispossessing the Boer citizens, to establish the Colony of Natal.

NOTE – although Dingane and three witnesses on both sides signed the document, there is some contestation if Dingane fully understood what he did by signing the treaty with the Voortrekkers before he killed Retief’s whole party, but fact remains he signed a document giving ownership of some land to the Voortrekkers. Others questions the authenticity of the treaty, but as set out in the following article The Retief Massacre of 6 February 1838 revisited there is strong evidence that on 4 February 1838 both Dingane and Retief signed a written deed of land transfer.

Such land treaties between Black and White in our history are not uncommon and in the article Wit mense het grond wettig bekom a number of other examples are cited: 

“One of the examples of how the Voortrekkers acquired land with legal agreements is the agreement entered into with the Swazi king in 1846. The area between the Olifants and Crocodile Rivers was given to the Trekkers in exchange for cattle. In 1855 a similar agreement was entered into for the Lydenburg district. In the same year, the Swazi king also donated the area along the Pongola River to be added to the Voortrekkers new republic. The Swazi king’s goal was to create a buffer zone against attacks by the Zulu. There are also other examples of similarities, which refute the myth that the Voortrekkers have simply stolen ground on a large scale (freely translated from Afrikaans).”

During Apartheid many White farmers were dispossessed of their property by the National Party government in their attempt to consolidate the territories of the former homelands.

Coming to Black people dispossessing Black people the best and well-known example is the Mfecane (isiZulu) also known by the Sesotho name Difaqane or Lifaqane (all meaning “crushing, scattering, forced dispersal, forced migration”. This was a period of widespread chaos and warfare among indigenous Black communities in Southern Africa during the period between 1815 and about 1840 that did not just displace many communities and dispossessed them from their ancestral land, but led to the deaths of hundred of thousands of people

NOTE – Some historians questioned, not that the Mfecane happened, but what caused it, for example Professor Cobbling who argues that apartheid historians had mischaracterised the Mfecane as a period of internally induced black-on-black destruction rather than that the roots of the conflicts be found exclusively in the labour needs of the Portuguese slave traders operating out of Delagoa Bay, in modern-day Mozambique. Critics assert that revisionist theories such as Cobbing’s placed too much weight on environmental factors and ignored the key roles played by dynamic human agents such as the Zulu King Shaka. The historian Elizabeth Eldredge challenged Cobbing’s thesis on the grounds that there is scant evidence of the resumption of the Portuguese slave trade out of Delagoa Bay before 1823, a finding that undermines Cobbing’s thesis that Shaka’s early military activities were a response to slave raids.

Irrespective of its underlying causes, the fact remains that during the Mfecane, Black people dispossessed fellow Blacks of land through force.

The following piece Dear Mr. Malema brilliantly written by Rian Malan, highlights the same issue and I think its important to reflect on what he is saying. I came across it by coincidence again today as the article was written in 2016 already by Malan and in response to Juluis Malema’s infamous words said at the time and quoted below:

“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 (my emphasis). 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.”

With regards to Black genocide committed by White people, Malan has the following to say:

“……You keep saying “genocide.” I’m not sure that’s the right term. In the 1980s, historians Leonard Thompson and Howard Lamar published a comparative study of the North American and South African frontiers. Someone stole my copy of that book and the precise details are fading, but it claims there were something like ten million “Red Indians” when the American frontier opened circa 1780, and only 250,000 left a century later. That’s genocide.

In SA, the numbers tell a different story. According to Thompson et al, there were around two million Africans when our frontier opened, also in 1780, and roughly double that number when it closed in 1880. Since then, the African population has grown at a healthy rate, apartheid notwithstanding. That’s why whites are now so heavily outnumbered, and why if you say, surrender your land, I have not much choice.”

I have copied the full contents of Malan’s article below:

“Dear Mr Malema:

I am writing in response to your recent remarks calling for whites to return the land to its rightful owners, failing which you may have to slaughter us. I think it’s good that you have put this issue under the spotlight, and I would like to help resolve it. 

I 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. Hey, that’s all right by me. I’m not here to argue. I am here to find a solution, and to do that, it’s necessary for me to put my own land on the table and discuss what’s to be done with it.

This land (about 1200 square metres) is located in Emmarentia, Johannesburg, a good place to ponder our history because it is located at the foot of the Melville Koppies, where archeologists have unearthed a great deal of evidence about previous owners. Their findings can be summarized as follows:

1)  Around 250,000 years ago, Emmarentia was inhabited by our hominid ancestors. These creatures appear to have died out.

2)  Around 100,000 years ago, the first humans made their appearance. Unfortunately, I don’t know their names and their descendants have proved untraceable.

3)  Some twenty thousand years ago, the so-called San or Bushmen took up residence in a cave in the kloof near where Beyers Naude Drive cuts through the Koppies. Among the artefacts they left behind is a Stone Age device for making arrowheads. The whereabouts of their descendants is unknown.

4)  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.

In the beginning, around 1700, almost all Tswana fell under the authority of the Hurutshe, a powerful tribe that exacted tribute from lesser Tswana chiefs and kept them in line.

Around 1750, things began to change. Nobody knows exactly why, but one suspected cause is the mealie, which arrived here around that time. Mealies boosted crop yields. More food led to population growth, which led to intensified competition for scarce resources. The Hurutshe hegemony was challenged and overthrown. Without proper supervision, minor chieftains started tooling up and making war on one another. The Fokeng attacked the Kgatla. Kgatla attacked the Po. Pedi fought the Kwena, and so on. According to the anthropologist Isaac Schapera, there were 26 civil wars in the decades prior  to 1820.

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 practiced 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.

This did not help much. Analysis of Tswana praise poems and oral histories indicates that being a chief in Emmarentia and surrounds was a very dangerous occupation between 1700 and 1820. 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 of these factors it has proved difficult to establish exactly which Tswana grouping owned my land during this period of violence and confusion. Most likely, ownership changed several times, and at some point it was taken over by 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.

Contrary to popular belief, it seems the Mfecane was not really caused by Shaka Zulu. According to my readings, that man’s role has been exaggerated by Inkatha supporters who love to depict Shaka as a black Napoleon who single-handedly invented the short stabbing spear and the horns-and-chest battle formation, thereby changing history. 

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 destabilizing their neighbours.

Shaka’s neighbours included the Hlubi, the Ngwane and the Swazi. After Shaka came to power around 1818, these people decided it would be wise to move onto the highveld to get away from him. But the nearest parts of the highveld were already occupied by the Phuting and Hlakwana, who lost their crops and cattle to the invaders and had to flee westward, into territories controlled by various Tswana entities. This resulted in a chain reaction that rolled on for years, turning the highveld 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.”

One therefore assumes that the Po moved with Mzilikazi to Rustenburg district, where the Ndebele made their capital. The king lived in the very centre of the new empire, surrounded by loyal Ndebele commoners and swathes of pasture for the royal cattle. Beyond the pasture was a ring of tribute-paying vassal chiefs, and beyond them lay the march – a vast area that had been cleared of all human inhabitants. Mzilikazi trusted no-one, and wanted to make sure he could see his enemies coming.

I can’t be 100 percent sure, but I suspect Emmarentia was part of this so-called march. Here’s why. 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.

Against this backdrop, your remarks about “peaceful Africans” strike me as somewhat odd. The last person to make such an argument was Joe Slovo, whose seminal “Colonialism of a Special Type” essay was riddled with black holes and omissions intended to present whites in the worst possible light. That’s because Slovo was desperate to ingratiate himself with black people and become your leader, an ambition which led directly to what you see as the great sellout of 1994. You surely know better than to trust a white man, sir.

But anyway, our story has just begun. 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 aftermath, Mzilikazi fled northwards across the Limpopo, and the Boers claimed “his” land as their own. The suburb where I live became the farm Braamfontein, property of the Bezuidenhout family. These were my people, but let me be the first to admit that they did not behave like civilized white liberals.

Instead, they emulated 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.

Let’s face it — this was a form of slavery, and we must answer for it. But the Fokeng and the Kgatla must answer too, 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 Hartebeestpoort) became rich and powerful. According to historian Fred Morton, Kgatla chief Khamanyane (who ruled from 1853 to 1875) acquired an astonishing fortune in wives (43) and cattle, while many of his subjects “attained higher living standards than most Boers.”

Which is not to say that the Boers and their Tswana allies had it all their own way. On the contrary: the Boers were weak, and existed in a state of uneasy equilibrium with surrounding African principalities. Gert Oosthuizen, baas of the farm where I now live, would have been called out on kommando at least 14 times in his first thirty-odd years on the Highveld, but seldom returned home a victor.

Most Boer military campaigns ended in stalemate, and they were defeated on at least three occasions — by the Pedi in 1852, the Sotho in 1858, and the Venda in 1861. By 1867, they were under such pressure that they had to abandon the Soutpansberg, leaving behind a few stragglers who survived by paying tribute to their conquerors in the African way.

After the discovery of diamonds, Africans began to acquire guns and push back even harder. In 1870, the Boers abandoned Potgietersrus. In 1871, they lost another war against the Pedi. By 1877, they seemed to be in an extremely precarious position, which is why the British stepped in to annex the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek.

Beyond this point, your understanding of history becomes more tenable.  Professional soldiers sent by Queen Victoria crushed the Zulu and Pedi with considerable slaughter, as they’d previously crushed the Xhosa and were soon to crush the Boers. Black Africans wound up losing about two thirds of the land they’d held before 1652, and for this whites must answer. Then again, the British army had African auxiliaries in all its campaigns, so they must answer too.

But for what exactly? You keep saying “genocide.” I’m not sure that’s the right term. In the 1980s, historians Leonard Thompson and Howard Lamar published a comparative study of the North American and South African frontiers. Someone stole my copy of that book and the precise details are fading, but it claims there were something like ten million “Red Indians” when the American frontier opened circa 1780, and only 250,000 left a century later. That’s genocide.

In SA, the numbers tell a different story. According to Thompson et al, there were around two million Africans when our frontier opened, also in 1780, and roughly double that number when it closed in 1880. Since then, the African population has grown at a healthy rate, apartheid notwithstanding. That’s why whites are now so heavily outnumbered, and why if you say, surrender your land, I have not much choice.

But surrender it to whom? If we take the arrival of the first white settlers in 1836 as our point of departure, I should give my house to the descendants of Mzilikazi. But that won’t go down with the Tswana, who remember Mzilikazi as a bloody tyrant who robbed them of their birthright.

The Po might rematerialize and make a claim, and then there’s the Bushman to think about.  They were here long before anyone else, but vanished in the 1820s. Perhaps they also ran for their lives when they saw Mzilikazi coming, and took refuge in the Kalahari.

If so, this was a frying-pan-into-fire move, because the Tswana out there were short of labour, and they turned Bushmen and other vassal races (the Kgalagadi and Yei) into slaves who were exchanged for goods, passed on as heritable property and “controlled with startling brutality” by their masters. According to historian Barry Morton, slave herdsmen were “observed to live in an indescribable state of general squalor.” Death from malnutrition was “not uncommon,” and slaves were “punished and occasionally killed…for losing a single animal.”

According to Morton, evidence to back such claims lay hidden in plain sight in the archives, ignored for decades by researchers swarming into the Kalahari to study one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer populations. I can only surmise the researchers were white liberals who didn’t want to spoil the plot, which holds that it was the Boers who caused all the trouble in our history until they were overthrown by the saintly Mandela, thus giving birth to the Rainbow Nation.

Judging by your speeches, you detest white liberals even more than I do, which is why I have drawn all these complications to your attention. The fact of the matter, sir, is that all our ancestors have blood on our hands. More blood on mine than yours, at least at this point, but still: the only innocents in this story are the Bushman.

They were harmless level one people, with no chiefs and no material ambitions. Whites hunted them like wild animals, but your people were little better. The first British official to arrive at the royal court of the Xhosa (Sir John Barrow, c 1798) was told by King Hintsa, “My people exist in a state of perpetual warfare with the Bushmen.” Perhaps this helps us understand why the north-eastern portion of this country is littered with the relics of Bushmen who vanished long before white settlers came.

And so we come finally to the point of this letter. 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?

Your swift reply awaited.

Rian Malan”

In conclusion I wish to state that I fully support the principle of land reform and that even though considerable progress has been made in this regard the current patterns of land ownership is still unsustainable. I also fully support the process of land restitution aimed at people and communities who had been dispossessed of land after 19 June 1913 as a result of racially discriminatory laws or practices the right to restitution of that property or to fair compensation.

I do however feel strongly that the processes going forward should not be based purely on emotion or incomplete or unreliable land audits and findings or the loose or one-sided interpretation of history or be based on historical facts that are simply not true or on double standards especially if it pits Black versus White rather than focussing on the end goal – giving all South Africans access to land for productive and wealth generation purposes.