Today in fact, 19 June

The most effective land redistribution programme in South African history began today in 1913. The Native’s Land Act number 27 of 1913 came into force in the Union of South Africa on this day and stayed as a key building black of Apartheid for almost 80 years, being repealed in 1991.

It’s a short piece of legislation, just eleven pithy sections but it stipulated that whites could not buy or sell land to blacks and blacks could not buy or sell land to whites. It established a land commission which really did the damage because the commission allocated some 80% of the Land in South Africa for the exclusive ownership of whites and left just 20% for blacks to own.

The Act was not in force in the Cape as enfranchised blacks already owned land. It was also not applicable to Natal or the Free State as they already had laws banning land ownership for black people. It was only really an Act that had any applicability to the Transvaal.

Liberals such as Merriman and Schreiner opposed the Bill but the Xhosa language newspaper editor; John Tengo Jabavu supported it. The South African Native National Congress, the precursor to the ANC, ran a campaign against the passage of this Bill, to no avail.

A surprising beneficiary of the 1913 Land Act was the newly formed Zion Christian Church led by its founder; Engenas Lekganyane. This African Zionist Church was able to position itself in response to this repressive piece of racist legislation so as to gain land under its regulations. As black land owners were unable to sell land and as the land owned by Churches tended to be respected by the land commission, many black land owners in northern Transvaal around Tzaneen and Pietersburg, ceded their land holdings to the ZCC. The church, which was eventually officially registered as a Church in 1942 was able to build their base at Moria and today have over 5 million adherents.

The ability of oppressed people to organize and arrange things despite the official and formal norms that prevail needs to be valued and understood. The hidden transcripts and strategies of the oppressed are not usually recounted in official and public histories. Indeed many so-called radicals scorn theses hidden strategies as “accommodating” oppression. The facts speak for themselves. The ability of the ZCC to organize and grow during all the long years of Apartheid reflects a canny and careful use of formal norms in the face of many depredations and humiliation.

A similar experience of underground and hidden organizing has been experienced by our birthday girl today; Aung San Su Kyi, who was born in 1945, the daughter of Burma’s first Prime Minister and independence leader; Aung San. A good convent girl, Su Kyi went up to Oxford and worked for a while for the United Nations. She returned to Burma in 1988 and led the pro-democracy movement; the National League for Democracy. The Burmese military dictatorship detained her and placed her under house arrest. She was only released after 21 years in 2010. Without the ability of the organization she led and pro-democracy activists throughout Burma, to develop hidden strategies and means to keep the light and hope of the oppressed alive, there would be no transformation in Burma.

So today consider being attentive to the poor and outcast, humbly learn their wisdom, sense of humour and the way they do things. Learning, recognizing and valuing the hidden transcripts and strategies of the oppressed, the humiliated and the outcast allow us to give dignity and respect to those who suffer from formal and legal sanction.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (