The Zululand Land Delimitation Commission and the Lagden Report

The Zululand Land Delimitation Commission and the Lagden Report

In Natal, the Zululand Land Delimitation Commission was appointed in August 1902 to investigate and make recommendations on demarcations of land between Whites and Africans in Zululand. The commission submitted its report in October 1904 and recommended that 40% of the best and fertile land be reserved for White occupation as of January 1906. Africans who had became labour tenants on White farms of were removed to the remaining areas that had been declared as reserves.

Then in 1903, Lord Milner appointed Sir Godfrey Lagden to chair a commission that would report on “native affairs” in the four Southern African colonies which were to be incorporated into the Union of South Africa. The Commission endorsed the ideas of Theophilus Shepstone, which promoted the creation of the so called “native reserves” for easy administrative rule.

The commission argued that “Natives” had distinct rights to the reserved lands as the ancestral land held by their forefathers. These tenure rights were presumably administered by the tribal chief on behalf of the people, and these chiefs were said to have “transferred their sovereign rights including their powers of administration over communal lands to the Crown through a process of peaceful annexation.”

Thus, the Crown had a duty to administer “natives” according to traditional ways of governance which were tribally based. Historian Nigel Worden points out that the “tenure proposals contained in the Lagden Report marked a departure from Britain’s mission to ‘civilize’ its colonial territories in favour of a decision to retribilise the African population.”

Amongst other concerns raised by the commission was “the unrestrained squatting of natives on private farms, whether as tenants or otherwise” which was described as “an evil and against the best interests of the country.”

Thus “it had become necessary to safeguard the interests of the Europeans to prevent the ‘amount of land in Native occupation from being undesirably extended.’” As Heinz Klug notes, in its report the commission “developed a vision of a future South African federation based on territorial segregation of black and white as a permanent mandatory feature of public life.”

Furthermore, the commission demonstrated a paternalistic attitude to Africans by claiming that this tribal way was one where “the father exercises authority within his family.” The commission granted White people as those who had the right to “govern the ‘Natives’ as nation its non age.”

Zimmerman and Visser also note that the commission unanimously concluded that in the interests of the Europeans, the “country should be segregated: land owned by Africans held in trust for them or subject to customary law was to be kept strictly separate in ‘white’ South Africa.” Evidently, the Lagden Commission played a pivotal role in a series of processes that laid down the foundation for the 1913 Native Land Act and spatial segregation in South Africa.

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