The Glen Grey Act 1894

The Glen Grey Act was passed in 1894, a year that saw the completion of the annexation of the Transkei and Pondoland. The district of Glen Grey was located partly in Queenstown and partly in the Wodehouse divisions of the Cape Colony. It had numerous valleys which were suitable for agriculture and grazing livestock. Colonial settlers were only partially successful in seizing the land for occupation and the district remained largely in the hands of Africans.

In 1879 the land was proclaimed as a magisterial district set aside for missionary and railway use, and as farmland for whites and Africans. White famers resented African ownership of the land and demanded that it be taken from them. They argued that Africans, the Thembu in particular, had forfeited their right to the land when they fought against the colonial government.

Parliamentarians were vexed with the question of African land tenure and labour since the 1880s. In 1892 a Commission was appointed to inquire into the Glen Grey land ownership among other things.  The report concluded that the land belonged to the Thembu people, and that each family owned 55 and half morgen* of land agricultural purposes and as grazing pastures.

A morgen is an old South African unit measure of land area equal to about 2.1 acres

The Commission recommended that individual ownership of land that is limited to one family was desirable. This would force the surplus or excess number of people out to labour and prevent the influx of new African people into the area.

For instance, Victor Sampson, a farmer and an election candidate for Tembuland sponsored by Afrikaner Bond complained about the overpopulation of Africans in areas where they stayed and that African locations took away labour from the White owned farms. He recommended the restructuring of land ownership as a way of controlling the African population. This, he explained, would be done by giving every existing head of the family individual ownership to a surveyed plot of land and selling what remained to the Whites.

The Act was drafted by Cecil John Rhodes and his secretary Milton and it was geared towards dealing with three main issues: land, labour and the franchise. The ideas of the Act were rooted in two commissions previously set up by the colonial government- the Cape Commission on Native Laws (1883) and the Glen Grey Commission (1893). Additionally, the Act was influenced by the views of various colonial administrators in the Transkeian Territories and the Afrikaner Bond all formed the basis of the Glen Grey Act.

In essence, Rhodes’ view was that “natives” must be treated differently from the Europeans. He claimed his intention through the Act was to “give natives interest in the land, allow the superior minds among them to attend to their local wants, remove the canteens, and give them a stimulus in labour.”

Cecil John Rhodes called the Glen Grey Act the ‘Bill of Africa’ because he envisaged that it would be extended to cover not just the Transkeian territories and any district in the Cape Colony occupied what he called an ‘aboriginal native’, but he ambitiously saw the Act being extended to other British colonies outside the South Africa.

When the Glen Grey Act was finally passed, it provided for the division of all unalienated land in the district into locations. The locations were surveyed and divided into portions of about four morgens for each existing occupier and other claimants 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.  Portions of allocated land were to be passed in the family by the law of primogeniture, (where the firstborn male child inherits the property). Land could be forfeited if the person granted the land failed to pay the cost of survey or quitrent per year and for rebellion.

Each location established by the Act was placed under the control of a board of three people from resident landholders appointed by the governor. The board dealt with issues such as overstocking of livestock and commonages.  The government levied an annual tax of 5 Shillings on every land holder and 10 Shillings on every male adult living in the district judged by the magistrate to be fit for labour to finance it activities.

However, those who worked outside the district for 3 months or more were exempt from tax for that year. Rhodes rejected the idea of making more land available to the Africans as a solution to what he viewed as a problem of an increasing African population. As Edgecombe notes, “The main purpose of the land provision was to fix the existing population to the land. Any increase would subsequently have to go out and work.”


The Glen Grey Act also implemented provisions to limit the number of Africans who qualified for the franchise. From 1852 when the Cape Constitution was promulgated and it provided for colour blind franchise based on ownership and occupation and of property whether separately or jointly with any land amongst other qualifications. Growing political awareness among Africans clearly worried the colonial government. When British Kaffaria (former Ciskei area) was annexed in 1865, the racial balance was tilted in favour of Africans who came to constitute 55% of the population while Whites had 25% and Coloureds had 20%.

Furthermore, there was an increase in the registration of Africans as voters between 1882 and 1886. Whites, particularly the Afrikaners who were viewed with deep suspicion by Africans, qualifying to vote became concerned as this had political implications for their candidates. As a measure to curtail this growing African influence, the Parliamentary Voters Registration Act was passed in 1887. Under the Act land held under communal tenure was discounted as a qualification to register for the franchise. This disqualified a significant number of Africans in the Cape Colony as land was held under tribal or communal tenure particularly in the Transkei and Cape.

However, Whites were not satisfied and continued to push for further reduction of African qualification in the franchise. J.H Hofmeyer leader Afrikaner Bond complained in 1891 that the “Act had not done enough to reduce the threat posed by African people to white voters.” To appease White disgruntlement, the Franchise and Ballot Act was passed in 1892 which raised the qualification and required among things that the voter be able to sign his name and provide address of occupation.

Rhodes later claimed that Africans were citizens who were still children and the government protected their land, thus “they had no right to claim a vote on it.” Thus, the Glen Grey Act came in the heels of previous legislation that had begun to use land as a tool to limit African political participation. Clause 26 of the Glen Grey Act was thus aimed at meeting the threat to White voters posed by the policy of extending individual land tenure.  The colonial government hoped that when the Act is passed, land held under communal or tribal tenure would simply change to individual tenure.

The Glen Grey Act systematically limited the number of African people who could live on and own their own land. It also pushed those who were deemed unqualified to acquire land – to leave the area and look for work in farms or other forms of employment outside the Glen Grey District.

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