Umhlaba Photographic Exhibition

by Thulasizwe Somdyala

Friday afternoon 8th November 2013, after the previous night’s interesting talk about land ownership and what South Africa can learn from Zimbabwe about its own people owning land, I decided to check out the Umhlaba 1913:2013: Commemorating the 1913 Land Act photographic exhibition at the Wits Art Museum.

The journey starts with Poor Whites & Afrikaner Nationalisation.  I am staring at a photograph of 250 000 strong crowd at the Voortrekker Monument inauguration in 1949. By the 1860s, poor whites worked along blacks on farms and diamond fields. After the South African War, when the British burned Boer and black farms, many whites and blacks were left destitute. This laid foundation to the idea of a unified Afrikaner people. Afrikaner nationalisation strongly appealed to poor whites, as it offered protection from black competition, in land they claimed was God given as the Highveld had been unpopulated when the voortrekkers arrived in the 1830s. In fact, trekkers encountered indigenous groups everywhere they went.


1913- The Defining Moment, the heading read in front of me. Early 20th Century, politics had centred around unifying white English and Afrikaner speakers and ensuring black labour for the growing urban industrial economy. The 1913 Natives Land Act defined 7% of the country as native reserves and prohibited the purchase of land by blacks, except in the Cape Province.  The Act also stipulated that blacks will only be tolerated as paid labourers on white land. In May 1914, a five-man Congress delegation travelled to Britain to appeal against The Act, where they were not well received. Sol Plaatjie stayed in London and in 1916 published his first-hand account of the effects of the Natives Land Act, Native Life in South Africa.  

As I continued and I witnessed photographs of black people in contrast with each other; black people who looked like they were in white uniform and black people in poor uniform.

Apartheid and Forced Removals in South Africa. I read an unheard story to me of forced removals in South Africa, Imijondolo by Omar Badsha. Inanda became the centre of political and social discontent due to the appalling living conditions of no basic services being rendered. The situation was aggravated by violent anti-Indian and anti-Pondo programs instigated by warlords aligned to the Inkatha Freedom Party, such as Rogers Engcobo, who led the forced and illegal eviction of long standing Indian residents and then rented their land to African families desperate for housing.



After the journey through the past and sitting in the present, I left the exhibition with a rhetoric question in mind, is it time for black nationalisation.

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