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3— Exclusion, Classification and Internal Colonialism: The Emergence of Ethnicity Among the Tsonga-Speakers of South Africa
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Africans and the Land

As the Afrikaner Transvaal state expanded to the northeast during the 1880s, its policies discouraged the formation of large scale chiefdoms by Tsonga-speaking immigrants. A common practice was for white farmers and missionaries to create petty chiefs from amongst the Africans living on their estates. Traditional chiefs tended to live scattered throughout the northern and eastern Transvaal beyond the borders of white-occupied farms.[38] When Albasini died in 1881, his chiefs were obliged to recognize the suzerainty of the Transvaal state by purchasing their titles from the local Native Commissioner. As chiefs who were unwilling to pay were promptly deposed, the Native Commissioner was soon elected over Albasini's son as chief of 'the Magwambas' living in the Spelonken.[39] This policy of segregating Tsonga-speaking chiefs from their Venda-speaking counterparts and of neutralizing the Albasinis as a unifying force was continued into the twentieth century.[40] In many ways, this official view was an extension of local mission policy which opposed the existence of powerful chiefs who could restrict Christian proselytizing.

More importantly, the missions had divided the population of the northern Transvaal along linguistic and geographical lines. Tsonga and Venda speakers were ministered to by, respectively, Swiss Presbyterian and German Lutheran


missionaries who recognized the Levubu as the border separating their parishes.[41] This division of mission work along linguistic lines left substantial numbers of Tsonga-speakers, living north of the Levubu, in the Venda constituency of the Lutherans while Venda-speakers living south of the river were considered to be in the Tsonga area of the Swiss mission. These geographic and linguistic divisions, initially introduced for pragmatic reasons, were later to become of great political importance as French and German-speaking missionaries sublimated their own nationalistic feelings into an attempt to protect 'their' African people. The Berlin mission was to become the de facto Venda church while the Swiss mission was even at one stage to change its name to that of the Tsonga Presbyterian Church. But just as mission and government interests were both opposed to the formation of large chiefdoms, Republican land policy also actively broke up and scattered existing chiefdoms.

The conditions under which Africans held land in the northern Transvaal changed markedly during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s most Tsonga-speakers lived beyond the reach of any white settlers and even in those districts where the latter owned farms, such as the Spelonken, Africans could live and grow crops almost wherever they wished, including on white-occupied land.[42] At the end of the 1870s some of the larger white landowners in the Spelonken shared their farms with several thousand Africans. By 1888 it was estimated that some 12, 500 East Coast immigrant families lived on ten white farms in the Spelonken.[43] It was only in the late 1880s that white settlers started to arrive in the northern Transvaal in appreciable numbers. These were largely landless bywoners who, in exchange for military service, were provided with small 'occupation farms'. But this movement into the northern Transvaal of small-scale, poorly-financed farmers was accompanied by what one missionary referred to as the 'Irish-style eviction' of white tenant farmers.[44] This was so because, as the Witwatersrand gold discoveries pushed up the price of land and drew Africans more deeply into the money economy, landowners started to turn off their estates bywoners who had been occupying large tracts of land and began to levy direct cash rents from the resident African population. Occupation farmers also exercised a tenuous hold over their newly surveyed farms as these were already densely settled and attempts to remove their African occupants were met with protracted resistance in the form of incendiarism, cattle-stabbing, settlement on fields ploughed by the white farmer, and the destruction of improvements to his farm.[45] It was these forms of resistance that forced the Republican government to create rural locations, or reserves, where chiefs could continue to exercise a certain degree of independence and thus maintain a hold over, and be responsible for, their followers.

Although locations were first envisioned in 1853, legislated for in 1876 and entrenched in the Pretoria Convention of 1881, it was only in 1892 that a 'Knobnose location' was delineated in recognition of services rendered to the state by Albasini's government auxiliaries. Despite its name, this reserve was settled by a conglomeration of Venda and Tsonga-speaking chiefs and commoners living in the Spelonken and, as the location was unhealthy and deficient in water, most people preferred to squat as tenants on surrounding white-owned farms. To the south, many Tsonga-speakers were included in Modjadji's location and in only one instance was a Tsonga-speaking chief, Muhlaba of the Nkuna, assigned his own location. This was a malarial stretch of land considered by the local native commissioner to be 'quite unsuitable for white people', and the Nkuna refused to give up their tenancy of the neighbouring Harmony Proprietary Company's farms.


Most Tsonga-speakers lived on land that had not been inspected or surveyed for private farms and hence was termed 'state land'. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, Africans were steadily drifting on to white-owned farms. This movement was encouraged by a discriminatory tax system which penalized Africans living in rural locations or on government land with heavy taxes relative to those living as tenants on white-owned land, while those in active service on white-occupied farms paid least.[46] The sale of state land also caused many Africans to settle on white-owned land. Many were drawn by the fertility and better access to markets of European-owned farms. This movement was facilitated by the large scale sale of occupation farms to land companies and local speculators. The undercapitalized, if not impoverished, occupation farmers were unable to raise capital because the terms of their tenancies precluded the mortgaging of their farms, and they typically lived in 'mud cabins that would disgrace a Connemara squatter or a Skye crofter'.[47] They were broken by the almost continual commando service demanded by a decade of wars mounted by Pretoria against the northern Transvaal chiefdoms. With their capital invested in livestock and without government aid, they were unable to withstand the effects of the extended drought and the rinderpest epizoötic of the mid-1890s. Many abandoned their lands and turned to transport-riding, hunting, woodcutting and salt-extraction, although even these traditional resorts of the poor had been made increasingly difficult by government concessions and regulations. In 1896 it was estimated that 29 out of the 30 white families in the Lowveld were starving and had been reduced to living off locusts and honey.[48] The slide of the white community of the northern Transvaal into impoverishment was to continue well into the twentieth century.

Absentee landlords, often mining companies prospecting for minerals, were only too willing to encourage the settlement on their lands of Africans who would undertake bush clearance and pay them rent and grazing fees. Many Africans preferred to live on land owned by the state or absentee landlords, where taxes were lower than in the reserves where, if they paid rent, it was in cash rather than labour and where existing forms of social control and production could be maintained. Others moved from chief to chief or farm to farm in an attempt to better their living conditions. This meant that white farmers had to compete for labour not only with each other and with land companies but also with chiefs living on state and private land and in the reserves. Because of this competition, the labour extracted by white farmers from their tenants could not exceed the combined monetary value of the rents and taxes paid by tenants living beyond the borders of white-occupied farms. Similarly, because of the private reserves that existed on estates owned by land speculators and the state, white farmers were obliged to reserve large parts of their farms for tenants who paid them rents in both labour and money.

The Republican anti-squatter laws of 1887 and 1895 were legislated in order to force African tenants off 'private reserves' so as to spread the labour more equitably and control competition between white farmers. But these laws had the opposite effect for they caused large numbers of Africans in the northeastern Transvaal to move into the Zoutpansberg mountains, which remained largely independent of white rule until 1898, or on to the malarial lands of the Lowveld. Until southern Mozambique was finally conquered by the Portuguese in 1897, Tsonga-speakers also showed a tendency to drift back to their kinsmen east of the Lebombos. All these areas were free of the anti-squatter laws, but, even more importantly, they were relatively inaccessible to tax collectors. The emigration of these loyal Africans deprived government officials of taxes and military allies,


constituted a loss of labour and rents to fanners and closed a healthy production market to white traders.[49] Hence the implementation of the anti-squatter laws, and even the extraction of taxes, was erratic.

Following the Anglo-Boer War, demands for the implementation of anti-squatter laws increased as the price of land soared and as the labour needs of wealthy white farmers rose with their transition from stock to arable farming. These farmers were opposed to the existence of government reserves which provided Africans with valuable farm land and which pushed up the cost of farm labour by providing Africans with an independent means of existence. At best, government and private reserves were viewed by white farmers as labour pools for mining capitalists. But the British administration in the Transvaal, in its support for mining capital, extended the reserves and made little attempt to evict 'squatters' who paid taxes and rents and who sold a considerable amount of both food and labour to the mines. By 1906 in the Spelonken alone there were over 40, 000 Africans living on land that was owned but not occupied by whites.[50]

In 1908 the first post-war Responsible Government, which represented wealthy farming interests, moved a year after its election to force African peasants into relationships of labour tenancy on white-occupied farms. A bill was tabled in the legislative assembly with the express purpose of removing up to 300,000 squatters throughout the Transvaal. According to the founder of the Swiss mission in the Spelonken this was 'the most tyrannical law that has ever existed in a Republican [sic ] country, a law that would dismember tribes and clans and disperse thousands of families'.[51] When the British High Commissioner, Lord Selborne, blocked the passage of the bill, however, the government replied by applying the old Republican anti-squatter laws. This resulted in many Africans in the northern Transvaal moving not on to white-occupied farms, but rather into the rural locations. Between 1908 and 1910 the number of Africans in northern Transvaal locations almost doubled from 52,500 to 101,700; those living on unsurveyed Crown land dropped from 109,000 to 90,000; and those on white-owned land, although still the majority, decreased from 175,800 to 168,000.[52] A common African reaction to the anti-squatter laws and the increasingly overcrowded locations was for families to club together and purchase land, initially held in 'trust' but after 1905 in freehold. Between 1910 and 1912 Africans in the northern Transvaal purchased more than 16,000 morgen of land worth over £15,000 and by 1913 they held a total of 71,500 morgen in freehold.[53]

The Natives Land Act of that year was a compromise between mining and landed capitalist interests. It promised on the one hand to extend the rural locations as labour reserves for the mines, while on the other hand it promised, first, to provide farmers with labour, by acting against rent tenancies and, second, to prohibit Africans from owning land outside areas 'scheduled' for their occupation. Land bought by a combination of more than six Africans had to be purchased on a tribal basis and held by the Minister of Native Affairs for the tribe concerned. In later years, the term 'tribe' became a synonym for African purchasers of land in scheduled areas; as one northern Transvaal attorney stated in 1930, 'a Tribe is a syndicate of ten to fifteen families which buys land and elects a chief and petty chief.[54] The Land Act also encouraged labour tenancy by proposing a graduated tax, in effect an annually increasing fine, on those landowners who accepted rents from Africans in cash or kind. But this section of the act could not be implemented until sufficient land had been released to cater for those rent paying 'squatters' who refused to become labour tenants. For two decades after the Land Act Africans were to retain a precarious hold on their land through the rent tenancy or 'Kaffir farming' system.


In purely economic terms it continued to pay Africans to remain independent producers on company or Crown lands. Here they intermittently paid rent and grazing fees, whereas under a labour tenancy relationship the family head or his sons were required to work for three months each year without pay.[55] Many white farmers automatically entered into rent paying tenancies with the residents on their farms for, as one northern Transvaal chief stated, 'when a white man buys a farm he finds trees, bushes and natives on that farm'.[56] A farmer who did not have the capital needed to exploit his land directly would rent out one section and reserve another part for his labour tenants. The persistence of 'Kaffir farming' in the northern Transvaal almost two decades after the passage of the Natives Land Act implies that labour tenancy agreements continued to favour African workers. If the latter felt that the terms of their tenancies were turning against them, they would frequently desert their employers by moving to rented land. They also exercised the more radical alternative of moving on to government land, reserves or mission farms, or of purchasing farms within scheduled areas.[57]

The preceding paragraphs have stressed that the geographical movement and dispersion of Tsonga-speakers in the Transvaal initiated by the early migrations were increased in the early decades of the twentieth century by the impact of capitalist development. Tsonga-speakers lived scattered throughout the northern and eastern Transvaal and they exhibited little ethnic consciousness, no desire to form centralized political units, and they made no claims to an historical homeland. In 1935 the government ethnologist explained that 'the Tsonga in the Transvaal are, with some exceptions, not organized into tribes at all, but represent a large formless population, the make-up of which almost defies analysis'.[58] Missionaries, farmers, the Native Affairs department and anthropologists all remarked on the mobility and progressive industry of Tsonga-speakers who lived in decentralized political communities with shallow historical roots and readily adhered to new customs and values.[59] Local people tended to regard the high achievement motivation of these coastal parvenus with a mixture of hostility and resentment, and Tsonga-speakers in the north-eastern Transvaal soon acquired a stereotype of being pushy and aggressive. At the same time, the undermining of the old forms of political consciousness and patronage centred around the chief allowed a greatly extended and more flexible sphere of social and economic exchange. Out of this fluid situation arose a new class of emergent petty bourgeois farmers who, equipped with vernacular literacy, were to lay the basis for the emergence of a Tsonga ethnic consciousness.

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3— Exclusion, Classification and Internal Colonialism: The Emergence of Ethnicity Among the Tsonga-Speakers of South Africa
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