A mess of pottage

“A mess of pottage is something immediately attractive but of little value taken foolishly and carelessly in exchange for something more distant and perhaps less tangible but immensely more valuable.”

An article by Nivashni Nair at Times Live states:

“Analysis from almost 40000 claims lodged in (KwaZulu-Natal) between 2014 and last year showed that claimants preferred cash to land… if you look at the outcome of first phase of the land audit, the amount of land that is private land, particularly that which is owned by white people in this country, is still in the region of between 70% and 80%. We can only change the land ownership pattern if people opt for restoration… If (claimants) opt for financial compensation the pattern stays the same. If you take the money, you don’t dent the problem that currently exists.” – KwaZulu-Natal Land Restitution Support chief director, Bheki Mbili. 

http://m.timeslive.co.za/?articleId=2651662 (31/5/17)  

I was thinking how – since the arrival of the Europeans on African shores – the deals made over land (when they have not simply been acts of crass dispossession and theft) have always been a sort of dodgy, dirty cash for stash affair. Cecil John Rhodes[1] excelled at grabbing land – but he was just one of many thieves. Chiefs sold off their birthright for “a mess of pottage”. Does the constitutionally approved process alluded to above not represent another incarnation of the same sort of money-grubbing?

Money, or pretty glass beads, or guns, or promises: the price of land that rightfully belongs to the people.

Of course, it’s easy for me to condemn the claimants’ choice of money over land. Who am I to tell a poor man with mouths to feed that he should refuse the money because of the vital symbolism of land?

Yet as the article above indicates, the land ownership pattern will remain bleak if compensation trumps restitution.


[1] (My emphasis in red): “… it was Rhodes who originated the racist “land grabs” to which Zimbabwe’s current miseries can ultimately be traced. It was Rhodes, too, who in 1887 told the House of Assembly in Cape Town that “the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa”. In less oratorical moments, he put it even more bluntly: “I prefer land to niggers.”

“Rhodes connived his way to wealth in a lawless frontier culture, then used that fortune to fund a private invasion of East Africa. He bought newspapers in order to shape and control public opinion. He brokered secret deals, issued bribes and used gangs of mercenaries to butcher his opponents, seizing close to a million square miles of territory from its inhabitants. Although he did this in the name of the British Empire, he was regarded with some suspicion in his home country, and when it suited him to work against Britain’s imperial interests – by slipping £10,000 to Parnell’s Irish nationalists, for example – he did so without scruple.

– https://espressostalinist.com/genocide/cecil-rhodes-and-de-beers-genocide-diamonds/




Landmarked: Land Claims and Land Restitution in South Africa by Cherryl Walker
(Jacana Media, 2008)

Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice: Perspectives on Land Claims in South Africa
Cherryl Walker (Ohio University Press, 17 Aug 2010):

“In South Africa land is one of the most significant and controversial topics. Land restitution has been a complex, multidimensional process that has failed to meet the expectations with which it was initially launched in 1994. Ordinary citizens, policymakers, and analysts have begun to question progress in land reform in the years since South Africa’s transition to democracy. Land, Memory, Reconstruction, and Justice brings together a wealth of topical material and case studies by leading experts in the field who present a rich mix of perspectives from politics, sociology, geography, social anthropology, law, history, and agricultural economics. The collection addresses both the material and the symbolic dimensions of land claims, in rural and urban contexts, and explores the complex intersection of issues confronting the restitution program, from the promotion of livelihoods to questions of rights, identity, and transitional justice. A valuable contribution to the field of land and agrarian studies, both in South Africa and internationally, it is undoubtedly the most comprehensive treatment to date of South Africa’s postapartheid land claims process and will be essential reading for scholars and students of land reform for years to come.”

David Saks: “Enough, already, with the ‘you stole our land’ argument”:


“Even with regard to South Africa, the “you stole our land” charge is hardly straightforward. Fair enough, one might say such a thing about the northern and eastern parts of the country, but what about the whole western and southern Cape region? Here, the indigenous people at the time of the first European settlement were the Khoisan people. Apart from the fact that strictly speaking, they today no longer exist as a distinct grouping (racial, linguistic or otherwise), having long been subsumed within a larger mixed-race “coloured” population, they were very different from blacks of the type who constitute the majority of the South African population today. So far as the western and southern Cape go, the latter are relative newcomers, in most cases having only arrived during the last hundred years or so. This underlined for me the absurdity of this year’s Rhodes Must Fall campaign at the University of Cape Town, where black students railed against white colonial usurpers despite being in a part of the country where whites had preceded them by centuries.

Even outside the western Cape region, one can no longer automatically view whites as newcomers — an alien transplant — and blacks as indigenous. A substantial minority of black South Africans — no one knows exactly how many, but by now numbering in the several millions — are first or second generation immigrants from other parts of Africa. A similar phenomenon is evident in the UK, where most of the black population today is locally born whereas a substantial number of whites only arrived, as economic migrants, from central and eastern Europe during the past couple of decades or so. There are many similar such cases around the world.

The conclusion would appear to be that the “your land-my land” approach is becoming increasingly obsolete in today’s more fluid and inter-connected world. It should simply be recognised that historically, there has always been a process of mass migration and settlement, and that there are few, if any, countries that have not at one time or another been conquered by an invading power. It is naïve, of course, to expect such a basic common sense approach to have the slightest impact in the Middle East context. It might, though, help to address somewhat certain festering racial divisions within our own society.”



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