The Natives Land Act (No: 27 of 1913)

One major step taken by the white minority government in addressing the issue of the “Native question” was passing of the Natives Land Act (No: 27) on 19 June 1913. This act had a profound effect on the African population across the country. It also laid down the foundation for other legislation which further entrenched dispossession of African people and segregation later of Coloured and Indian people.

The Act defined a “native” as “any person, male or female, who is a member of an aboriginal race or tribe of Africa; and shall further include any company or other body of persons, corporate or unincorporate, if the persons who have a controlling interest therein are natives.” Evidently, this affected millions of Africans. 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% South Africa’s land. This was increased to 13.5% by the Native and Land Trust Act which was passed in 1936. Section 1, sub section ‘a’ of the 1913 Natives Land 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 Whites were prohibited from owning land in these places as the Act stated:

A person other than a native shall not enter into any agreement or transaction for the purchase, hire, or other acquisition from a native of any such land or of any right thereto, interest therein, or servitude there over.

The Act also included anti-squatting provisions to stop share cropping and also defined the boundaries of reserves which were referred to as scheduled areas. Harvey Feinberg and Andre Horn state that “scheduled areas encompassed land which Africans had acquired by grant from the South African Republic of Orange Free State government, previously created locations or reserves, land owned under the informal and formal trusteeship system which emerged in the nineteenth century in the Transvaal, and land purchased in the Cape and Natal.” Loosely defined a squatter was a “native” tenant who paid for his tenancy using money or sharing part of his produce with the farmer.  Consequently, the effect of the Land Act was “toeliminate black tenants and to replace them in white areas by black servants or labourers who would no longer be allowed to lease land in white areas.”

Marleen Flemmer points out that the Act was passed to alleviate the problem of poor white farm labourers who were competing for employment in farms with black labourers, especially “native” tenant farmers. Pressure to introduce such legislation came more especially from the Transvaal and the Orange Free State where the aforementioned issue was a problem.

According to Patricia Gratten Dickson, “The Native Land Act was also a measure designed to protect whites not only the rich white farmers who were assured of the lion’s share of available land, but the landless by owners who thereafter assured of work on farms of others, and the urban poor whites who could no longer be forced to compete with skilled or semi skilled natives.” Thus, the Act went beyond just dispossessing people of their land, it closed avenues of livelihood for Africans other than to work for white farmers and industrialists.

It is important to note that the Land Act was passed before a decision was made on which land was to be allocated or reserved for black people, and which land was to be allocated to white people. Until this was resolved, the government maintained the status quo by prohibiting blacks from obtaining land outside the so called “scheduled areas.” Thus, a clause in the Act to establish a commission which would look into the issue of finding land for black and whites was an attempt by the government to implement the Act. As a consequence, the Native Land Commission (NLC) was established.

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