Land: dispossession, resistance and restitution

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Copy of the Land Act 1913

List of Laws on Land Dispossession and Segregation

Legal instruments through legislation, resolutions, proclamations and ordinances played a key role in legitimizing systematic land dispossession and segregating South Africa. The Khoikhoi, San and Black Africans under the British and the Afrikaner republics were dislodged from the land. African, Coloured and Indian and other Asiatic we segregated and banned from owning land in urban areas in the Afrikaner republics and with the creation of the Union in 1910 and later under the Group Areas Act and other segregationist laws. While the process of colonial expansion and land dispossession in Southern Africa began in the Cape, over time as the white colonialist political hold over the new territories were established and structures of governance were set in place, laws or general rules regulating ‘native’ land ownership were established. The colonial authorities also established tribal land or what came to be designated native reserves and passed land ownership/ communal land and governance legislation.W. J. du Plessis notes that “By the time of the advent of the new South Africa, about 17 000 statutory measures had been issued to segregate and control land division, with 14 different land control systems in South Africa.”(WJ du Plessis, African Indigenous Land Rights in a Private Ownership Paradigm, PER, 2011, Volume 14, No: 7, pp.45).Below are various legal instruments related to land dispossession and spatial segregation. 

Resolution (159) 1855

The Transvaal government adopted Resolution 159 on 18 June 1855 which prohibited anybody who was not a burgher from owning land. The Resolution specifically proscribes Africans from having burger rights.

Occupation Act (No: 8) 1886

The Occupation Act for Government Land Situated in the Zoutpansberg and a Small Area in the North-Eastern Corner of the Waterberg District (No: 8) was passed by the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek(South African Republic). The law allowed the government to acquire land free of charge in the District of Zoutpansberg, and it became the first law passed by the ZAR to control the distribution of land in the Transvaal.  

Parliamentary Voters Registration Act 1887

The Parliamentary Voters Registration Act was passed in 1887 in the Cape parliament as a result of pressure applied by the Afrikanner Bond who felt that English parliamentarians were benefiting from an increasing number of African voters. The Act extended the franchise to the Transkei, but conversely raised the requirements for voter qualification using the issue of land ownership. It excluded voters who owned land under the system of communal or tribal ownership. Since large number of African people owned land under this system, they were excluded from the vote. As a result of the Act, 20,000 voters – mostly Africans – were disenfranchised; a third of these were in the Eastern Cape.

Xhosa speaking people nicknamed the act Tung’ umlomo (sew up the mouth). Cecil John Rhodes who supported the Bill before it became law stated that too many Africans were allowed to vote and it was time this was changed. He stated, “The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.” (Bernard Magubane, The making of a racist state: British imperialism and the Union of South Africa 1870-1910, p.108)

The Squatters Act (No: 11) 1887

The South African Republic (ZAR) government promulgated the Squatters Act to regulate ‘squatting’ on White owned farms. In terms of the Act, not more than five families of Blacks were permitted to live on farms. White farmers who allowed the stipulated number of Black families to live on their farms did so, on condition that they worked for them for three months.

Volksraad Resolution (No. 359) 1891

Squatting on crown lands was prohibited by Volksraad Resolution No. 359.

Act 25 of 1891

The Orange Free State government passed Act 25 in 1891. The Act withdrew the Natal Coolie Law of 1859 to discourage the settlement of Indians in the province, and prohibited them from owning fixed property in the Republic except in areas where the government designated them to live. 

Franchise and Ballot Act (No: 9) 1892

The Franchise and Ballot Act was passed by the Cape government in 1892 to further reduce the influence of the vote of Africans. This was after more complaints were raised by the Afrikaner Bond which still felt that The Parliamentary Voters Registration passed in 1887 did not go far enough in reducing the power of the African vote. For instance, in the 1890 election which brought Rhodes to power as Prime Minster, the African vote contributed one sixth of Members of Parliament (MPs) elected. Thus, in response to pressure by the Afrikaner Bond, the Franchise and Ballot Bill was drafted, debated and enacted into law. The Act further raised property qualification from £25 to £75, and added a literacy test where the voter had to be able to write their name, address and occupation. Both Africans and Coloured people were greatly disenfranchised by the Act.

Glen Grey Act 1894

In 1894 the Cape government Glen Grey Act was passed and it provided for the division of all unalienated land in the district of Glen Grey into locations. The locations were surveyed and divided into portions of about four morgens (approximately 3.4 hectares) for each existing occupier and other land owners which were approved by the governor. Land could not be mortgaged and the remaining land was to serve as commonage. Alienation and transfer of land was to be approved by the governor. There was to be no subletting or subdivision of the land, the principle of “one man one plot” was to be applied. Any person could lose the land if he failed to pay the cost of survey or quitrent per year and for rebellion.

Squatters Law Act (No: 21) 1895

Law21 passed in the Orange Free State in 1895 prohibited farmers from employing more than 5 African householders on one farm without government permission. The law also prohibited Blacks from living outside reserves. However, this proved to be ineffective as Land Companies repeatedly broke the law.

Native Reserve Location Act (No: 40) 1902

The Native Reserve Location Act was passed in 1902 in the Cape. This Act authorized the government to establish residential areas for Africans outside towns. Under this Act African people in District Six and the City areas were forcibly removed to Uitvlugt (later renamed Ndabeni) just outside Cape Town. Only those who were registered voters or had permission to stay outside the township were exempted. The police were empowered to effect the removal Africans and even use force. The Act also heralded the establishment of New Brighton, a township in Port Elizabeth.

Crown Land Disposal Ordinance (No: 57) 1903

The Crown Land Disposal Ordinance (No: 57) was passed in the Transvaal, replacing the Occupation Act of 1886. Crown land was defined as all unalienated land and all land that was property of the government regardless of how that land was acquired.

South Africa Act 1909

The South Africa Act was passed in 1909 by the British parliament bringing together four colonies, the Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal into one country, the Union of South Africa. Under the Act a central government was established with four provinces. This saw the creation of a White minority state in which Black people were excluded from political participation in the new dispensation.

Land Settlement Act (No: 12) 1912

The Land Settlement Act was passed in 1912 by the Parliament of South Africa, and it outlined the provisions for the sale of state land to whites. Subsequent to the passing of the Act, 210 farms covering a total area of 168,636 hectares was given to white farmers over four years.

Natives Land Act (No: 27)1913

The Natives Land Act was passed on 19 June 1913. The Act’s most catastrophic provision for Africans was the prohibition from buying or hiring land in 93% of South Africa. In essence, Africans, despite being more in number, were confined to ownership of 7% of South Africa’s land. Section 1, sub section ‘a’ of the Act states, “a native shall not enter into any agreement or transaction for the purchase, hire, or other acquisition from a person other than a native, of any such land or of any right thereto, interest therein, or servitude thereover.” However, Africans were permitted to buy and sell land in reserves or scheduled areas while Europeans were prohibited from owning land in these places. The Act also included a provision in the law that allowed for exceptions, which had to be approval of the Governor General. Thus, over time land was sold to Africans in areas designated as European particularly in Transvaal.

The Native Administration Bill 1917

The Native Administration Bill, debated in 1917, made recommendations for acquiring more land from Black people on a scale that was even broader than the Natives Land Act of 1913. The Act also proposed the establishment of separate Black authorities. After being passed on to the Native Land Commission, the bill was not enacted into law until 1927.

The Asiatics Land and Trading Amendment Act (No: 37) 1919

The Asiatics Land and Trading Amendment Act, passed in 1919, legalised the tenure and occupation of land by Indians before 1919. However, the Act prohibited more acquisitions of land by Indian people.  

Natives (Urban Areas) Act (No: 21) 1923

The Natives (Urban Areas) Act was passed in 1923. This Act gave power to urban local authorities to set aside land for African occupation in separate areas which were called locations. Land was not owned by Africans, but simply occupied, and people living in these areas largely worked in urban areas. White land owners within 5 kilometres of the proclaimed urban areas were prohibited from allowing Africans other than their employees to reside on their property. Employers were also required to house those of their employees who did not live in locations. All these were attempts to prevent the emergence of settlements on the outskirts of the urban areas. By design, the Act was an instrument of controlling the influx of Africans into urban areas. Those Africans who were described as ‘idle’, ‘habitually unemployed’ and those who ‘did not possess the means of honest livelihood’ were deported. Langa Township, just on the outskirts of Cape Town, was the first to be established under the Urban Areas Act. A number of amendments to the Act over the years placed even more restrictions on Africans in urban areas. 

Slums Clearance Act 1934

The Slum Clearance Act, passed in 1934, enabled municipalities to forcibly remove people who were settled in areas that were considered to be slums. As a result of the forced removals arsing from the Act in Port Elizabeth, the population of New Brighton increased from 7,827 to 16,574.

Native Trust and Land Act (No: 18) 1936

The Native Trust and Land Act was passed in 1936. It marginally extended the total percentage of land in the South African Union allocated by the Natives Land Act of 1913 to Africans as reserves from 7% to 13.6%. This Act was later renamed as the Development Trust and Land Act.  Under the Act ‘squatting’ or occupation of certain land by Africans was made illegal, unless they owned it or were employees or dependants of the employee of the land owner. The Act also established the South African Native Trust (SANT) which bought all reserve land that was not yet owned by the government and identified the so-called “Black spots” to be taken over. Under this Act, African people were rounded up and sent to reserves.

Representation of Natives Act (No: 12) 1936

The Representation of Natives Act was passed in 1936 by parliament. It removed black voters in the Cape from the common voters rolls and barred them from running for office, but conversely offered that ‘natives’ be represented by a white person. Under the Act, a native amongst other descriptions was defined as someone” who is desirous of being regarded as a native for the purposes of the Act or is by general acceptance and repute a native and follows in his ordinary or daily mode of life habits of a native.”  (Colour Sheila Caffyn Patterson, and Culture in South Africa, p. 363)

Natives Laws Amendment Act (No: 46) 1937

The Natives Laws Amendment Act was passed in 1937, and it prohibited the buying of land by Africans from Whites in urban areas except by permission from the government. Under the Act, authorities in urban areas were to keep a record of all Africans living in the designated area. If the Minister of Native Affairs felt that the number of Africans had increased above the needs of the labour market, he was empowered to expel the ‘excess number’. In essence the Natives Laws Amendment Act complemented the Urban Areas Act by compelling local government authorities to vigorously enforce the latter.

Transvaal Pegging Act (No: 28) 1939

The Transvaal Pegging Act, passed in 1939, outlawed the extension of ownership and occupation of land by Indians in the Transvaal. The Act also halted the issuing of more trading licences to Indian people.

Trading and Occupation of Land Restriction Act 1943

The Trading and Occupation of Land Restriction Act was passed in 1943 and covered both the Transvaal and Natal.  Under the Act, Indians were not allowed to buy land in predominantly White owned areas in Durban. Whites were not allowed to buy land in Indian owned areas without first obtaining a permit.

Pegging Act 1943

The Pegging Act, passed in 1943, prohibited Indian people from extending their businesses or buying in White owned areas in Natal. In essence, the Act pegged the pattern of racially based land ownership, particularly in Durban and other areas, for three years. Property transfer between Indians and non-Indians was disallowed. The Act was passed following the findings of the second Broome Commission, which investigated the purchase of property by Indian people in White owned areas in Durban. In the Transvaal, the Pegging Act did not introduce new clauses, but it extended the Transvaal Pegging Act by three years. After its passage, protests by the Indian community broke out. As the Act was for three years, at its expiry the Smuts led government introduced the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Bill in 1946.

Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act (No: 25) 1945

The Natives Urban Areas Consolidation Act was passed in 1945. Amongst other things, the Act permitted Africans to have permanent residence in an urban area only if that person could prove that he/she had stayed in the area since birth, or had been staying lawfully in the area for 15 years, or had worked for the same employer for 10 years.

Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (No: 28) 1946

The Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (also known as the Ghetto Act) severely restricted Indian people from buying or occupying land outside certain exempted areas. This was an attempt to marginalise Indians and force them to live in certain restricted areas, mostly in towns. In return for the restrictions on land ownership, Indians were offered a limited form of parliamentary representation, mainly through White representatives. The law was repealed, however, in 1948 as one of the first legislative acts of the Nationalist government in the implementation of its policy of apartheid.

Group Areas Act (No: 41) 1950

The Group Areas Act was passed into law in 1950. After its passing, the Act permitted the government to establish separate residential areas based on race. In terms of the Act Black or White South Africans were prohibited from buying property or living in area that had been proclaimed as an area for one racial group. This act saw the destruction and forced removal of Black communities such as District Six in Cape Town, Sophiatown in Johannesburg and Cator Manor in Natal when their areas were proclaimed as White. 

Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (No: 52) 1951 

Under the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act private landowners and local government authorities were compelled to demolish and remove all structures or buildings that were built without permission of the land owner. The same was applicable for local government authorities concerning buildings or structures erected in violation of building regulations or planning provisions.

Natives Resettlement Act (Act No: 19) 1954

The Natives Resettlement Act, passed in 1954, gave the government power to remove African land owners and tenants with legal rights in urban freehold areas. The Act increased government control over African areas of settlement regardless of whether those areas were designated or not. In essence, the Act gave the government power to prevent Africans from living in or close to cities by relocating them to far flung areas such as townships. Section 2 of the Act provided for the creation of a Natives Resettlement Board (NRB) to provide for the removal of African people “from any area in the magisterial district of Johannesburg or any adjoining magisterial district and their resettlement elsewhere”. As a consequence, afterits passing, the there was a forced relocation of 100,000 Africans from Sophiatown and western Johannesburg to Meadowlands and other areas.

Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act (No: 46) 1959

The Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, passed in 1959, was built on the foundation laid by the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951. Whereas the Bantu Authorities Act was geared towards developing local government, the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act provided “...for the gradual development of self governing Bantu units and for direct consultation between the Government of the union and these national units in regard to matters affecting the interests of such units.” Thus, this Act was a major step towards territorial segregation through the creation of eight (later expanded to ten) ethnic homelands or Bantustans. At the Act’s introduction Hendrik Verwoerd stated, “The white man wants to retain his domination over his part of the country and is prepared to pay a certain price for it, namely by giving the Bantu full rights to develop in their own areas” (Ben Temkin,Buthelezi: A Biography, p. 67). The Act was based on recommendations of the Tomlinson Commission, which pushed for the extension of reserves into independent territories based on ethnicity.

Bantu Laws Amendment Act (No: 42) 1964

The Bantu Laws Amendment Act of 1964 gave the government the power “to expel any African from any of the towns or the white farming areas at any time" (Leonard Thompson, (1990), A History of South Africa, p.199). This finally abolished labour tenancy and squatting on white farms.

Black Communities Development Act (No: 4) 1984

The Black Communities Development Act, passed in 1984, was intended to facilitate racially separate group areas. Land was zoned for Africans and managed as separate zones. For instance, the Act named Diepkloof as a place of residence for black people, but by the same token, firmly maintained it as an area in which black South Africans could not own land. It also allowed the government, at its discretion, to revoke areas that were previously classified as established for settlement. This meant that residents occupying these areas became illegal squatters, subject to removal. Some historians have named the Black Communities Development Act as the “sister legislation to the Group Areas Act.” (Cheryl Walker et al.,Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice, p.73)

Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act (No: 108) 1991

The Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act was passed in 1991 to repeal the Black Communities Development Act (1984), the Groups Areas Act (1950), the Native Trust and Land Act (1936), the Natives Land Act (1913), and other legislative mechanisms that enforced a system of racially based residential areas. 


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Last updated : 08-Feb-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 02-Apr-2013