From the 18th century, certain indigenous black societies in the interior of South Africa suffered systematic defeat in wars of dispossession at the hands of the Boers and the British. The Boer and British had also fought for superiority and power over land and mineral wealth in the country, in conflicts erstwhile referred to as the Anglo Boer war, now more commonly known as the South African War.
In the 1800s, despite resistance, these black societies were conquered and land taken, reserves were created, intended exclusively for black occupation: all too often consisting of land that was not desirable for white farmer
".... Wherever land was considered too hilly or agriculturally not good, a reserve was likely to be proclaimed... (good) land was in demand and white farmers everywhere used their political strength to bring stronger pressure to bear against the independent African small holders and peasants They wanted to limit their access to land and force them into working on their own farms. ..unlike the farmers the mining industry favored the reserve system (as it) guaranteed them a super cheap, super exploitable labour force... on the grounds that their families were able to make a living off the land in the reserves..."
The surplus people: forced removals in South Africa by Laurine Platzky and Cherryl Walker, pp78-81.
Aspects of control and dispossession:
In 1910, the white settlers of South Africa were united under a government that sought to industrialise South Africa. For this, labour was important, as was the unity amongst ruling white groups in the face of a black majority. Various laws were created at this time in order to orchestrate the creation of a black proletariat and destroy what was left of the black peasantry.
- The Native Land Act of 1913: The existing reserves were consolidated under a land policy that ensured that black South Africans could neither buy nor rent land outside of the reserves, except in the Cape, where rentals were banned after the 1936 Development Trust and Land Act. In 1913, the reserves (called "scheduled land"), were mostly located in Natal and the Cape, totaled 7% of the total land of SA. In 1936, extra land was added (called "released land"), making the reserves 13% of the land of SA, in total.
- The pass laws: The first time pass documents were used to restrict the movement of black South Africans was in the early 1800's. However, slaves at the Cape had been forced to carry passes since 1709. After the Union of 1910, the new government consolidated the pass laws, leading to anti-pass campaigns in this period. The first attempt to make black women in South Africa carry passes was in 1913 when the Orange Free State introduced a new requirement that women, in addition to existing regulations for black men, must carry reference documents. Women of different races conducted passive resistance campaigns during late 1918 and early 1919. By 1922 they had achieved success - the South African government agreed that women should not be obliged to carry passes. However, the government still managed to introduce legislation which curtailed the rights of women and the Native (black) Urban Areas Act No 21 of 1923 extended the existing pass system such that the only black women allowed to live in urban areas were domestic workers.The Natives (Urban Areas) Act of 1923 deemed urban areas in South Africa as "white" and required all black African men in cities and towns to carry around permits called "passes" at all times.
- Taxes: In the early 1900s, chiefs were stripped of most of their traditional powers; cattle-dipping and restrictions on the movement of herds, were enforced more strictly; new taxes were demanded: the introduction of taxes like the hut tax and poll tax forced black South Africans to work for white settlers because the new taxes had to be paid in cash and not as cattle or crops as was the practice before.
Responses of Communities:
black farmers heard of the proposed Land Act before 1913, and some made desperate attempts to acquire land in advance of the Act, through purchasing farms, and thus holding title deeds according to white men's laws. The communities, who acquired land in this way, were safe for a number of years, whilst farmworkers and labour tenants and sharecroppers were moved in huge numbers.
With the introduction of apartheid, however, the policy of the new government was to rid all black citizens of their South African citizenship. This was to be done through not only herding them into the Homelands/Bantustans, based on the old reserves, but first dividing these reserves along the lines of ethnicity (even though the people in these areas were not all "ethnically pure" at all, as communities had for decades intermarried) and then by bestowing "independence" on these territories, thus creating the principle that all blacks working or residing in South Africa would ultimately be citizens and the responsibility of another state.
These erstwhile South Africans would thus be foreigners and only be allowed to traverse and work in South Africa through travel documents and work permits. The fact that the homelands were not independent economically was ignored in the propaganda of the Apartheid government. Rather, the fact that the South African government handed a grant to each homeland according to a budget, meant that there was firm political control by South Africa behind the scenes. The outward political control of the people who ethnically were deemed to belong to a particular homeland government however, was the responsibility of the often ruthless homeland police and army.
In this period, the government looked at the pockets of land that black communities had bought outside of the reserves, before the 1913 Land Act, and labeled them as black Spots, signaling their pending demise. A policy of forced removals ensued, in which during the 1960s - 1980s over 3, 5 million people were moved. Most of these removals were into the homelands. About 800 000 were Group Areas removals, separating people in urban areas into different races and living areas, and roughly 700 000 were township removals, where some of the rural townships were removed into the nearest homeland and the workers then commuted back to the white town to work - for example, Huhudi township was destined to be moved to Pudimoe, 55 km away in Bophuthatswana, and the inhabitants would have had to commute back to the white town of Vryburg to work.