Title: African studies quarterly
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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Fall 2007
Copyright Date: 2010
Frequency: quarterly
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Gainesville (Fla.)
African studies -- Periodicals
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Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
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Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, issue 1 (May 1997)-
General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
General Note: An online journal of African studies.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 7, issue 4 (spring 2004) (viewed at publisher's Web site, Aug. 19, 2004).
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African Studies Quarterly

Volume 9, Issue 4
Fall 2007

Special Issue

The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Then and Now

Guest Editor: R. Hunt Davis, Jr.

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ITN- 1 92152-448

African Studies Quarterly

Executive Staff
Hunt R. Davis, Jr. Editor-in-Chief
Todd H. Leedy Associate Editor
Shylock Muyengwa Managing Editor
Corinna Greene Production Editor

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

Table of Contents

R. Hunt Davis, Jr.

Invisible Resurrection: The Recreation of a Communist Party in South Africa in the 1950's
Sheridan Johns

"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem
John Edwin Mason

The Ash Heap of History: Reflections on Historical Research in Southern Africa
Robert Edgar

South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry
Thackwray Driver

Patrolling the Resource Transfer Frontier: Economic Rights and the South African
Constitutional Court's Contributions to International Justice
Henry Richardson III

Contesting Liberal Legality: Informal Legal Cultures in Post-Apartheid South Africa's
Privatizing Seafood Fishery
Ken Salo

Media, Social Movements and the State: Competing Images of HIV/AIDS in South Africa
Sean Jacobs and Krista Johnson

Book Reviews

Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History. Frederick Cooper. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2005. 327pp.
Charlotte Baker

Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora. Michael A. Gomez. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005. 219 pp.
J. Omar McCalpin

Popular Intellectuals and Social Movements: Framing Protest in Asia, Africa, and Latin
America. Michiel Baud and Rosanne Rutten, eds. Cambridge University Press, 2005. 222 pp.
Devashree Gupta

Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights and the African Poor. Harri Englund. Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2006. 260 pp.
Emily Musil

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

Women in African Parliaments. Gretchen Bauer and Hannah Evelyn Britton, eds. Boulder,
Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006. 235pp.
Chineze J. Onyejekwe

Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa. Janet
Roitman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. 233 pp.
Jeremy Rich

Developmental Local Government: A Case Study of South Africa. Jaap De Visser. Oxford:
Hart Publishing, 2005. 313 pp.
Didibhuku Wellington Thwala

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007


The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Then and Now*

Guest Editor

Each year for nearly a quarter century, the University of Florida Center for African studies
has honored Gwendolen M. Carter's association with the Center in her latter years as a scholar
through holding a conference or set of lectures named after her on a topic of critical importance
to the study of Africa.1 Gwen, as she was known to her friends and colleagues, delivered the
first set of Carter Lectures on Africa in fall 1984.2 It was a time of great turmoil and strife in
South Africa, with then President Botha thereafter declaring a "state of emergency" on July 20,
1985. Given her broad and detailed knowledge of South Africa based on nearly four decades of
research and writing about the country and broader region, Gwen chose to inaugurate the
Carter Lectures with presentations on "United States Policies toward South Africa and Namibia"
and "Can SADCC Succeed?"3
Although Gwen spent only a few years at the University of Florida, her interactions with
both faculty and students left an indelible mark on its community of Africanist scholars.4 Since
she was born in 1906 (July 17; she died on February 20, 1991), the faculty of the Center thought
that in the centenary year of her birth the Carter Lectures on Africa for 2006 should return to her
central scholarly and personal concern with South Africa. She had first become acquainted with
South Africa when, during a thirteen-month trip around the British Commonwealth in 1948-
1949, she spent three months in South Africa. Gwen wrote that she was "utterly fascinated by
South Africa," and was "particularly fascinated by its contrast with what I had seen of emerging
African nationalism" elsewhere on the continent.5 In 1952, she returned to South Africa for a
year's research that led to the publication of what is arguably her most significant work: The
Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948, which appeared in 1958. As she noted in her
Few countries have been so subject to publicity and criticism since World War II as has
South Africa. It is a rare year in which no writer uses that colorful country as a subject. And yet,
for all this publicity, there is remarkably little understanding in other countries either of the
complexity of the problems which South Africa confronts or of the character of the forces which
are shaking it.6
She therefore set out to promote that understanding in a manner that "tried to separate
facts and analysis from ... judgments, and to let the former speak for themselves," deliberately

R. Hunt Davis, Jr. is Professor Emeritus of History and African Studies at the University of Florida and was formerly
director of the UF Center for African Studies and editor of the African studies Review. He was a close colleague of
Gwen Carter when she was at UF and co-authored a chapter with her for Peter J. Schraeder, ed., Intervention in the
1980s: U.S Foreign Policy in the Third World. His area of specialization is the history of southern Africa since 1800.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Davis

aiming "at a broad coverage in the hope of providing. . the material necessary for
understanding the political factors and forces operating" in the country.7
In contrast to much of the subsequent literature on South African politics, The Politics of
Inequality had only a limited coverage of African politics.8 In the book's conclusion, Gwen
acknowledged as much, stating that she had "virtually disregarded the non-Europeans ...
because, in practice, they have relatively little to say about the. . policies which affect their
lives. Yet in the end, they will be the most important factor of all in determining the future of
South Africa."9 She also had had great difficulty in securing material for "non-European
groups." Recognizing the long-run importance of African and other black political
organizations, she joined with Tom Karis, Gail Gerhard, and Sheridan Johns in producing the
four volume documentary history From Protest to Challenge that covered the period 1882-1964
and the huge collection of microfilmed South African political materials that make up the
Carter-Karis Collection in the Northwestern University Library.10
Since Gwen's pioneering work appeared, there have been innumerable studies of South
African politics and political history, many of which have drawn heavily on From Protest to
Challenge and the Carter-Karis Collection. These studies have generally sought to illuminate "the
complexity of problems" that have confronted South Africa and the forces shaking it. Yet,
understanding has remained illusive. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than the belief that
most South African academic specialists held in the 1980s that the country was inevitably
headed toward a bloody revolution. As it turned out, however, there was no violent revolution.
Rather, apartheid ended as a result of a protracted and sometimes difficult and violent process
of negotiation and compromise. Since the early 1990s, there has been a torrent of publications
about the "new" South Africa, the "rainbow nation," the country's prominent leaders (most
notably Nelson Mandela, the subject of several biographies), and similar "positive" themes. To
be sure, as the immediate euphoria of the democratic election of 1994 has faded, more critical
studies have emerged. Still, there is ample room for further scholarly analysis of contemporary
South Africa and its recent past, "of the complexity of the problems" the country faces and "the
character of the forces" shaping them.
The conference organizers utilized the concept of "the politics of inequality" as the central
organizing theme for the 2006 Carter Conference, for it provides a pertinent analytical approach
for furthering understanding of present-day South Africa." What has been the legacy of the
original politics of inequality and the place of law in society under its sway for the years since
1994? How appropriate is it to continue to examine politics and society in South Africa through
the lens of "inequality"? If so, to what degree is it a product of the politics that Gwen wrote
about it, and to what degree is it the result of newer forces such as the wider process of
globalization? Posing questions such as these led to the development of the conference theme
with the title, "Law, Politics, Culture, and Society in South Africa: The Politics of Inequality
Then and Now. A separate session of the conference, entitled "Law, Language and Politics in
South Africa: The Impact of the Constitution," subsequently took place at the University of Cape
The seven papers presented in this special issue reflect the broad range of topics within the
overall general theme of the conference and the diverse mix of scholars who participated in it.
Two of the papers focus on the apartheid era. Sheridan Johns' analysis of South African

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

Introduction I 3

communism covers a crucial aspect of political history in the first decade and a half of the
apartheid era. The Suppression of Communism Act (1950) forced the Communist Party of South
Africa formally to dissolve itself. As Johns notes, however, its leadership went underground to
resurrect the party as the South African Communist Party (SACP). The SACP was quite active
until the arrest of its leadership at its Rivonia headquarters in 1963 led to its near collapse. John
Mason's paper also centers on the apartheid era, but it takes a different tack to political history
with its focus on Abdullah Ibrahim's jazz hit, "Mannenberg." This piece became an anthem of
the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s. Mason devotes more of his paper, however, to its
composer, Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand), how he came to write this song, and the
meaning that it came to have for the South African coloured community. In the process he also
examines African-American cultural and political influences on South Africa.
Bob Edgar's paper straddles the apartheid and democratic eras with its description of
conducting research and collecting documents on political and religious movements over the
course of three decades. Though the challenges and hurdles change between the two eras, but
they do not disappear. His personal research agenda led him in unconventional directions, two
of which he recounts in his paper. One was an involvement with the discovery in a
Grahamstown museum of the long-lost Ark of the Covenant of an Israelite sect. The other
consisted of the search for the burial site and the re-interment of the remains of a female
prophet from the Eastern Cape in the 1920s named Nontetha. His ability to establish close and
rewarding relationships with the communities involved in both instances serve to remind other
researchers to be open to unanticipated opportunities that their research may offer them to
move beyond the conventional.
The remaining papers all center on the post-apartheid democratic era, a period that many
scholars consider as marking South Africa's true independence. Dax Driver deals with one of
the most difficult legacies of the South Africa's long colonial history, that of massive land
alienation. Though the large-scale loss of African lands preceded the apartheid era, it intensified
during those years. Land issues have thus been at center stage since 1994, as, he notes, they
have also been in international development debates. As a result, South African examples and
policies have been influential internationally. South Africa's Constitutional Court has also had
an international impact through its legal reasoning in several cases where it has used
"reasonableness" as critical element in deciding the justiciability of cases arising from the high
levels of economic inequality resulting from the apartheid and earlier colonial eras. Henry
Richardson is concerned with how strongly the Court should push its judicial authority towards
having actual decisional influence on national resource priorities and allocations, including
where resources are scarce. It could therefore have a greater potential for meeting the needs of
poor people, not least those of color, through offering judicially-enforced legal rights for access
to resource transfers critical to their basic welfare.
In many ways, Ken Salo's discussion of the role of law, policy making, and court decisions
related to South African fisheries serves as a case study of how in post-apartheid South Africa
the economic and social inequalities of the apartheid era are transformed and perpetuated. He
argues that the present rhetoric of liberal rights transforms but does not transcend prior cultures
of fisheries regulation arising out of colonial violence and bureaucratic racism that heavily
disadvantaged primarily Coloured subsistence fishers in favor of primarily white commercial

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

4 I Davis

fishers. The subsistence or informal fishers, however, have their own legal claims to traditional
forms of access and control over costal fishing grounds, claims that are neither ahistorical nor
Economic and social inequalities are also transformed and perpetuated in the health arena.
Nowhere is this more evident than with South Africa's raging HIV/AIDS crisis. Sean Jacobs and
Krista Johnson examine the role of the country's mainstream media in shaping the discourse
about HIV/AIDS. The media has for the most part failed to capture the urgency of the crisis and
instead has taken an approach that focuses on its political dimensions in terms of conflict over
policy. For the most part, this is due to the inherited structures of the media, structures that
continue to reflect the social and economic legacies of the apartheid era. The authors utilize the
concept of framing to explain why the media's coverage of HIV/AIDS has been primarily in
terms of political battles and health issues rather than the more significant issue of the
epidemic's devastating impact on the political economy.
In conclusion, it is clear that these and the other papers presented at the conference
demonstrate the continued relevance in many different spheres of the concept of "the politics of
inequality" for understanding the structures of contemporary South Africa. It remains an
effective lens of analysis for examining "the complexity of the problems which South Africa
confronts" and "the forces which are shaking it." The conference papers and discussion would
have been of great interest to Gwen, for they contribute to her quest for an answer to the
question that she repeatedly posed in her scholarly writing, beginning in 1958: "Where is South
Africa going?"13


* These papers and others were first presented at the The 2006 Gwendolen M. Carter
Conference on African Studies held at the University of Florida from March 5-7. For the full
conference program and abstracts of all papers presented see

1. Carter came to UF on a part time appointment as professor after retiring from Indiana
University, where she had taught 1974-1984. Prior to IU, she had taught at Smith
College, 1947-1964, and Northwestern University, 1964-1974. She was on the UF faculty
2. As her long-time colleague Tom Karis noted, "Everyone who knew Gwendolen Carter
called her Gwen." Karis, 2006.
3. These two lectures along with some additional writings and lectures appeared in print
as Carter, 1985.
4. A lasting physical reminder of her contribution is the Gwendolen Carter Collection at
the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries. This collection houses a
voluminous set of correspondence, bibliographic notes, interview transcripts and other
assorted ephemera all collected from several decades of research conducted by Gwen
Carter throughout Southern Africa.
5. Quoted in Karis.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

Introduction I 5

6. Carter, 1958: 9.
7. Carter, 1958: 11.
8. The coverage was largely confined to the chapter, out of sixteen, on "Non-European
Political Organizations" near the end of the book. This was despite the fact that during
her period of study in south Africa during 1952-53, the passive resistance campaign was
in full swing.
9. Carter, 1958: 417.
10. The four volumes appeared from Hoover Institution Press. Vol. 1, subtitled "Protest and
Hope" covered the period 1882-1934; Volume 2, "Hope and Challenge," 1935-1952;
Volume 3, "Challenge and Violence," 1953-1964; and Vol. 4, "Political Profiles," 1882-
1964. For the catalogue, see Wynne.
11. The organizers were R. Hunt Davis, Jr., editor of this special number of the African
Studies Quarterly, and Winston Nagan, Professor of Law and Samuel T. Dell Research
Scholar, University of Florida. Nagan, a South African by birth, is founding director of
the Institute for Human Rights and Peace Development at UF and has extensive
experience in the field of human rights.
12. The second session of the conference took place June 29-July, 2006 and was organized by
Professor Daniel Visser, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town. The sessions covered
papers by sitting justices of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts of the first ten years
of the new constitutional era, democracy under the constitution, gender and the
constitution, the constitution and memory, and the constitution and "traditional" law.
13. A variance of this question is the title of Carter, 1980.


Carter, Gwendoeln M. Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. New York: F.A. Praeger,

Which Way is South Africa Going? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

Continuity and Change in Southern Africa. Atlanta: Crossroads Press, 1985.

Karis, Tom "The Pleasure of Her company: Four Decades of Friendship and Research." Unpub.
paper presented at the conference "Law, Politics, Culture, and Society in South Africa: the
Politics of Inequality then and Now." Center for African Studies, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL, 5-7 March 2006.

Wynne, Susan G., comp. South African Political Materials: A Catalogue of the Carter-Karis
Collection. Bloomington, IN: Southern African Research Archives Project, 1977.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: R. Hunt
Davis, Jr. "Introduction to the Special Issue on The Politics of Inequality: South African Then
and Now." African Studies Quarterly 9, no.4: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

Invisible Resurrection: The Recreation of a Communist Party in

South Africa in the 1950's


Abstract: Gwendolen Carter frequently mentioned communism in her seminal 1958
book, The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. This paper will analyze South
African communism in the opening decade and a half of apartheid. It will consider the
characterization of communism in opposition as presented in Carter's book, in light of
recently published autobiographies and biographies of communists and African
nationalists who were active in the 1940s and 1950s. The 1950 Suppression of
Communism Act forced the formerly legal Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) to
transform itself into the underground South African Communist Party (SACP). The
paper delineates the important features of organized communism underground up to its
near collapse as a result of the arrests at its Rivonia headquarters in 1963. It then briefly
examines its deepening collaboration with the African National Congress over the next
30 years and concludes with observations on the significance of this early apartheid era
history for the SACP's position in post-apartheid South Africa.

"The Government thus made it impossible for a Communist to be chosen a Native representative by the
Cape Africans. It is less sure that its victory was more than a surface one. "I

"Detention without trial, isolation in police cells, physical and psychological torture [were] practices
which in my experience in the 50's and 40's were never engaged in by the security services."2


In her 1957 assessment of efforts by the National Party government to block white
communists elected to represent Africans in the lower house of South Africa's parliament,
Gwendolen Carter suggested that the government's 'success' was limited. Neither she, nor
apparently anyone outside communist ranks, were then aware that South African communists
in 1953 had founded the South African Communist Party (SACP), a successor to the Communist
Party of South Africa (CPSA) that had been dissolved by its central committee in June, 1950.

Sheridan Johns is Professor of Political Science at Duke University. He began to study opposition socialist and
African nationalist movements in South Africa in the early 1960s for his doctoral dissertation (Harvard, 1965). He is
one of the editors of From Protest to Challenge, with responsibility for Vol. 1, and is co-editor with Hunt Davis of
Mandela, Tambo and the African National Congress: The Struggle Against Apartheid, 1948-1990 (1991). In 2003 he
published South Africa and the Communist International: A Documentary History, a two-volume work, co-edited with
three Russian historians.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

8 I Johns

Only recently, following the publication of autobiographies and memoirs of longtime
communists, in tandem with biographies of deceased communist leaders, has sufficient new
information come to light that permits a more detailed examination of the fashion in which the
SACP came into existence and the dynamics of its clandestine activities in the 1950s. Drawing
from these sources, the analysis that follows delineates the important features of organized
communism in South Africa during the first years of its underground existence.3 In a brief
conclusion, observations are offered on the significance of this period for the SACP in the post-
apartheid years since 1994.
In the decade that followed the dissolution of the CPSA, communists and other radical
opponents of apartheid, most notably the African National Congress (ANC), were actively
engaged in organizing challenges to the National Party government. They operated in a
political environment in which the government both repressed and tolerated its radical
opponents. Repression was intensified through the passage of new legislation and the
utilization of existing police power and practices to control and harass its opponents. The
Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 symbolized the primacy that the government gave to
expanding its arsenal to counter the 'threat' of communism. The broad powers of this legislation
empowered the government to prosecute and ban organizations and individuals deemed
'communist' under a loose and encompassing definition. These powers, combined with those
already in the hands of the government under the Riotous Assemblies Act, and augmented by
those of the Public Safety Act of 1953 and the Criminal Laws Amendment Act of 1953, allowed
the government to regulate and ban organizations and individuals that acted to protest the
deepening of segregation and discrimination that was apartheid. Toleration of anti-apartheid
opposition by the government was unwilling and grudging, particularly as ANC-led opposition
grew through the 1950's, but legal rights were generally respected and police practices
continued largely as they had been in the pre-1948 period. Joe Slovo's 1985 observations about
the non-brutal nature of state power in the 1950s highlight the semi-benign nature of the
government's response to opposition in the years when the secret SACP was establishing itself.


The SACP's predecessor, the CPSA, was a prime target of the National Party as it assumed
power in 1948. In the eyes of the National Party, the CPSA was a major source of 'unrest' among
the African population. Although its membership numbered only several thousand, having
peaked during World War II when Great Britain and the United States were allied with the
Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, its membership was drawn from all racial groups and
many were prominent activists in trade unions and nationalist bodies, notably the ANC and the
South African Indian Congress (SAIC). The party operated openly, recruiting support through
public meetings and publications. It engaged in electoral politics, both in 'white' elections at
national, provincial, and local levels and in the limited segregated spaces where the few African
voters were permitted to chose white candidates to represent them.
In the two years following its 1948 electoral victory the National Party's fears of the
'communist menace' were further confirmed when two white communists successively won
elections as 'Native' representatives in the African voters-only constituency of the Western Cape

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

Invisible Resurrection I 9

-- Sam Kahn in 1948 as MP in the House of Assembly (the lower house of the national
parliament) and Fred Carneson in 1949 as Member of Legislative Council (MLC) in the Cape
Provincial Council. In the first months of 1950, the National Party government moved to enact
legislation to make communist organizations and activity illegal.
The impending passage of the Suppression of Communism Bill in June, 1950, posed an
immediate threat to the CPSA. Not only did the proposed law provide mechanisms for the
ouster of the recently elected communist legislators and for the outlawing of the CPSA upon
coming into force on June 26, it also empowered the government to 'name' and to ban its
members from political activity and to subject them to prosecution and prison for up to ten
years for membership or support of the goals of communism as defined in the statute.


Faced with the threat to its existence and to the ability of its members to engage in political
and trade union activity, seventeen members of the central committee of the CPSA, including
representatives from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban, met on short notice in Cape Town
in June as parliament was debating the bill. Legal opinion had been sought and was presented
to the central committee members, outlining the implications of provisions of the bill. The
lawyers believed that if the party would be in existence at the time when the legislation came
into force all members who had not resigned would be liable to criminal prosecution for being a
member. The implication of the legal advice was that the party should go out of existence.
Michael Harmel, known within the party for his critical theoretical writings, proposed that
the party remain in existence and that new underground structures be created for it.4 The
central committee members were mindful that the government had lists of party membership
seized in raids in 1946 in the wake of the African miners' strike. They were also aware that the
party had been unsuccessful in setting up back-up 'underground' party structures in the wake
of the 1946 African miners' strike. According to Brian Bunting (who was also present at the
meeting), "the Central Committee felt that it could not go underground with the sort of
membership it had, many of whom were totally unequipped both ideologically and practically
for illegal struggle and all of whom were known to the police."5 Reference was apparently also
made to the experience of the German Communist Party under Nazi rule that "highlighted the
difficulties involved in passing from legal to illegal work without pause."6 Harmel's proposal for
the immediate creation of underground party structures was rejected.
The majority of the central committee accepted the legal advice that the CPSA should
dissolve itself. With only two members in opposition, the central committee voted that the
CPSA would dissolve itself on the last day of parliamentary debate on the Suppression of
Communism Bill.7 In the interim, party assets were to be disposed of in all district offices, but
the party rank and file were not immediately informed of the decision of the central committee
to dissolve the CPSA.
On June 20, the last day of debate in parliament on the Suppression of Communism Bill,
Sam Kahn publicly read a statement announcing the decision of the central committee to
dissolve the CPSA. Party members were informed at district meetings addressed by party
leaders. Three to four hundred party members from the Johannesburg district assembled to

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

10 I Johns

hear Moses Kotane, general secretary of the party. His brief remarks, explaining why the central
committee had decided to dissolve the CPSA, were met with stunned silence. There were no
questions and no discussion. In the words of Rusty Bernstein:
Was Kotane not covering the existence of an illegal successor to the party which was
already being developed? We all had questions, but not ones that could be answered in public.
What we wanted to hear, what we hoped to hear could not be spoken. We knew that. There was
nothing to say. Finis. We sang the Internationale without enthusiasm for the last time, and went
out into the night as though from a funeral. All our years of work and dedication had
disappeared in dust without warning. Only uncertainty and doubt about the future remained.8
There are no accounts of district party meetings held in other cities, but most likely many of
the rank and file members elsewhere shared the same uneasiness of Bernstein and his
Johannesburg cohort.


Many party members believed that the decision of the central committee to dissolve the
CPSA was part of a broader ploy to establish new underground party structures that would
operate illegally. Two small groups took initiatives to form new underground communist
parties, one of which was composed of Witwatersrand University students Joe Slovo, Ruth First,
and Howard Wolpe. When the government 'liquidator', appointed under the Suppression of
Communism Act, requested more than fifty former CPSA members in the Johannesburg area to
show reason why they should not be 'named', many who had been contacted by the 'liquidator'
came together in the Johannesburg barristers' chambers to discuss a common response. A
committee, comprised of Moses Kotane, Yusef Dadoo, Bram Fischer, Michael Harmel, Rusty
Bernstein, and Vernon Berrange, was elected to draft a reply to the 'liquidator'. Except for
Berrange, all of the committee had been members of former CPSA central or district
committees. Once the reply to the 'liquidator' was drafted and sent, the committee members,
viewing themselves as "an elected body with some sort of a mandate from a substantial number
of former Party members.who could give substance to a claim to be legatees of [the] Party's past
traditions and prestige," undertook to create a new communist party.9
Four members of the ad hoc committee had participated in the central committee meeting
that had decided to dissolve the CPSA. Kotane, Dadoo, and Fischer had supported the decision
to dissolve the CPSA, while Harmel had opposed it. Neither Bernstein nor Berrange had been
members of the central committee and thus had not been directly involved in the decision to
dissolve. Joe Slovo, who had also not been on the central committee, but who had been a leader
of the student group at Witwatersrand University that had established a new underground
communist organization, was co-opted to the ad hoc committee.10
In a lengthy process of secret consultations, the ad hoc committee contacted all members of
leading CPSA committees, regardless of their position on the question of dissolution, inviting
them to consider joining a new underground party organization. How Moses Kotane, the
secretary general of the dissolved CPSA and one of the members of the committee, carried out
the task of the committee in the Johannesburg area was characterized by his biographer as

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

Invisible Resurrection I 11

Under surveillance all the time, Kotane had to act with extreme care, but step by step, he
was able to establish contact with like-minded individuals and groups in Johannesburg and
discuss plans for the launching of the new Communist Party. At the beginning, having no
headquarters to operate from, he and his initial contacts used to meet at dawn, in the open veld,
away from the urban centres, so that, hidden in the bushes, they would themselves be screened
from observation while at the same time able instantly to detect the presence of any unwanted
stranger. At each meeting they would make detailed arrangements for the next meeting, fixing
the exact time and spot at which each comrade was to be picked up, and the time and spot at
which he or she was to be set down. If cars were used for transport, they had to be changed
from time to time. It was important that no regular pattern should be established; times, places
and personnel were constantly varied. All written and telephone communication was banned."
Kotane and his group took the initiative in establishing contact with groups in Cape Town,
Durban, Port Elizabeth, and elsewhere that were conducting similar consultations with former
officeholders of the CPSA.12 Although some prominent CPSA members declined to participate,
a majority agreed to participate.13 The committee decided to undertake the building of a new,
secret and illegal party.
According to Rusty Bernstein the ad hoc committee operated under two rigid rules: to keep
totally silent about the existence of the Party; and to require a unanimous committee vote before
anyone was approached to join. We developed new ways of meeting surreptitiously in unlikely
places such as borrowed homes and offices, moving cars, country picnic sites and even night
clubs by day. We persuaded the two embryo Party groups to integrate their unattached
members into the more representative body we were forming, and started systematic recruiting
of activists in all provinces from those known to us from their political past. Before long, there
was a thin network across the country of groups with not more than four members each,
unknown to each other without any contact between them.14
In 1952 the committee decided that a formal founding conference should be held with
delegates from throughout the country. A complicated procedure was devised to select
Early in 1953 no source gives a precise date some twenty five delegates met in the house
at the rear of the shop of an Indian merchant in a rural area of the eastern Transvaal. Rules of
organization, membership, and secrecy were adopted and a short statement of aims was agreed
as an interim program. The new organization was formally named the South African
Communist Party, distinguishing it from its dissolved predecessor, the Communist Party of
South Africa. The delegates unanimously selected Yusef Dadoo as chairman and Moses Kotane
as secretary. They were authorized to select a central committee on the basis of nominations of
known or 'presumed' members made by the delegates. The two delegates who received the
most votes (whose names were announced) joined the chairman and the secretary in
designating the remainder of the central committee (whose names were not announced),
keeping in mind demands of security and adequate regional representation. It was decided that
party headquarters were to be in Johannesburg.16


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12 I Johns

In this fashion the reconstituted communist party, the SACP, commenced operations. From
1953 onward the SACP successfully operated as a clandestine party in accord with the
guidelines laid down at its inaugural meeting. Apparently no one who was a member of the
SACP revealed its existence and no one was prosecuted for membership in the SACP.
The SACP secretariat in Johannesburg, headed by Kotane, met frequently.17 Small party
groups of four or five members, unaware of other similar groups in their district (or elsewhere
in the country) met regularly to discuss the current political situation, the work of their group's
members in trade unions and national organizations, and party matters. Party members were
obligated to advance the theoretical knowledge of Marxism within the party itself and outside
it. The latter activity was carried out in small groups, consisting of one or more party members
and non-party members of nationalist organizations and trade unions, or in similar study
classes designed to identify recruits for the party.18 District party meetings were held and, after
1953, five additional underground national conferences were held either in Johannesburg or
vicinity through 1962.19 Party members at all levels participated in the deliberations of policy. In
the words of Slovo:
Despite the post-1953 underground conditions, we continued to practise a good measure of
internal Party democracy. The rank and file had the opportunity of debating major policy
statements before they were finally adopted by the Central Committee. The leadership was re-
elected at least once every two years at conferences attended by delegates from every district
and who outnumbered members of the Central Committee.20
Elections continued to take place under the formula agreed at the inaugural conference.
Results were respected by the party leadership; only rarely was a candidate excluded who had
won the necessary number of votes and then on the grounds of security or the need to
maintain adequate representation of all regions.21 The membership of the SACP apparently
numbered no more than several hundred, but it was still asserted, particularly by the
government, that 'communists' controlled the anti-apartheid opposition.22
Accusations that communists controlled the ANC (and other organizations linked in the
Congress Alliance) were a testimony both to the prominent positions that many former CPSA
members held in these organizations and increasingly pro-Soviet pronouncements made by the
ANC and its allies in the 1950s. Kotane and Dadoo, the top office holders in the SACP, had
both been highly visible members of the CPSA. Both continued to be active in the leadership of
the ANC and the SAIC, their respective national organizations. Other prominent African and
Indian communists, including Marks and Bopape in the ANC and Kathrada in the SAIC, also
continued in leadership positions. Many white CPSA members, after the formation of the white
Congress of Democrats (COD) in 1953, took prominent positions in the COD nationally and
locally. Rusty Bernstein found himself the COD representative on a national working committee
to prepare for the Congress of the People. "As the only regular writer on the Committee" he was
drafted to write the national call for the Congress.23 He then subsequently drafted the Freedom
Charter that was adopted with few changes by the Congress of the People at Kliptown in June,
Communists who had been active in trade unions of Africans, Indians, and Coloureds,
including such stalwarts as Ray Simons and Raymond Mhlaba, also continued to work within
the labor movement. Other communists (Ruth First, Brian Bunting, and Rusty Bernstein)

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Invisible Resurrection I 13

focused on journalism and became the mainstays of radical newspapers and journals such as
The Guardian and Fighting Talk.24 Communist lawyers, such as Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo and
Vernon Berrange, maintained active practices beyond their participation in 'political' cases,
while simultaneously participating in bodies such as COD. Because of their past membership in
the CPSA as well as their continuing activism many communists were banned periodically,
often for years, from participation in both political organizations and trade unions.
Nevertheless, despite government restrictions upon their political activity, all found ways to
maintain their involvement clandestinely throughout the 1950s, including the post-December,
1956 period when many party activists were among the 156 arrested and charged in the Treason
Trial that dragged on in Johannesburg and Pretoria until 1961.
Although the tedium and inconvenience of the Treason Trial were heavy burdens for the
communists and their allies, there is broad agreement that the consequences were highly
beneficial. Those charged with treason were segregated in 'white' and 'black' prisons and in
men's and women's sections of the prisons, but they came together each day in 1956 and 1957 in
the common dock in the Drill Hall, a facility of the military reserve organization that had been
converted into an oversized courtroom. In the unique hothouse of daily enforced proximity
those charged with treason, communist and non-communist, from all population groups and
from all parts of the country, found a new sense of solidarity and common purpose. In the
assessment of Bernstein the government's aim of breaking the Congress Alliance was turned on
its head by the process of the Treason Trial:
The leaders it was intended to cripple are more united and effective. The activists it was
intended to demoralize and disperse have found new strength in unity. The inter-racial
Congress front which it was intended to shatter has emerged stronger and closer. And frictions
between communists and the rest which it was intended to enlarge have been resolved and laid
to rest.25
The Drill Hall had given rise to an extraordinary fraternity which became the bedrock from
which the modern Congress was sprung. That close fraternal spirit was the core which held
together the enduring unity of the liberation movement for the next forty years, and kept it free
of the factionalism and strife which destroyed so many movements in so many other countries.
It was the matrix of the singleness of purpose which distinguished Congress, inside and outside
the country, in prison and in exile, until the end of the apartheid era.26
Despite tensions on specific issues and campaigns within the Congress Alliance and the
continuous pressure from the government, communists considered that the clandestine party
was making great strides in advancing its goals.


The 'success' of the CPSA helped to kindle an inner-party debate whether the party should
abandon its invisibility and publicly declare its existence. The debate came to a head at the

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14 I Johns

national conference of the SACP in 1959 when a resolution was proposed that the SACP make
an immediate announcement of its existence and 'emerge' to campaign openly. Frequently
citing Lenin, those advocating a public declaration argued that secrecy "was spreading the
illusion that socialism could be achieved without an independent party of the working class".27
Their opponents "were less concerned with ideology than with the practical consequences of
'emergence'." They argued that invisibility "dispelled our allies' fear of a separate, and perhaps
rival, communist agenda. 'Emergence' would be, at best, a gesture; but it could disrupt the
established relations of trust between communists and the rest of the mass movement, and
might well induce the legal organizations to repudiate co-operation with us in order to protect
themselves."28 According to Bernstein, the divisions over the proposed resolution were largely
along racial lines. Those in opposition were mainly blacks associated with trade unions and the
national movements of the Congress Alliance. Those supporting the motion for 'emergence'
were mainly whites, who were not eligible for membership in the black components of the
Congress Alliance and who were concentrated in the COD. The resolution failed by a slender
Bernstein's compromise to 'defuse' the tension was a proposal that he had been considering
prior to the conference the circulation of communist educational and theoretical literature
without party imprint. He suggested that the party publish a "regular journal of Marxist views
on African and international affairs, without any identifying Party label." Both sides agreed,
"perhaps as much as a gesture of peace as for its intrinsic merit. 'Emergence' was deferred sine
die and the go-ahead was given for what was to become The African Communist."30


The events of 1960 gave the SACP new opportunities to test its mettle. The anti-pass
campaigns of early 1960, highlighted by the Sharpeville massacre on March 21 and the
subsequent march of thousands of Africans into the center of Cape Town on March 30,
culminated with a declaration by the government of a state of emergency. The speedily enacted
Unlawful Organizations Act was used to ban the ANC (as well as the Pan Africanist Congress).
Along with thousands of ANC members and other anti-apartheid activists, including members
of the Liberal Party, leading communists were detained under the state of emergency. Among
those detained were most of the members of the central committee. Only a few members of the
SACP leadership escaped and went underground in Johannesburg. They included Yusef
Dadoo, (chairman of the SACP), Moses Kotane, (secretary of the SACP), Michael Harmel, (a
member of the central committee), as well as Ben Turok, (not a member of the central
committee). Turok was representative of a new party generation who had been recruited
directly into the SACP; he had not been a member of the CPSA.
Against the odds and to the fury of the government security forces, the small core of party
members who had escaped reestablished a functioning center of party operations in
Johannesburg. Dadoo went into exile after a few weeks.31 Kotane, Harmel, and Turok,
supported by a few trusted party couriers and sympathizers, moved through ten different 'safe'
houses for the next five months. They met daily or every other day to coordinate and direct
activities. A few other senior party members who had escaped the government dragnet met

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Invisible Resurrection I 15

with the three at irregular intervals in one of the 'safe' houses, on the street or in automobiles,
but it was Kotane, Harmel, and Turok who comprised the new ad hoc troika directing SACP.
Often donning disguises when they ventured outside of the 'safe' houses, they successfully
contacted party members who had also escaped imprisonment in the Johannesburg area, but
also in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and elsewhere. Printing depots were established in
Johannesburg and in major townships around the country from where leaflets were printed and
Midway during the state of emergency the issue of 'emergence' dramatically surfaced in a
specially called meeting of the leaders not in prison. Three or four other leaders of the party had
joined Kotane, Harmel, and Turok in a 'safe' house. One of the party leaders was Joe Matthews
who had come from Lesotho disguised as an Indian merchant; the names of the other two or
three participants are not mentioned by Turok.33 Turok's account of the discussion about
'emergence', written some 42 years after the event, catches the high tension surrounding the
In the midst of the discussion about the current situation, Michael Harmel raised the
question of the party announcing its existence. He argued that with the banning of the ANC
and the proscription of legal work, a new situation had arisen in which both the party and the
ANC were in the same situation. There was therefore no formal reason for the party to maintain
its former secrecy. Michael's statement was totally unexpected and a hush fell over the meeting
as each of us digested it.
I saw Moses blanch and sit tight-lipped during Michael's presentation. Others shuffled
their feet. After a lengthy pause, comments came and were generally cautious. People were
feeling their way around the issue. Someone raised the question of the strength of the
government and our own weakness, the danger of a backlash and the harm it might cause to
unity within the Congress Alliance. Then Moses launched a strong attack, arguing that this was
premature and unnecessary and that it would cause an enormous rift within the ANC. He
thought it was wrong to make such a move while leaders were in prison and could not be
consulted. Those who were not communists would feel that they had been stabbed in the back.
Here were the two giants with whom I was in constant contact and whose unity was essential to
survival during the emergency and they were clashing over this most fundamental of issues. I
wish I could now recall the details of the debate more clearly, but I was too stunned.34
After further discussion each person in the room was asked for his view. All the others
supported Harmel, "leaving Moses isolated and looking very miserable. He shuffled his feet,
clasped and unclasped his hands nervously, and seemed to be pressed to the limit of his
endurance. But he remained in control, accepted the decision, and we moved on to discuss
The rump central committee, seemingly acting on Harmel's impulse, had overruled the
majority of the elected central committee that had previously blocked 'emergence'. Harmel and
Turok then drafted a leaflet. Kotane approved the text. It was printed using the depots that had
been established by the party during the state of emergency. On July 14 the leaflets were
distributed in the Johannesburg area and then elsewhere in South Africa. The party members
who had been opposed to 'emergence' were surprised by the decision but accepted it as

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16 I Johns

appropriate.36 The previously invisible SACP had become a visible 'illegal' body seven years
after its creation.


The state of emergency was lifted on August 31, 1960. Party members and allies in the
Congress Alliance were released from detention. As Bernstein remembered it, the mood among
them was "difficult to assess." Although the ANC had vanished, its activists were reconstituting
their political activities in new modes. "Security, secrecy and caution had become the
watchwords of survival."37 The 'emergence' of the SACP was a "damp squib" according to
Bernstein; it "made relations between Party and ANC simpler and less hedged about with
concealments. And it dispersed some of the mutual suspicions about hidden agendas and
motives which had tended to come between Party 'insiders' and non-communist ANC
Those who had led the underground troika were under great strain. At a meeting of the
troika and central committee members resident in Johannesburg it was decided to return
leadership of the SACP to the central committee and not to continue with the fully
underground troika leadership that had stewarded the party through the state of emergency.39
In the estimation of Bunting's biographer the SACP emerged strengthened from the state of
emergency relations between communists and its non-communist allies were further cemented
and party organization had been "raised.to new heights."40
In the immediate post-emergency situation the situation seemed much the same as it had
been prior to the emergency. South African communists now had a decade of illegality behind
them. The secrecy of the SACP in its seven years of existence as an invisible clandestine body
had never been breached. Its work within the Congress Alliance had borne rich fruit. While the
government, after a few days of uncertainty immediately after the Sharpeville massacre, had
shown its determination to use its powers of emergency to suppress its opponents, it had not
apparently departed radically from the security and policy practices that had characterized it
through the 1950's.
Building upon its established tactics of clandestine activity the party embarked upon an
ambitious forward-looking program to escalate its challenge to apartheid. It continued to work
with members of the ANC and other like-minded allies within the Congress Alliance to utilize
the greatly constricted 'twilight zone' of semi-legal political space. It undertook initiatives to
establish its presence outside the country in tandem with similar initiatives taken by the banned
ANC. It supported the efforts of the ANC to establish an underground presence, symbolized by
Nelson Mandela's travels overseas and his 'black pimpernel' existence in South Africa before his
capture in August 1962. In mid-1960 it accepted that there must be a turn to organized violence
against the state. With carefully chosen allies in the ANC who had also accepted that violence
must be utilized, the SACP created Umkhonto we Sizwe to undertake a campaign of sabotage
and then move beyond to organize for guerrilla activity. The purchase of Rivonia in a northern
suburb of Johannesburg as a 'safe house' for the leadership of Umkhonto testified to the
confidence of the SACP leadership that its hitherto successful modes of seemingly secure

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Invisible Resurrection I 17

underground operation could be extended to the direction of a sabotage campaign and
planning for a more expansive armed struggle.


In light of its previous successes in concealing so many of its activities from the security
services, the SACP leadership had grounds to hope that it could continue to do so with its
daring new enterprise. But it had neither fully appreciated the potential of the government's
new security legislation nor the nature of the transformation of the security services. When the
government responded to the December 1961 start of Umkhonto's sabotage campaign with the
enactment of new 'legal' measures, including 'house arrest' and detention for lengthy periods -
eventually indefinitely party members were immediately vulnerable. Although none were
acknowledged members of the public, but still clandestine, SACP, most were highly visible
activists known to the security services. The security services of the 1960's, in contrast to those
of the 1950's, were shown to be a technologically sophisticated force willing to utilize
psychological and physical torture upon detainees held under the newly enacted statutes. The
crowning blow to the edifice built so painstakingly by the SACP was the Rivonia raid of July 11,
1963, in which the security forces captured key SACP and ANC leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe
along with a treasure trove of incriminating documents.
Uncompromisingly employing its new 'legal' powers, the enhanced capabilities of the
security services, intimidation of activists, and torture of detainees, the government brutally
destroyed the internal organization of the SACP in the three years following the Rivonia raid.
Its leaders were arrested, tried, and imprisoned or went into exile. The middle and lower levels
of the party within the country were also destroyed.
Writing in exile in 1976 Slovo soberly analyzed the main weaknesses of the party and its
allies that led to the debacle:
First, the movement's own security screen which had seemed adequate in the previous
period.proved inadequate after the regime had refashioned its own instruments to meet the
new challenge. The immunity of the earlier period had bred a mood of carelessness and
bravado which was, in the end, to prove costly. The majority of leaders and rank-and-filers
taking part in illegal activity were well known to the authorities from the period of public
campaigning, and very few of them 'went underground' in the sense of changing their identities
and operating under a protective security screen.41
Slovo pinpointed the Rivonia underground headquarters as a point of vulnerability. The
"organizational nerve centre of the struggle had come to be centred around this one
headquarters; and there the lines of demarcation between the political and military
organizations became impermissibly blurred."42 In the wake of the raid upon Rivonia the full
weight of the new practices of the security services fell upon the detained members of the
movement. "Many resisted bravely but the majority who were subjected to standing torture,
sleep deprivation and similar methods proved unable to resist." In Slovo's view the "basic rule
of conspiratorial work that the destructive effect be contained within the smallest possible
limits" was broken with the consequence that "successful interrogation under torture of many of

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18 I Johns

those detained set up a chain reaction which made it easier for the security forces to immobilize
almost every level of the movement's apparatus."43


The mid-1960's decimation of the SACP was not followed by another relatively quick
resurrection like the one that followed the dissolution of the CPSA in 1950. In contrast the
second resurrection was a decades long process, initially spurred and coordinated by the exile
apparatus of the SACP. Although the party's existence was not hidden as it was throughout the
1950's, most of its activities were clandestine, by necessity underground in South Africa and for
political and security reasons only selectively visible in the locations where it operated in exile
in Europe and Africa. The details of the fashion in which the SACP regrouped, both in exile and
within South Africa, still are to be fully explicated, but the overarching features of its second
resurrection are well known.
A major feature of the thirty years from 1960 to 1990 was a deepening collaboration with
the ANC, the full nature of which will continue to be a subject for further research, discussion
and reassessment. Building upon links forged in the 1950s (and even prior to 1950), the SACP as
an organization worked closely with the similarly banned ANC underground (including
prisons) in South Africa and outside the country in the organization of armed struggle (centered
in Umkhonto we Sizwe), and in anti-apartheid activities throughout the world. In keeping with
party policies, SACP members joined the ANC (whose membership after 1969 was opened to
non-Africans) and ANC members were selectively recruited to the SACP. The close ties
between the two political organizations were symbolized by appearances of ANC leaders at
reported SACP gatherings and by SACP spokesmen in ANC meetings and
publications. Following the organization of the Congress of South African Trade Unions
(COSATU) in 1985, representing tens of thousands of workers within the country, the ANC,
COSATU, and the SACP came together in 1988 in Harare in a formal tripartite alliance,
dedicated to the destruction of the apartheid state. Only when the party was unbanned in South
Africa in 1990 did the SACP emerge for the first time as a 'legal' party, following the precedent
of its predecessor, the CPSA.
In the transition period from 1990 to 1994, while the National Party still remained in formal
control of government, the SACP suffered residual suspicion and hostility from the government
as it sought to establish itself as an independent and 'legal' political party, allied with the ANC
and COSATU. With the advent of full democracy in 1994 the situation of the SACP was
irrevocably altered.
In the first democratic election under the 1994 constitution, the SACP chose not to run as a
separate party, but to give full support to the ANC. Many party members were nominated as
ANC parliamentary candidates and as such were elected to parliament. Prominent communists
subsequently became ministers in the ANC-led government, subject to the leadership and
directives of the ANC, the senior partner in the Tripartite Alliance with COSATU and the
SACP. Within the Tripartite Alliance the SACP has periodically criticized ANC policies and the
failure of ANC leadership to accept its views, but it has continued to reaffirm its adherence to
membership in the Alliance.

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Invisible Resurrection I 19

Simultaneously, the SACP maintains its existence as a separate political party that "strives
to be the leading political force of the South African working class whose interests it promotes
in the struggle to advance, deepen and defend the national democratic revolution and to
achieve socialism." Its constitution proclaims that it is "guided by those principles of Marxism-
Leninism whose universal validity has been proven by historical experience." The document
also states that "the ultimate aim of the SACP is the building of a communist society in which all
forms of exploitation of person by person will have ended and in which all the products of
human endeavour will be distributed according to need. The attainment of such a society will
require an interim socialist formation in which reward will be measured by contribution."
Membership in the SACP is open to "all South Africans over the age of 16 who accept the
programme and policies of the SACP, undertake to carry out its decisions and to be active in a
SACP structure and pay whatever dues are decided on".44


The 'legal' SACP of 2007 is the direct lineal descendent of the also 'legal' CPSA of 1921-
1950, but its status, particularly since 1994, bears only limited resemblance that of its
predecessor. In 1950, on the eve of its dissolution, the CPSA was a small party, unallied with
any other political organization, persecuted by the National Party government, and under
attack by prominent members of the ANC, the leading political body of the African majority. In
the first decade after its dissolution, operating in the face of sustained government persecution,
the party not only resurrected itself organizationally, but more importantly its members became
leading and accepted activists within the ANC and its allied anti-apartheid organizations. By
1960, when the SACP revealed its existence, it seemed to believe that it had found the means to
operate successfully in clandestine fashion under the nose of the National Party
government. Rivonia and its aftermath revealed that the SACP had profoundly misestimated
both its own powers and the determination of the government.
When the ANC also was driven underground in 1960 and persecuted as ruthlessly as were
the communists, both organizations as they had existed in the 1950s were destroyed and many
of their leaders were imprisoned or escaped into exile. Building upon the network of personal
and organization links developed in the years of 'hidden communism', the SACP over more
than four decades has not only resurrected itself again, but also consolidated its complex
intertwined relationship with the ANC in which the SACP (with its membership of tens of
thousands) remains the 'junior' partner to the governing ANC (with its membership of
hundreds of thousands). The persistence to date of the alliance of the two organizations into the
21st century testifies both to the strength of the bonds formed in adversity during the decades of
the common struggle against apartheid and to the differing, yet convergent, interests of both
parties in maintaining historically rooted connections.


1. Carter, 70.
2. Joe Slovo, "Apartheid", (Part II), Frontline, PBS Television, 1985. Ten years later, in his
autobiography, Slovo wrote: "In my experience of numerous political trials I rarely

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20 I Johns

cross-examined a Special Branch man who lied on fundamental matters. Assaults on
political prisoners were extremely rare. The right of access to lawyers immediately on
arrest was still in existence and, in any case, the law obliged the police to produce a
prisoner and formally charge him in a court of law within 48 hours of his detention. The
right to home privacy was still entrenched and no search could take place without a
magisterial warrant. I recall an occasion when Head Constable Dirker, who had come to
search Michael Harmel's house, was asked whether he had a warrant. He sheepishly
replied that, being in a hurry, he had taken the wrong file and Michael's warrant was
still in his office..This kind of bumbling ineptitude was soon to end. Already by the
middle and late 1950s the new crop of security officials had been sent to foreign
institutions which specialized in teaching techniques of mental and physical torture and
the most scientific way to break the human spirit. They went to the United States, which
had begun to accumulate field experience in Vietnam, to fascist Portugal and to Algeria,
where the French were still trying to resist the popular onslaught." Slovo, 1995: 86.
3. The following autobiographies, memoirs, or biographies have been consulted: Rusty
Bernstein, Memory Against Forgetting (London, Viking, 1999); Brian Bunting, Moses
Kotane: South African Revolutionary (Cape Town, Mayibuye Books-UWC, 1998); Stephen
Clingman, Brain Fischer:Afrikaner Revolutionary (Cape Town/Bellville/Amherst, David
Philip/Mayibuye Books/University of Massachusetts Press, 1998); Ahmed Kathrada,
Ahmed Kathrada: Memoirs (Cape Town, Zebra Press, 2004); Ismail Meer, A Fortunate Man
(Cape Town, Zebra Press, 2002); Martin Meredith, Fischer's Choice: A Life of Brain Fischer
(Johannesburg and Cape Town, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2002); Thembeka Mufamadi,
Raymond Mhlaba's Personal Memoirs: Reminiscing from Rwanda and Uganda (Pretoria and
Robben Island, Human Sciences Research Council and Robben Island Museum, 2001);
Ray Alexander Simons, All My Life and All My Strength (Johannesburg,: STE Publishers
2004); Joe Slovo, Slovo: The Unfinished Autobiography (Randburg, Ravan Press, 1995); Ben
Turok, Nothing But the Truth: Behind the ANC's Struggle Politics, (Johannesburg and Cape
Town, Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2003). With the exception of the biography of Moses
Kotane by Brian Bunting all books were first published in 1995 or afterward. The
Bunting book cited here was published in South Africa for the first time in 1998 with a
brief introduction by Brian Bunting; it appeared earlier in two editions published by
Inkululeko Publications in London, the publishing arm of the SACP.
4. Bernstein, 124.
5. Bunting, 178.
6. Simons, 196.
7. W.H. Andrews and Michael Harmel voted against the motion to dissolve.
8. Bernstein, 122.
9. Bernstein, 127.
10. Slovo, 1995: 84.
11. Bunting, 197.
12. According to Bunting, 197-98, "In Cape Town they met sometimes in houses, sometimes
on the slopes of Table Mountain or in the thickets of the Cape
Flats." Raymond Mhlaba, district secretary of the CPSA in Port Elizabeth at the time of

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Invisible Resurrection I 21

the party's dissolution, has recalled his participation in the reconstitution of the party in
his memoirs. Mufamadi, 93.
13. Bernstein, 127-128, notes that Harry Snitcher, Jack Simons, and Ike Horvitch in Cape
Town and Issy Wolfson, Danie Du Plessis, and Edwin Mofutsanyana from the
Johannesburg district declined to join a new underground party. At the request of
Kotane, Brian Bunting met with Jack and Ray Simons. Ray Simons, 276, described the
meeting as follows: "Brian Bunting came to ask Jack and I whether we would rejoin the
Party. Jack walked out of the meeting, but Brian persisted: 'What about you?', he asked,
and I answered, "I have always been a Communist and I'll always remain a
Communist'." According to Bernstein, 128, Jack Simons (who joined the SACP only later
when he was in exile in Zambia): "considered that all our political purposes could be
fully achieved through the legal national and trade union movements, without the need
for an independent Party."
14. Bernstein, 129.
15. "Every group would propose one of its own members as a putative delegate, and then
add the names of others it guessed might be members. The committee would trim the list
of nominations to eliminate wrong guesses, and provide a final list, balanced to reflect
the racial, gender and geographic character of the membership. Not quite Westminister
style democracy, but as close as we dared to go." Bernstein, 130.
16. The account of the founding conference of the SACP is drawn from Bernstein, 130-31.
The procedure for the selection of the Central Committee is drawn from Slovo, 1995: 108,
and is an amplification of the procedure described by Bernstein, 131.
17. Bram Fischer's biographer states that the secretariat met "several times each week".
Meredith, 42.
18. Turok, 91-92, offers a glimpse into his work with Marxist study groups. Kathrada, 108,
more tersely states in his memoirs that his small party unit of three or four persons
"engaged in political education among ourselves and looked for potential recruits."
19. Slovo, 1995: 84, states: "between 1952 and 1962 the Party had six underground
conferences". It seems clear that the date 1952 refers to the inaugural SACP conference
that all other sources cite as having taken place sometime in 1953. Slovo is most likely
citing 1952 as the year in which the bulk of the preparatory work for the inaugural
conference took place.
20. Slovo, 1995: 108.
21. Slovo, 1995: 108.
22. Turok, 45, writes in his autobiography: "the party was very small, possibly numbering
less than a hundred members throughout the country". Bram Fischer's biographer states
a similar figure: "fewer than 100 members were at the core of Communist Party activity,
most of them living in the Transvaal." Meredith, 42.
23. Bernstein, 149. Bernstein, 141-56, describes at length his role in drafting both the call for
the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter in his memoirs.
24. In his memoirs Bernstein, 140, describes how Fighting Talk (FT), originating as the
publication of the Springbok Legion during World War II, was transformed into an
independent radical journal, primarily edited by Ruth First, oriented toward the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

22 I Johns

Congress Alliance. "After the cutting of the umbilical cord to the Legion, people took
Fighting Talk to be a limb of the COD which it was not. It was wholly independent,
Congress aligned, but answerable only to its own Board." He wrote further, 141, that
"Gradually we established FT, not as the Congress voice but as the thinking
Congressite's guide to the political scene." Also independent, and also aligned with the
Congress Alliance, was the theoretical journal, Liberation, in which communists and non-
communist nationalists and radicals published analyses and viewpoints. Michael
Harmel was a major figure in the operation of Liberation.
25. Bernstein, 180.
26. Bernstein, 181.
27. Bernstein, 132-33.
28. Bernstein, 133.
29. Bernstein, 133.
30. The first issue of The African Communist, appeared in October 1959, under the editorship
of Michael Harmel, informing its readers that it was a quarterly publication ".started by
a group of Marxist Leninists in Africa". Party members in the Johannesburg area
prepared the typewritten master on a wax stencil and printed around one thousand
copies that were distributed. Immediately it was evident that demand exceeded supply,
both inside of South Africa and elsewhere on the continent and beyond. Through a
group of South Africa student supporters of the party in London, an appeal for
assistance was made to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). The British party
made "a grand fraternal gesture arrangements for the printing and dispatch of future
issues from Britain under the control of the South African group". Editorial control
remained the responsibility of the SACP in South Africa, but a CPGB member agreed to
act as nominal publisher to comply with British law. Subsequently, the operation
outgrew the resources available in London. The ruling communist party of the German
Democratic Republic undertook publishing responsibilities with copies being sent in
bulk to London for distribution. The arrangements continued until the collapse of the
German Democratic Republic in the early 1990s. See Bernstein, 133-34, from which this
account of the start of The African Communist and its subsequent development is drawn.
The publication of the first three issues of The African Communist is also discussed in
Bunting, 258-60.
31. According to Bunting, 262, "the Party centre decided in consultation with the S.A. Indian
Congress that Dr. Dadoo should be sent overseas to assist with the organization of
solidarity work and consolidate the external apparatus of the Party."
32. The above account of the operation of the ad hoc SACP leadership core during the 1960
state of emergency is drawn from two sources: Bunting, 260-62, and Turok, 103-18. The
Bunting account, written in the 1970's, is brief and focused upon the achievements of the
core. It does not mention Turok. The Turok account, written in 2002-2003, long after the
deaths of Kotane and Harmel in the 1970s, is the lone account written by a participant.
Its focus is more upon how the core operated and includes Turok's very personal
assessments of Kotane and Harmel, as well as assessments of Mhlaba and Fischer whom
he also worked with during this period.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

Invisible Resurrection I 23

33. Turok, 116.
34. Turok, 116-117.
35. Turok, 117. Bunting, 258, Kotane's biographer, makes no mention in his account of the
meeting at which it was decided to 'emerge' the party. But he does elaborate the nature
of Kotane's opposition to 'emergence', emphasizing that Kotane ultimately accepted that
it should not be done "until the Party's full weight could be thrown behind a unanimous
36. See, for example, Bernstein, 218-19.
37. Bernstein, 217.
38. Bernstein, 219.
39. Turok, 119.
40. Bunting, 263.
41. Slovo, 1976: 191.
42. Slovo, 1976: 191.
43. Slovo, 1976:192.
44. The quotations are drawn from the Constitution of the South African Communist Party,
as amended at the 11th SACP Congress, July 24-28, 2002, as cited on the website of the
South African Communist Party:
http://www.sacp.org.za/index.php?option=com content&task=view&id=129&Itemid=67


Bernstein, Rusty. Memory Against Forgetting. London: Viking, 1999.

Bunting, Brian. Moses Kotane: South African Revolutionary. Cape Town: Mayibuye Books-UWC,

Carter, Gwendolen. Politics of Inequality. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1958.

Clingman, Stephen. Brain Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary. Cape Town/Bellville/Amherst: David
Philip/Mayibuye Books/University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Kathrada, Ahmed. Ahmed Kathrada: Memoirs. Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2004.

Meer, Ismail, A Fortunate Man. Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2002.

Meredith, Martin. Fischer's Choice: A Life of Brain Fischer. Johannesburg and Cape Town:
Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2002.

Mufamadi, Thembeka. Raymond Mhlaba's Personal Memoirs: Reminiscing from Rwanda and
Uganda. Pretoria and Robben Island: Human Sciences Research Council and Robben Island
Museum, 2001.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

24 I Johns

Simons, Ray Alexander. All My Life and All My Strength. Johannesburg: STE Publishers, 2004.

Slovo, Joe. "Apartheid", (Part II). Frontline, PBS Television, 1985.

Slovo, Joe. "South Africa: No Middle Road" in Basil Davidson, Joe Slovo, and Anthony R.
Wilkinson, Southern Africa: The New Politics of Revolution. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books,

Slovo, Joe. Slovo: the Unfinished Autobiography. Randburg: Ravan Press, 1995.

Turok, Ben. Nothing But the Truth: Behind the ANC's Struggle Politics. Johannesburg and Cape
Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2003.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Sheridan
Johns. "Invisible Resurrection: The Recreation of a Communist Party in South Africa in the
1950's." African Studies Quarterly 9, no.4: [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthemi


Abstract: Abdullah Ibrahim's [Dollar Brand] composition "Mannenberg" was an instant
hit, when it was released on the 1974 album, Mannenberg is Where It's Happening. This
paper shows that the song is a product of Ibrahim's efforts to find an authentically South
African mode of expression within the jazz tradition, blending South African musical
forms -- marabi, mbaqanga, and langarm--with American jazz-rock fusion. It quickly
became an icon of South African jazz, defining the genre both within the country and
overseas. At the same time, the South African coloured community invested the song
with their own meaning, transforming it into an an icon of their culture and of
themselves. In the 1980s, "Mannenberg" had a second life as an anthem of the struggle
against apartheid. Some called it South Africa's "unofficial national anthem." Once again,
the song acquired a new meaning, this time through the efforts of musicians, especially
Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, who made it the musical centerpiece of countless anti-
apartheid rallies and concerts. As the paper traces this narrative, it is constantly aware of
the profound influence of African-American culture and political thought on Ibrahim
and the coloured community as a whole.


On a winter's day in 1974, a group of musicians led by Abdullah Ibrahim (or Dollar Brand,
as most still knew him) entered a recording studio on Bloem Street, in the heart of Cape Town,
and emerged, hours later, having changed South African music, forever. Together, they had
created "Mannenberg," a song which quickly became a national and international hit. The
album on which it appeared, Mannenberg is Where It's Happening, sold more copies in 1974 and
1975 than any jazz LP recorded in South Africa and reestablished Ibrahim as South Africa's
leading jazz musician.2 But the song was much more than a mere best seller. In the years after
its release, "Mannenberg" gained almost universal recognition as "the most iconic of all South
African jazz tunes."3 The release of "Mannenberg" was also the moment when it became clear
that a new musical genre had emerged. Known internationally as South African jazz and locally
as Cape jazz or the Cape Town sound, it was something towards which Ibrahim had been
working for over a decade. "Mannenberg" was not the first and, perhaps, not even the best
example of this new style. But the song was the first to bring it to a wide public. Just as
significant, however, was "Mannenberg's" second act, which began several years after its

John Edwin Mason teaches African history and the history of photography at the University of Virginia. He is the
author of Social Death and Resurrection: Slavery and Emancipation in South Africa (2003) and many articles and reviews
on South African history, jazz, and popular culture. He is pursuing two multi-year documentary photography
projects, one on drag racing in the American South and the other on the New Year Carnival in Cape Town. He is also
an active freelance musician and a member of the French horn section of the Lynchburg (Virginia) Symphony

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

26 I Mason

release. During the climax of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, many South Africans
embraced it as "a popular metaphor for all the townships where trouble brewed."4 Giving voice
to the dreams of the dispossessed, it was the sound of freedom or, as many called it, South
Africa's "unofficial national anthem. "5
The idea that "Mannenberg" the best-seller would someday metamorphose into
"Mannenberg" the struggle anthem would have surprised anyone who heard it in 1974. Its
struggle credentials are by no means obvious. It is a song with few words, a lilting melody, and
a gentle, hypnotic groove. There is, seemingly, nothing angry about it, nothing that would
inspire people to stand up to the teargas, whips, and bullets of the apartheid state. And, yet, it
did just that. The "Friday night song" became an anthem.6 This transfiguration was, in part, a
function of the song's inherent beauty and Ibrahim's association with it. But more importantly,
it was the work of Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, two of the musicians who recorded the tune
with Ibrahim on that day in 1974. They made the hit an anthem by placing it at the musical
center of countless anti-apartheid rallies, demonstrations, and benefit concerts throughout the
1980s. When Coetzee or Jansen played "Mannenberg," musicians flooded the stage to jam, and
evoked a collective response, a kind of politically charged ecstasy, from everyone present. The
song's popularity and the political context within which it was being played allowed the
musicians to create moments of intense emotion and solidarity, making the song, in the words
of an anti-apartheid newspaper, "a symbol of our hardship."7 This, then, is a story about one
song with two lives.8


We begin with Abdullah Ibrahim, the man credited with composing "Mannenberg" and
leader of the recording sessions that put the song on vinyl. He was born Adolphus "Dollar"
Brand, in Cape Town in 1934. In many ways, he reflects that city's polyglot nature. His ancestry
is mixed, making him "coloured," in the South African scheme of things, a member of Cape
Town's largest racial community and one with a rich musical heritage. Yet his musical
influences cut across vast distances of time and space. His mother played the piano in a local
congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church [AME], a black American
denomination that had sent missionaries to South Africa in the late nineteenth century. She
encouraged his early enthusiasm for music, and, indeed, the stately chord progressions of the
AME hymnal have provided much of the harmonic foundation for his music ever since.9 By the
time he reached his mid-twenties, he had mastered virtually all the popular music of the day,
having apprenticed in Cape Town and Johannesburg with African jazz bands, playing marabi,
mbaqanga, and American jazz standards, and with coloured langarm dance bands, which relied
on waltzes, foxtrots, and South African styles such as vastrap and ticky-draai. Immensely
talented, he had quickly become one of the leading figures in the flourishing Cape Town and
Johannesburg jazz communities.10
In 1959, Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Gertze, and
Makaya Ntshoko formed the Jazz Epistles. It was a diverse group--Coloureds and Africans,
local heros and relative unknowns, men from Cape Town and from Johannesburg--united by
their allegiance to modern jazz. The Epistles emulated New York-based African-American

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 27

musicians, such as Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker, whose music
constituted a substantial part of their repertory, as did their own compositions." Although the
Epistles were neither the first nor the only South Africans to play modern jazz, most observers
at the time and since have called them the most influential. Moeketsi, the leading saxophonist
of the era, called it "the best band I ever played in."12 Although modern jazz (or bebop) formed
the basis of the group's repertory, Ibrahim, at least, drew on local musical idioms in private.
Masekela, for instance, recalls that Ibrahim "often regaled" fellow musicians "with folk songs
from Cape Town's colored [sic] minstrel carnival."13 Drum magazine described a late night party
at which he mimicked Elvis Presley, as well as coloured and African popular music.14 In public,
however, Ibrahim and the Epistles avoided local music. The single album that they released
might as well have been recorded in New York or Detroit. The sound is pure bebop, pure
modern jazz.15
The Epistles, similarly inclined musicians, such as Chris McGregor, Cups Nkanuka, and
Harold Jeptha (who were white, African, and coloured respectively), and their fans constituted
what Valmont Layne calls a "hipster breakaway."16 They defined themselves in opposition to
conventional South African society, whether black or white. They were urbane and
cosmopolitan; they flouted South Africa's racial etiquette and, more crucially, its racial laws;
they were self-consciously bohemian. This small interracial community of musicians and fans,
arising in Cape Town, and to a lesser extent, in Johannesburg, emulated American beboppers
and beatniks.17 Drum magazine, which throughout the 1950s and early 1960s chronicled all that
was hip, played along, asking whether Ibrahim was "crazy," a "genius," or a "beatnik."18 While
acknowledging that Moeketsi was "a great and devoted musician," it called him "the problem
child of music, the naughty Puck with a profound weakness for a shapely leg."19 More recent
commentary follows the same pattern. David Coplan notes that Moeketsi not only tried to play
like [Charlie Parker] but to dress, talk, and act like him. Kippie played the role of the hard-
drinking, irresponsible, arrogant jazz genius, damaging his reputation in both the black
community and black show business, where the erratic, alienated hipster image seemed
conceited, anti-social and amoral.20
While modern jazz never attracted a large following, the musicians, intellectuals, writers,
and activists who were among its fans ensured that its impact South African music, and on the
culture generally, was substantial.
The Epistles and other South African modern jazz musicians shared more than songs,
clothes, drugs, and booze with their American counterparts. They also shared their "continuous
and rigorous attack on artistic convention," as well as its "alienation from society and
antagonism toward its audience..."21 Ibrahim, who fellow Cape Town pianist Vincent Kolbe
remembers as "very serious" about his art and unconcerned with commercial success, made few
concessions to his audience, sometimes telling anyoneoe who doesn't like the music or can't
understand this music, please leave!"22 While South African jazz musicians generally avoided
political activism, social alienation and musical inaccessibility are, as Brian Ward has noted,
political statements in and of themselves, as are personal and sartorial style.23 Those who see the
Epistles as the very embodiment of the "New African"24 (urban, urbane, and quasi-
Americanized) have a point.25 They were engaged in a kind of cultural guerilla warfare against

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28 I Mason

the laws, values, and expectations of the apartheid state. As we shall see, the state certainly
viewed them and their music with deep suspicion.
Politics and music built on alienation and inaccessibility have their limitations, of
course. Most importantly, neither is likely to attract much of a following. The music's
complexity drove some musicians and potential fans away, making it "the vehicle for a new
form of self-expression" for only "a small handful" of South Africans.26 Sammy Maritz, a Cape
Town bassist who played with Ibrahim often, says that many musicians were "scared to play
that music" and that those who did master it found it "difficult to transfer over to the people, the
audiences. "27 At the same time, its reliance on African-American styles and its reluctance to
embrace local musical forms meant that many South Africans heard in it little that reflected
their lives, histories, and cultures. This point was not lost on Ibrahim, even though it would be
several years before he acted on it.
Despite its small audience, modern jazz perplexed the apartheid state, which attacked it
(and less obscure jazz styles) relentlessly during the repression that followed the Sharpville
massacre of March 1960.28 The police progressively shut down racially integrated nightclubs
and enforced statutes which prohibited both black musicians from playing before white
audiences and musicians of different races from performing together.29 Commercial pressures
also undermined the jazz scene as consumers turned to rock and pop. Erza Ngcukana, a Cape
Town jazz saxophonist, remembers that he "had to start playing in rock and roll bands to earn a
living. It was horrible...."30 The Jazz Epistles broke up, and, in 1962, Ibrahim left South Africa for
Switzerland and, eventually, the United States.


In the early 1960s, many South African musicians--black, white, and coloured--found
themselves "pressured into exile, retirement, or an early grave."31 Ibrahim's exile was self-
imposed and intermittent. He left South Africa in 1962, motivated, he has said, by artistic as
well as political concerns. With the South African jazz scene dying, he felt creatively stifled. He
was also, in his words, "subject to harassment and arrest, just like everybody else."32 He settled
briefly in Zurich with his wife-to-be, the singer Sathima Bea Benjamin. Not long afterward,
Duke Ellington heard Ibrahim and his trio perform and was captivated. He immediately
arranged for a recording session in Paris. The resulting album, Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar
Brand Trio, marked the emergence of a major new talent on the international scene.33 Despite the
musicians' South African origins, or, perhaps, because it was recorded for the American and
European markets, the influence of Thelonious Monk and Ellington himself shapes the group's
sound. Little about the music is particularly South African.34
By the mid-1960s, Ibrahim was living in New York City and had become acquainted with
avant-garde exponents of free jazz, such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry,
Pharaoh Sanders, and Archie Shepp, and with beboppers such as Monk, Elvin Jones, and Max
Roach. Although his income was as unsteady as any jazz musician's, he scored a number of
professional successes. The New York Times published a glowing review of his Carnegie Recital
Hall debut; the Rockefeller Foundation awarded him a grant to study composition with Hall
Overton at the Juilliard School of Music; and, perhaps most impressively, he substituted for

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 29

Duke Ellington, playing piano with the Ellington orchestra on five occasions in 1966, while the
grand old man was in Los Angeles working on the soundtrack for the film Anatomy of a
Ibrahim had arrived in the United States at a particularly heated moment in the life of the
nation and, in particular, the African-American community. Although the slogan "Black Power"
had been heard before, it truly entered the American political vocabulary on 16 June 1966, when
Stokely Carmichael shouted the words at a rally in Greenwood, Mississippi.36 The slogan
resonated with both political and cultural meanings. On the one hand, it signaled African-
American's desire to "control their own lives, destinies, and communities."37 On the other, it was
an "affirmation of a positive black culture and identity" that had to be respected and
preserved.38 Among the manifestations of this new wave of cultural nationalism was the Black
Arts Movement. The movement was an "awakening" of a loose coalition of artists, writers, and
musicians, who were united by a common "belief in the positive value of blackness." Jazz was
its music.39
Or jazz was at least the music of many of the writers and activists who made up the
intellectual brain trust of the movement. For them, jazz (especially free jazz, the more
inaccessible the better) was "the blackest of the arts." Cultural nationalists celebrated the music
of Coltrane, Coleman, Cherry, Sanders, and Shepp, among others, men who were some of
Ibrahim's closest collaborators.40 In an interview, Ibrahim remembered that "We were all like a
close-knit unit. ...we were all friends.... We practiced for many hours a day with a vengeance."41
The musicians themselves understood the relationship between culture and politics. Miles
Davis once said of Coltrane: "Trane's music... represented, for many blacks, the fire and passion
and rage and anger and rebellion and love that they felt...."42 Free jazz was certainly
revolutionary, but it was deeply embedded in tradition as well. Musicians drew upon and
celebrated the entire history of African-American music, from the spirituals, work songs, and
blues of the nineteenth century to the contemporary soul and funk of James Brown and Aretha
Franklin.43 In the midst of this cultural ferment was Abdullah Ibrahim, far from home and
wondering what it all might mean for him and his music.
In South Africa, the "hipster breakaway" had had little time for South African
music. Morris Goldberg, a jazz saxophone player and, at one time, a Cape Town hipster himself,
remembered that "We were brainwashed....Everyone was trying to be like Americans.... 44 Even
Ibrahim, who, as a young musician, had played marabi and mbaqanga, vastrap and ticky-draai,
performed only American-style jazz when he led his own bands or played solo piano in
concert.45 But Goldberg, who was living in New York at the same time as Ibrahim and who
frequently performed with him, found that the experience of living within a foreign culture, in
and of itself, led him to reexamine his South African musical roots. "The awareness of what we
had indigenously came slowly," he said, "when I was here [in New York City]."46 Ibrahim would
have experienced a similar sense of displacement as Goldberg. But Goldberg, a white man, was
not caught up in the black nationalist and revolutionary currents that swirled around Ibrahim.
The questions that Ibrahim faced were more urgent. What, he would have wanted to know,
were his blues? What were his spirituals? What were his roots?
Ibrahim answered these questions with a little cultural nationalism of his own. He began to
incorporate coloured and African popular music and folk idioms in his own compositions. His

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

30 I Mason

1967 concert at Carnegie Recital Hall is a case in point. Writing in the New York Times, John S.
Wilson described Ibrahim (or Dollar Brand, as he was billed), as a musician "who mixes a strong
instinct for jazz with his native musical heritage." In his music, Wilson heard "echoes of Duke
Ellington and a wry touch of Thelonious Monk. But Mr. Brand kept getting back to the insistent
rhythms, the dancing figures, and the chantlike melodic lines that derive from Africa."47
Goldberg, who joined Ibrahim for part of the concert, remembered that "the influences started
in Cape Town."48
Writing about a year later, after his return to South Africa, Ibrahim offered his own account
of the concert. "After the first minute," he wrote, "everything fell into place." For him, the
concert had been an extended improvisation on the historical experience of black South
Africans and of the coloured people of Cape Town, in particular.
Everything flooded back. I played through District Six, up Hanover Street, Doug Arendse's
little place in Caledon Street, the Coon Carnival, Windemere, children's songs, up Table
Mountain, through the hills of Pondoland, my mother, father, sisters, brothers -- everything.49
The history he evoked was both celebratory and tragic. The District Six neighborhood,
abutting downtown Cape Town, had once been the spiritual heart of coloured South Africa, a
symbol of resilience and creativity in the face of racial oppression. By the middle of the 1960s, it
had become a symbol of the apartheid state's grotesque social engineering. At the time of the
concert, the state was bulldozing its buildings and relocating its people to new townships, such
as, yes, Manenburg, on the outskirts of city.50 The Coon Carnival, a mostly coloured and mostly
working-class festival, traces its origins to, among other things, commemorations of the
abolition of slavery, in the first half of the nineteenth century, and to the impact of visiting
American blackface minstrel troupes, in the second half of that century.51 It was the Coons, as
they were and are called, who sang the folk songs that Hugh Masekela remembers Ibrahim
singing to his friends in private settings, although never on stage.52 Table Mountain and the hills
of Pondoland were both shorthand for a landscape that is part of a Cape Town identity, in the
first instance, and an African one, in the second.
Ibrahim's cultural nationalism was both specifically coloured and more broadly black
South African. It aligned itself with the coloured and African working classes and embraced
their cultures. He was slowly moving away from the abstract free jazz of the African-American
avant-garde and toward a more accessible musical vocabulary. This was, in part, a matter of
sheer expedience. "It got to the point where you couldn't eat; nobody wanted to listen."53 But it
was also a political gesture. Concerned that his music had become too esoteric, he had begun to
employ a musical language that was rooted in the working-class and traditional cultures of the
South Africa. In this he had more in common with Miles Davis, who, by the late 1960s, was
exploring African-American popular music, than with his erstwhile free jazz colleagues.
Ibrahim was not pandering to his audience. He employed the language of popular music, but,
in New York, he did not produce pop. Demanding the audience's undivided attention for
nearly an hour, he was, first and foremost, an artist and not yet particularly accessible.54

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 31


A sense of personal and political crisis drove Ibrahim back to Cape Town in 1968. Years of
smoking and drinking had battered his body. In New York, doctors and a Native American
medicine woman both told him to "straighten up." And he did, entering a period of "cleaning"
and embarking on a spiritual quest that began in New York City and culminated with his
conversion to Islam, in Cape Town.55 He was also concerned about the health of his country. He
saw himself as "the voice of the voiceless" and was determined to speak on their behalf.56 Dollar
Brand, the hard-drinking, alienated hipster, had given up the bottle and returned home to
adopt a new religion, change his name, and espouse an iconoclastic brand of cultural
nationalism in music, poetry, and polemics.57 Capetonians, frankly, didn't know what to do
with him.
Cape Herald, a local paper aimed at the coloured community, announced Ibrahim's return
when it began to publish "The World of Dollar [Brand]," a series of articles by and about him.
In the very first article, he declared that there was no reason for him to remain abroad; America
could teach him nothing about music. "Everything," he said, "is here!"58 The point was not
historically accurate. As he would later admit, he had learned quite a bit in the United States,
but he wanted the Herald's readers to understand that everything needed to create and sustain a
vital musical culture existed in South Africa. As things stood, he wrote in another article, South
African music was both insipid and inauthentic. Ignoring the ways in which jazz musicians
elsewhere in the country, such as Gideon Nxumalo and Philip Tabane had, for several years,
been exploring South African idioms in their compositions, Ibrahim accused South African
musicians of being too interested in merely imitating Americans and Europeans.59 They should,
instead, explore their own musical roots, the "sacred" and "beautiful" music that grew in the
African soil. This was the only source that could produce a vital and authentic South African
Ibrahim could overlook Nxumalo and Tabane because his primary audience was local.
While his rhetoric encompassed all South African musicians and while his subject was music, he
was, in fact, addressing the Cape Town jazz community, especially coloured musicians, and the
coloured community as a whole. In some articles, Ibrahim did address the coloured community
directly. He insisted that coloured people who were ashamed of their folk traditions--"the
doekums and the Coons"--were, by extension, ashamed of themselves. He urged them to see
their culture and themselves through his eyes. If they did, they would see that they were "all
beautiful." "Look around you and see yourself," he wrote. "You are my music. My music is
you."61 The music that he had in mind were his new compositions that he had begun to create in
New York. He wrote of the ways in which they drew on virtually the entire musical universe of
coloureds and Africans: the jazz of Kippie Moeketsi, the ghoema beat and minstrel tunes of the
Coon Carnival, "Shangaan and Venda and Pedi" folk songs, the Malay choirs of Cape Town's
coloured Muslims.... It was meant to be a suggestive list, not an exhaustive one. He wanted to
embrace the entire nation, perhaps including whites, likening its people and their cultures to the
protea, the national flower, which flourished in South Africa, but could survive only in
greenhouses in foreign climes.62 The protea also stood in for Ibrahim himself. In exile, he said,
he found it "hard to play naturally." In South Africa, on the other hand, "the music just flows....

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32 I Mason

You don't have to force yourself."63 Having reinvented himself and his music, Ibrahim was now
inventing a radically innovative cultural identity, once coloured and inclusively South African,
at once.
Ibrahim's articles seem to have had no impact at all.64 Looking back, the Cape Town jazz
impresario Rashid Lombard said that Ibrahim was far ahead of his time. "Abdullah was one
hundred percent right," but no one "could comprehend" what he was saying.65 Coloured
intellectuals and activists instinctively recoiled from appeals to racial and ethnic particularity. In
the absence of any direct criticism of apartheid, his celebration of distinctive coloured and
African cultures seemed to resonate with the apartheid state's efforts to reinforce ethnic and
racial divisions in order to keep blacks weak and divided. Politically engaged coloureds and the
coloured middle class would have hesitated to embrace the Coon Carnival because they were,
as Ibrahim suggested, ashamed of this and other aspects of working-class culture. But they had
a political critique of the Carnival, as well. Many viewed it as nothing more than "a show which
reflected] and confirmed] the subordination of its performers," an "annual act of
debasement."66 Few coloureds of any class would have responded to his call to identify with
Africans and African cultures. As Mohamed Adhikari points out, "only a tiny minority" of
coloureds were interested in anything resembling black unity. Most were determined to
maintain their social and physical distance from Africans.67 Finally, it certainly did not help
Ibrahim's cause that he published the articles in the Herald, a newspaper which devoted much
of its ink to vivid descriptions of murder and rape and to effusive praise of conservative
coloured politicians who collaborated with apartheid.
Musically, Ibrahim fared no better. Neither audiences nor musicians were prepared for
music which blurred distinctions between high art and popular entertainment and which
seemed to look back to a provincial and slightly embarrassing past, rather than forward to a
progressive and cosmopolitan future. His new music was perplexing and, in the words of one
Cape Town musician, "rubbish."68 Another called it "a lot of trash."69 Ibrahim himself has said
that he couldn't get Cape Town musicians to play his new music because they were still too
invested in emulating American jazz. Believing themselves to be, in Ibrahim's words,
"sophisticated jazz musicians," they felt that anything related to folk and working-class music
was "culturally and socially beyond their dignity."70 Duke Ngcukana, a local musician who
played, briefly, in one of Ibrahim's bands, said much the same thing about himself. In the late
1960s, he once "walked out" on Ibrahim because he did not want to play "African music, so to
speak, which, for us, at that time, was below [American jazz].... "71
Audiences were equally bemused. The Cape Town jazz singer Zelda Benjamin remembers
an occasion when Ibrahim sat in on one of her gigs at the Beverley, a nightclub catering to
largely to coloureds, and improvised on some moppies, comic songs sung during Carnival by the
Coons. A angry voice from the audience interrupted, saying, "Hey, man, play some music."72 At
another time, Ibrahim treated patrons at the Kensington Inn, a coloured nightclub in the
neighborhood in which he grew up, to "seemingly disconnected flights across the keyboard."
After 15 minutes of this "non-stop, never-heard-before" music, they began to stand up and
leave. Soon afterwards, Ibrahim himself "abruptly left the platform and walked off the
premises," prompting Drum magazine to ask "Is Dollar's Brittle Genius Cracking Up?"73

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 33

With engagements few and far between, Ibrahim was unable to support his family and felt
compelled to return to the United States. When he left South Africa, in 1969, the Herald
mourned the departure of "The Genius We Rejected." He told the paper that he was going back
to New York, "where the only people who can understand my music live."74 In an interview
with Drum, he linked his rejection by coloured audiences to their failure to come to terms with
their own identity. "[T]here have been very few concerts where I have been able to allow myself
complete freedom in communicating with those who have come to hear me," he said. "In order
to understand and appreciate my message," coloured people had to "look within themselves
and understand their own consciousness and the reason for their being. Once over this hurdle,
appreciation of what I play becomes the next natural step." He contrasted the situation that he
had found in Cape Town to that which he had experienced in New York. In the United States,
the suffering of African-Americans "gave rise to some of the most beautiful blues music in the
world...." In South Africa, however, "there has been no reaction musically to our
oppression. The local compositions reflect the character of the people--they are shallow, empty,
lacking in sincerity and completely commercialized."75 Less than a year and a half after
declaring that "There's nothing out there. Everything's here," Ibrahim was gone.


Sometime in the early 1970s, Ibrahim, who was temporarily back in South Africa, walked
into Kohinoor, Rashid Vally's small but bustling record shop on Kort Street, in downtown
Johannesburg, and introduced himself. Although he had never met Vally, he knew him by
reputation. Vally's passion for jazz and friendship with many musicians had made Kohinoor a
legendary hangout for jazz lovers. It was also one of the few public spaces in the city where
people of different races could mix comfortably. Ibrahim also knew that Vally had a successful
sideline producing langarm dance band music for the coloured market. He wanted Vally, he
said, to record him. Vally, who had been following Ibrahim's career since the 1950s, happily
It was in some ways a likely match, since the lives of both men revolved around
music. Both were also Muslim, the one from birth and the other a recent convert. While they
were, under apartheid law, members of different races --Vally was classified as Indian and
Ibrahim as coloured--in practice, this presented few obstacles to their collaboration. Their
temperments were complementary as well, with the moody, imperious Ibrahim balanced by the
easy-going, genial Vally.
The first fruits of the partnership were two albums recorded in 1971, one of which reunited
Ibrahim with Kippie Moeketsi, the ex-Jazz Epistle. Neither sold more than 2,000 copies enough
for Vally to recover his costs, but far too few to constitute a hit or make much of a cultural
impact.77 The third album, Underground in Africa, recorded in early 1974, was different.78 Ibrahim
moved decisively away from the demanding synthesis of free jazz and local idioms that had so
bewildered Cape Town audiences. He wanted, he said, to make music "which the people
understand."79 Working with a group of Cape Town musicians whose experience was playing
rock and soul, not jazz, he produced a very accessible fusion of jazz, rock, and a variety of South
African popular musical forms.80 The album sold well, and The World, Johannesburg's largest

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34 I Mason

"black" newspaper, called it "Dollar Brand's best LP to date." Noting that he had shifted from
"serious jazz" into "the jazz-rock scene," the paper praised him for no longer being "a musician...
who plays [only] for himself." He had finally become "really funky."81
Ibrahim's embrace of jazz-rock fusion, as it was called, may have surprised those who
knew him, but it was not without precedent. Miles Davis, whose stature in the American jazz
community was beyond dispute, was, in the late 1960s, one of the first jazz musicians to blend
jazz with rock, soul, and funk. Jazz-rock fusion quickly became a major commercial genre. By
1973, Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, a fusion album, became the biggest selling jazz recording
of all time.82 Ibrahim, who was still based in New York, would have been intimately aware of
these developments. While the sound of Underground in Africa had a distinctly South African
twist, it also owed much to prominent American fusion bands of the day, such as Return to
Forever and Weather Report.
Ibrahim could not have created this South African jazz-rock fusion by himself. He required
the help of musicians who were as steeped in the traditions of the popular music of the day--
rock, soul, disco, and funk--as he was in jazz. He found nearly ideal collaborators in Oswietie, a
Cape Town band that was having great success in local clubs, playing covers of American and
British pop hits and its own highly danceable blend of jazz, rock, and soul. When it came to
producing Underground in Africa's "really funky" sound, it was Oswietie that made it happen.
These musicians also shared with Ibrahim a fluency in the musical vocabulary of the local
idioms that he was bringing into his compositions. Robbie Jansen, a member of Oswietie, said
that learning to play local music was as important a part of his musical education as learning to
play rock and soul. "Alarabi, kwela, mbaqanga.... I knew all that stuff." It did not matter that he
and the other members of Oswietie were coloured. Band leaders expected working musicians to
be competent in a variety of popular styles, including those that came out of African
The recording sessions that produced Underground in Africa also marked the beginning of
Ibrahim's enduring relationship with Jansen and Basil Coetzee, another of Oswietie's saxophone
players. He became especially close to Coetzee, his "blue-eyed boy."84 Ibrahim has described the
way that he and Coetzee took on the "massive task" of inventing a new musical genre. Having
no models to fall back on, they had to "to create the letter, the word, the sentence, the whole
story...."85 In fact, it was not so much a new genre as an extension of the musical
experimentation that Ibrahim had begun in New York and a refinement of the sound on
Underground in Africa. It became the Cape Town sound.
Ibrahim spent the next few months working on new compositions and preparing for his
next recording session. He asked Coetzee to put the backup band together and asked Vally to
foot the bill. Coetzee assembled a band that included Jansen and several other members of Cape
Town's coloured jazz-rock community, although only Coetzee and Jansen had played on
Underground in Africa. Renting the studio, hiring the engineers, and paying the musicians put
Vally deeply into debt. He was hoping for a hit, but never knew what to expect with Ibrahim.
Ibrahim arrived at the studio with an armful of scores. Knowing that most of the musicians
couldn't read music, he invited Morris Goldberg, who did read music and who happened to be
in Cape Town visiting his family, to join the sessions and help him teach the compositions to the

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 35

Several days of recording produced enough material to fill four or five albums, although
most of it has never been released.87 Three or four days into the sessions, Ibrahim sat down at an
old upright piano and, setting his scores aside, began to improvise. The piano had been
prepared with thumbtacks in the hammers, giving the instrument a metallic timbre that was
associated with marabi. Ibrahim has said that the sound "transported" him back to the music
that he heard at rent parties in his youth.88 As he played, he signaled first Coetzee and then the
others to join in, suggesting lines and rhythms for them to play, but also allowing them the
freedom to find their way in the collective improvisation. Within a few minutes, Ibrahim was
ready to record. As they played, the musicians began to realize that the music they were
creating was, in Jansen's words, "very special." "We felt a magic. ...We just couldn't stop, and it
felt good. ...We were recording [for] days, but none of those days ever felt like this."89 After only
one or two takes, they were done.90
The immediate question was what to call this new work of art. Ibrahim told the group that
as they were playing, he had a vision of an elderly woman walking down a street in one of the
townships. When Goldberg mentioned that he was going to visit his family's former
housekeeper, Gladys Williams, in Manenberg, Ibrahim said, "Yeah, man, that's a great title:
'Mrs. Williams from Mannenberg.'" In the event, Vally released the LP under the more
marketable title Mannenberg is Where It's Happening and called the title song simply
"Mannenberg." But a photograph of Gladys Williams, made by Ibrahim himself, adorned the
cover of the LP and of the subsequent CD re-release.91
Back in Johannesburg, Vally began to play the "Mannenberg" acetates on loudspeakers
outside of Kohinoor even before the LP was released. When people rushed in and demanded to
know who was playing and when they lingered outside the shop listening to the music and
dancing, he knew he had a hit on his hands. Once the LPs had been pressed, he sold 5,000
copies in a week, an enormous number for a jazz album in South Africa. While a second song,
"The Pilgrim," filled out the LP, "Mannenberg" was the song people wanted to hear. Vally knew
that he did not have the "financial muscle" to distribute the record nationwide, so he made a
deal with Peter Gallo of Gallo Records, South Africa's largest record company. With Gallo's
help, 43,000 copies of the LP were sold, in South Africa alone, within seven months of its
release. In Cape Town, the Herald took great pride in this native son and said that the record's
sales were "something to crow about." At a time when the sale 20,000 copies was enough to
make even a rock song a hit, Mannenberg is Where It's Happening was a spectacular success.92
"Mannenberg's" popularity success was due to a variety of factors. It certainly helped that,
as the jazz pianist Moses Molelekoa once said, it was "a dance song, a party song [like] most of
the jazz that was coming out at that period."93 It had an irresistible hook--its beautiful melody.
It was driven by an infectious, danceable beat. And it was an intriguingly unfamiliar
combination of familiar ingredients--the groove was marabi, the beat resembled ticky-draai (or,
perhaps, a lazy ghoema, depending on who was listening), the sound of the saxophones was
langarm, and the underlying aesthetic was jazz. Most South African listeners--African, coloured,
and white--had something familiar to cling to and something exotic to be excited about. If some
had the fleeting impression of having heard the song before, it might have been for a good
reason."Mannenberg's" melody bears a strong resemblance to "Jackpot," a mbaqanga tune that
the Johannesburg saxophonist Zacks Nkosi recorded in about 1960.94 In 2006, South Africa's

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36 I Mason

Sunday Times reported that Nkosi and his son, who was also a musician, "went to their graves
believing that 'Mannenberg' was a rip-off of 'Jackpot.'" A number of other Johannesburg
musicians have, over the years, supported Nkosi's claim of authorship.95 "Mannenberg" was,
however, much more than an mbaqanga melody, and the sum of its parts makes it anything but
a rip-off. Its unique combination of musical vocabularies and idioms, rooted in South Africa,
yet aware of international trends, helped to make it "the most iconic" composition in South
African jazz history.96
Within the Cape Town coloured community, the elements that came together in
"Mannenberg" added layers of meaning to its iconic status. It became an icon of the community
as a whole. The record featured a local-boy-made-good, Abdullah Ibrahim, who was feted in
the jazz capitals of the world. Coetzee, Jansen, and the other musicians had become local
nightclub favorites. The name of the song referred to a township that had already become a
symbol of both the dispossession and the endurance of the coloured community.97 The sweet,
reedy timbre of the saxophones--Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, both of whom were coloured,
and the initially uncredited Morris Goldberg, a white Capetonian--unmistakably linked the
song to the sound of the coloured langarm dance bands. There was something in the drumming
that reminded people of ghoema and the Coons. Jansen felt that the musical factors were the
most important. Coloured people, he said, were "aware that it's their music. ...They feel it's part
of them."98 For Ibrahim, the title, the sound, and the musicians combined to signal to coloureds
that "...it's our music, and it's our culture...." The song's success was an "affirmation... that our
inherent culture is valid."99
It needs to be emphasized that "Mannenberg" reflected rather precisely the musical
attributes that Ibrahim extolled in his Herald articles of 1968 and 1969. It incorporated the folk
elements that, five or six years earlier, had evoked a sense of shame, especially among the
musically and politically progressive. Why were people now prepared to embrace langarm,
ticky-draai, and even marabi, which came out of African communities, not the coloured
community? Part of the answer is, of course, that Ibrahim himself had changed. He had said
that he wanted to make music "which the people understand," and he did, backing away from
the demanding inaccessibility that had been his hallmark.100 But the coloured community had
changed as well. It was now more willing to see the value of folk and popular traditions, their
own and those of Africans. To a degree, this was due to the spread of Black Consciousness
First emerging in the late 1960s, Black Consciousness had changed the political climate
within portions of the coloured community, especially the better educated youth. Drawing in
part on African-American Black Power slogans and ideology, activists within the Black
Consciousness movement believed that their "primary task" "was to 'conscientize' black people,
which meant giving them a sense of pride or belief in their own strength and
worthiness."101 Among other things, this involved asserting the value, dignity, and beauty of
indigenous and working-class black cultures.102 Because Black Consciousness redefined "black"
to include coloureds and South Africans of Indian descent, as well as Africans, an identification
with blackness encouraged coloureds to reappraise of those aspects of their culture which had
formerly seemed to be retrograde and shameful. But it is easy to over-estimate the impact of
Black Consciousness.s03 Robbie Jansen, for instance, knew hardly any advocates of Black

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 37

Consciousness. The few he met were university students, part of a tiny minority of coloured
youth who went beyond secondary school. But Jansen did accept that to be coloured was to be
black, part of an oppressed community engaged in struggle for freedom. And he believed that
black was beautiful. It was, he said, "the American influence," the influence of African-
American popular culture.104
The music, clothing, and hair styles of black America taught Jansen and young coloured
people of his generation that "it was the in thing to be black, and people started to be proud of
being black."'15 This was hardly the first time that coloured people had looked to the United
States for models of blackness. After all, this is precisely what Ibrahim and "the hipster
breakaway" had done. Many coloured people knew that similar histories of slavery,
oppression, cultural assimilation, and permanent minority status within white supremacist
nations linked them to the African-Americans experience. While coloureds were drawn to
black Americans, there were forces within South African culture which pushed them away from
Africans. Rashid Lombard saw how the "divide and rule" strategy of the apartheid state had
been "so effective" that a chasm of distrust and suspicion separated the coloured and African
communities. The road to blackness, for him and his friends, was smoother through Harlem
than through Gugulethu, the African township just on the other side of the tracks from
Consider the "Afro." By the late 1960s, this hairstyle, also called the "natural," had become
the emblem of black pride, the new black American assertiveness associated with Black
Power. African-Americans, young and old, male and female, grew their hair long, emphasizing
its tight, African curls. It was a reversal of earlier attitudes that defined "good hair" as straight,
"white-looking" hair and "bad hair" as kinky, "black-looking" hair. Millions of African-
Americans, from political figures, such as Angela Davis and Huey Newton, to cultural heroes,
such as Sly Stone and Michael Jackson, to ordinary men and women and boys and girls adopted
the style.107
By the mid-1970s, the Afro had come to coloured Cape Town. So many coloured people
were wearing Afros that even the Herald, that most politically timid of newspapers, felt free to
sponsor an "Afros for Africa" contest. It offered advice on how to grow and care for a good
looking Afro and published the photos of the entrants.108 The scores of coloured teenagers and
young adults who entered were radicals, in their way. They had turned the politics of hair
upside down. Most coloured people, up to this point, had gloried in their straight hair, if they
had it, and desired it, if they didn't. Now, for the first time, hair that was associated with
blackness was desirable. For many, the Afro was the "sign and symbol" of a new identification
as "black."109
Afro had come to Cape Town by way of African-American popular culture, especially soul
music. Newspapers, magazines, and album covers all depicted black American soul musicians
wearing their hair "natural." Responding to reader interest, the Herald had, since the late 1960s,
profiled soul performers and promoted their music. It even acknowledged the politics of soul,
explaining that its roots lay in the "suffering" of the African-American people and declaring that
"The Sound is Black and Very Beautiful.""110 As Brian Ward has convincingly argues, the "actual
sound and texture" of soul music, its deep embrace of the African-American musical tradition
and its disregard for white American traditions, carried a message of black pride.111' Cultural

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aspects of African-American blackness, such as music and hair styles, provided a safe passage
to blackness for coloured South Africans, instilling within them a sense of pride and allowing
them to see themselves as beautiful, without having, necessarily, to move physically or
psychologically closer to African South Africans.
Changing political and cultural trends prepared the coloured community for
"Mannenberg." It presented coloured listeners with a sound that resonated deeply with their
history and experience and yet was utterly contemporary. Much about the song, especially its
sensibility and the very sound of the saxophones, was uniquely and recognizably
coloured. What had begun as an improvisation in a recording studio became a community
icon. Instead of Ibrahim's portrait of a lady, the community had made it a portrait of


An icon is not necessarily an anthem. The symbol of a people is not necessarily the emblem
of their struggle for freedom. The song's transformation into an anthem had little to do with
Ibrahim, who left South Africa again in 1975.112 It is true that Ibrahim raised his political profile,
in the 1980s, playing benefit concerts for the African National Congress [ANC] and in other
ways closely identifying with the freedom struggle, and that local reporting of these activities
allowed fans of "Mannenberg" to feel that they were somehow linked to the ANC in exile.113 But
Ibrahim remained distant and elusive. Much closer to home, musicians were taking
"Mannenberg" to the people. These musicians politicized the song by playing it at the
innumerable rallies and concerts, linking it directly to the anti-apartheid politics of the United
Democratic Front [UDF] and other progressive organizations. Without the work of these
musicians--Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, first and foremost--"Mannenberg" might well have
remained an icon of South African jazz, the Cape Town sound, and the coloured community,
but not an anthem.114
By the early 1980s, it was common to refer to Coetzee as Basil "Manenberg" Coetzee.
According to Errol Dyers, one of Coetzee's closest musical collaborators, Ibrahim gave him the
nickname by which he was to be known to fans for the rest of his life.115 This would certainly
make sense. Coetzee was living in Manenberg when he and Ibrahim began to work together; he
was the first soloist on the album; and, as many Capetonians will point out, he was a mountain
[berg] of a man. He was also an astute man with a highly developed political
consciousness.116 When political activists asked him to contribute his musical skills to the
struggle, he was ready to accept. In 1982, for instance, Grassroots, an anti-apartheid newspaper,
reported on a concert where artists "sang our songs... [and] told the story of our suffering."
Among them was Coetzee: "'Mannenberg is Where It's Happening!' This was the message of
Basil Coetzee and his saxophone when he played... this song which has become a symbol of our
hardship.""117 Coetzee was there to play "the popular 'Manenberg' [sic]," during the youth
festival that accompanied the national launch of the UDF, in August 1983.118 At a 1985 benefit
concert for "Famine Relief and Victims of Unrest," "madness reigned supreme among the
responsive crowd," when Robbie Jansen joined Coetzee for a performance of "Mannenberg."119

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 39

Jansen's role in making "Mannenberg" an anthem of the struggle seems to have been as
important as Coetzee's. Hilton Schilder and Errol Dyers, both of whom played at many rallies
and benefit concerts with Coetzee and Jansen, remember the way that Jansen would speak in a
deep, soulful voice when "Mannenberg" was played. According to Schilder, he would tell the
crowd "what's happening" and talk to them about "rising up" and "being... proud of our own
stuff."120 Jansen himself said that he could "preach from the stage. ...politicize and create an
awareness of change...."121 Jansen and Coetzee did not transform the icon into the anthem by
themselves. While giving them the lion's share of the credit, Errol Dyers, for instance, has
described the way that politically active musicians, collectively, "...put it in their faces that this
would be the anthem for... fighting this apartheid thing. "122
Politically sophisticated musicians understood that "Mannenberg" could be a vehicle of
political mobilization and the symbol of a collective fight against apartheid. Over and over
again, during the 1980s, the music that they made and the message that they attached to it was
the soundtrack to rallies and concerts at which thousands of people reaffirmed their
commitment to the struggle for freedom. Cape Town musician Gus Ntlokwana was no doubt
correct when he said that it is "too heavy a statement" to claim, as some have done, that
"Mannenberg" was "unofficial national anthem" of all South Africa.123 But it was very much the
anti-apartheid anthem of Cape Town.


1. Many people have contributed to this essay. I am especially grateful to Rashid Vally,
Robbie Jansen, and Morris Goldberg for sharing their memories of the "Mannenberg"
recording session with me. Thanks also to the Interdisciplinary Seminar, School of the
Arts, University of the Witwatersrand; the South African and Contemporary History
Seminar, University of the Western Cape; the McIntire Department of Music, University
of Virginia; and the 2006 Gwendolen M. Carter Conference, University of Florida, for
inviting me to present earlier versions of this essay. Vincent Kolbe, David Coplan, Lara
Allen, and Scott DeVeaux must be singled out for special thanks.
2. Rashid Vally, interviews with author, 23 July 2005 and 18 February 2007; Robbie Jansen,
interviews with author, 8 August 2005 and 17 January 2006; Morris Goldberg, interview
and personal communications with author, 13 October 2006, 17 June 2007, and 18 June
2007. See, also, Rasmussen, 2000. On Ibrahim's standing in the South African jazz
community, see, The World [Johannesburg], 23 January 1974, p. 1.
3. Ansell, p. 153.
4. Mandla Langa, quoted in Ansell, p. 153.
5. Jaggi; see, also, Coplan, p. 193; Ansell, p. 153.
6. Zayne Adams, interview with author, 25 January 2007.
7. "Our Expression: Our Music, Dancing, Poetry, Art....," Grassroots, November 1982, p. 15.
8. The paper is also a commentary on the some of ways in which the coloured community
used African-American music and ideas as vehicles to define and redefine their own
identity. This important subject has been all but ignored in studies of coloured
identity. See, Adhikari, Erasmus, and Western. O'Toole's examines the two communities

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40 I Mason

comparatively, but and does not consider the impact of the one on the other. Van Wyk
does touch on the impact of African-American culture in his 2004 memoir.
9. Jordan.
10. Rasmussen, 2001: p. 17.
11. Masekela and Cheers, p. 104; Jordan.
12. Rasmussen, 2001: p. 11.
13. Masekela, pp. 94, 102.
14. Dyantyi, p. 28.
15. The Jazz Epistles, Jazz Epistle: Verse 1, Gallo CDZAC 56 R [reissue].
16. Layne, p. 118.
17. Johannesburg had its hipsters, but the jazz scene seems to have been much less
interracial. On Johannesburg, see Coplan, pp. 148-49.
18. Dyantyi, pp. 26-29.
19. "Kippie--Sad Man of Jazz."
20. Coplan, pp. 190-91.
21. DeVeaux, p. 22.
22. Vincent Kolbe, interview, in Rasmussen, 2003: p. 110; Zelda Benjamin, interview, in
Rasmussen, 2003: p. 39.
23. Ward, p. 411.
24. Although not, interestingly, "new coloured." A new coloured identity would not emerge
for well over a decade.
25. Maya Jaggi, "The Sound of Freedom," The Guardian, 8 December 2001.
26. Layne, p. 91.
27. Sammy Maritz, interview, in Rasmussen, 2003: pp. 128-29.
28. On 21 March 1960, South African police fired on a peaceful demonstration called by the
Pan-Africanist Congress. Sixty-nine people died; hundreds were injured. Briefly
shaken, the apartheid state responded with massive repression, outlawing the liberation
movements and imprisoning hundreds.
29. Layne, pp. 121-22; Haupt, p. 174.
30. Layne, p. 127.
31. Coplan, p. 192.
32. Jordan.
33. The Dollar Brand Trio, Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio, Reprise R9-6111
(1964). Brand, 14 September 1968; Rasmussen, 2001: pp. 17, 24; Jaggi.
34. The American jazz magazine Downbeat noticed much the same thing about Ibrahim's
playing. In an article published after the album had been recorded, it noted that he had
Aquite obviously" been influenced by Monk, but added that his Aapproach is
nevertheless personal and independent." [Reprinted as liner notes to Duke Ellington
Presents the Dollar Brand Trio].
35. Wilson, p. 80. Brand, 21 September 1968; 12 October 1968; 7 September 1968.
36. Van Deburg, p. 32.
37. Julius Lester, quoted in Fredrickson, p. 294.
38. Fredrickson, p. 290.

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 41

39. Floyd, p. 185.
40. Ward, pp. 188-89.
41. Jordan.
42. Floyd, p. 190.
43. Szwed, pp. 227-8.
44. Morris Goldberg, interview with author, 13 October 2006.
45. Zayne Adams, interview with author, 25 January 2007; Zelda Benjamin, interview with
author, 29 January 2007.
46. Morris Goldberg, interview with author, 13 October 2006.
47. Wilson.
48. Wilson described as "a superbly supple tenor saxophonist, who added great deal of
color and flavor to one of Mr. Brand's most charming tunes." See Wilson. Morris
Goldberg, interview with author, 13 October 2006.
49. Brand, Cape Herald, 21 September 1968.
50. Manenberg, the township, is spelled with two "n's." "Mannenberg," the song, has been
spelled with three ever since its release, even though the title refers to the township.
51. See, for instance, Martin.
52. In the United States, the word "coon" is a nasty racial epithet. Although the term came
to South Africa through blackface minstrelsy, with its associated racial mockery, the
word does not have the same connotations in South Africa. In 2007, most members of
the Pennsylvania Crooning Minstrels, Cape Town minstrel troupe of which I am a
member, and most members of other troupes that I have met unreservedly refer to
themselves as "Coons."
53. Jaggi.
54. Brand, 21 September 1968. See also, Wilson. Readers can get a sense of what his
Carnegie Recital Hall concert sounded like by listening to African Sketchbook, recorded
and released, in 1969 [Enja 2026, and recently rereleased on CD [Enja CD 2026-2.
55. Drum, 22 September 1974, p. 35; Brand, 27 July 1968; Jaggi. Ibrahim gave up his birth
name, Adolphus "Dollar" Brand, upon his conversion to Islam.
56. Jaggi. Several of Ibrahim's poems from the period can be found in Pieterse).
57. "Dollar Starts School."
58. Lawrence.
59. Coplan, pp. 189-90, suggests that they, too, found inspiration in the example of African-
American musicians of the era. In general, however, the black jazz community in
Johannesburg seems to have long had fewer inhibitions about embracing local musical
traditions than the jazz community in Cape Town.
60. Brand, 24 August 1968.
61. Brand, 27 July 1968 and 24 August 1968.
62. Brand, 27 July 1968.
63. Brand, 16 November 1968.
64. None of the many Cape Town musicians, music promoters, or political activists that I
have interviewed remember the articles.
65. Rashid Lombard, interview with author, 5 February 2007.

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42 I Mason

66. Anderson, p. 103; Martin, p. 127.
67. Adhikari, p. 11. This point has been made many times. See, from the period, O'Toole,
pp. 27-33.
68. Peacock, interview, in Rasmussen, 2003: p. 253.
69. Zelda Benjamin, interview with author, 29 January 2007.
70. Sue Valentine, interview with Abdullah Ibrahim.
71. Duke Ngcukana, interview with author, 24 January 2007.
72. Zelda Benjamin, interview with author, 29 January 2007.
73. Heyns, p. 49.
74. "Genius We Rejected," p. 9. [Emphasis in original.]
75. "Dollar's Farewell."
76. Rashid Vally, interview with author, 18 February 2007.
77. Rashid Vally, interview with author, 18 February 2007; Rasmussen, 2000: pp. 40-41, 63.
78. Underground in Africa, Mandla KRS 114; rereleased in 1996, The Sun CDSRK(WL) 786143.
79. "New Brand of Brand," pp. 34-35.
80. Interestingly, Ibrahim remained his demanding, inaccessible self on albums that he
recorded in the United States and in Europe. See, for instance, Dollar Brand [sic], African
Space Program, Enja 2032. While he was greatly admired by jazz fans the world over, his
music became truly popular only in South Africa and, there, it was his jazz-rock fusion
music that audiences craved.
81. "Dollar's Own Brand of Jazz Music."
82. Szwed, pp. 262-63. It remained the biggest selling jazz album until at least the early
1990s. Head Hunters has been rereleased on CD as Columbia/Legacy CK 65123
83. Robbie Jansen, interview with author, 8 August 2005.
84. Errol Dyers, interview with author, 23 January 2007.
85. Abdullah Ibrahim, interview with Sue Valentine, nd.
86. The information in this paragraph comes from Abdullah Ibrahim, interview with Sue
Valentine, nd; Rashid Vally, interviews with author, 23 July 2005 and 18 February 2007;
Robbie Jansen, interviews with author, 8 August 2005 and 17 January 2006; Morris
Goldberg, interview with author, 13 October 2006.
87. Vally, interview with author, 23 July 2005; Rasmussen, 2000: p. 63.
88. Abdullah Ibrahim, interview with Sue Valentine, nd.
89. Jansen, interview with author, 17 January 2006.
90. Rashid Vally, interviews with author, 23 July 2005 and 18 February 2007; Morris
Goldberg, interview with author, 13 October 2006.
91. Rashid Vally, interviews with author, 23 July 2005 and 18 February 2007; Robbie Jansen,
interviews with author, 8 August 2005 and 17 January 2006; Morris Goldberg, interview
with author, 13 October 2006.
92. Rashid Vally, interviews with author, 23 July 2005 and 18 February 2007; "Dollar:
Aiming for 50,000."
93. Moses Molelekoa, quoted in Ansell, p. 153.
94. Zacks Nkosi, "Jackpot," HMV JP 602.
95. Donaldson.

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"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 43

96. Ansell, p. 153.
97. Gerald Samuel "Mac" McKenzie, interview with author, 15 January 2007. See, also,
"Skollies are Winning the 'Battle of Manenberg.'"
98. Robbie Jansen, interview with author, 17 January 2006. [Jansen's emphasis.]
99. Abdullah Ibrahim, interview with Sue Valentine, nd.
100. "The New Brand of Brand."
101. Rashid Lombard speaks of reading pirated copies of works by Angela Davis,
Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, and Huey Newton. [Interview with author, 5 February
102. Fredrickson, p. 302.
103. Mohamed Adhikari, p. 131, contends that Black Consciousness took root in the
coloured community only after the 1976 student uprisings.
104. Robbie Jansen, interview with author, 17 January 2007.
105. Robbie Jansen, interview with author, 17 January 2007. Steve Biko, the Black
Consciousness leader, also understood the importance of African-American popular
culture in shaping attitudes toward blackness outside of the United States. In I Write
What I Like (p. 46) he argues that Awhen soul struck with its all-engulfing rhythm it
immediately caught on and set hundreds of millions of black bodies in gyration
throughout the world. These were people reading in soul the real meaning--the defiant
message 'say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud. This is fast becoming our modern
culture. A culture of defiance, self-assertion and group pride and solidarity. Just as it
now finds expression in our music and dress, it will spread to other aspects."
106. Rashid Lombard, interview with author, 5 February 2007.
107. Van Deburg, pp. 17-18, 201-02.
108. "If You Want to Get Ahead Get an Afro"; AAfros for Africa."
109. Rashid Lombard, interview with author, 5 February 2007.
110. See, for instance, Hipcat and "The Sound is Black and Very Beautiful."
111. Ward, pp. 345-46.
112. "Dollar Goes West Yet Again."
113. See, for instance, "Botswana Conference Look at Our Culture" and "Play on
Dollar-There's a Message in Your Music." See, also, Horn. Rashid Lombard, interview
with author, 5 February 2007.
114. Vincent Kolbe, interview with author, 10 January 2006; Alvin Dyers, interview
with author, 18 January 2006; Hilton Schilder, interview with author, 18 January 2006.
115. Errol Dyers, interview with author, 23 January 2007.
116. Errol Dyers, interview with author, 23 January 2007; Rashid Lombard, interview
with author, 5 February 2007.
117. "Our Expression: Our Music, Dancing, Poetry, Art... [sic]."
118. Plainsman, supplement to the Cape Herald, 20 August 1983, p. 2.
119. Van Dyk.
120. Hilton Schilder, interview with author, 18 January 2006; Errol Dyers, interview
with author, 23 January 2007.
121. Robbie Jansen, interview with author, 17 January 2006.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

44 I Mason

122. Errol Dyers, interview with author, 23 January 2007.
123. Gus Ntlokwana, interview with author, 14 February 2007.


Adhikari, Mohamed. Not White Enough, Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African
Coloured Community. Cape Town and Athens, Ohio: Double Storey Books and Ohio University
Press, 2005.

"Afros for Africa." Cape Herald, 27 July 1976.

Anderson, Muff. Music in the Mix: The Story of South African Popular Music. Johannesburg:
Raven, 1981.

Ansell, Gwen. Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music, and Politics in South Africa. New York:
Continuum, 2004.

Biko, Steve. I Write What I Like: A Selection of His Writings. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

"Botswana Conference Look at Our Culture." Grassroots, September 1982, p. 14.

Brand, Dollar [Abdullah Ibrahim]. "The World of Dollar: Don't be Ashamed of Doekums and
Coons." Cape Herald, 27 July 1968, p. 4

"The World of Dollar: Imitation--The Destroyer of Originality." Cape Herald, 24 August
1968, p. 4.

"The World of Dollar: I'm Tired of Going Down in History, I Want to Eat." Cape Herald, 7
September 1968, p. 4.

"Dollar Brand Writes: Into the Studio with Ellington." Cape Herald, 14 September 1968, p.

"The World of Dollar: District 6 in Carnegie Hall." Cape Herald, 21 September 1968, p. 4.

"The World of Dollar: No More New York Blues." Cape Herald, 12 October 1968, p. 4.

"The World of Dollar: Message from Jo'burg." Cape Herald, 16 November 1968, p. 4.

Coplan, David. In Township Tonight!: South Africa's Black City Music and Theatre. London:
Longman, 1985.

DeVeaux, Scott. The Birth of Be Bop: A Social and Musical History. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1997.

"Dollar: Aiming for 50,000." Cape Herald, 15 March 1975, p. 7.

"Dollar Goes West Yet Again." Cape Herald, June 1975.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

"Mannenberg": Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem I 45

"Dollar Starts School to Teach Islam, Jazz." Cape Herald, 7 September 1974, p. 3.

"Dollar's Farewell," Drum, June 1969, pp. 54-55.

"Dollar's Own Brand of Jazz Music." The World, 26 June 1974, pp. 8-9.

Donaldson, Andrew. "South Africa: Iconic SA Jazz Tune Alleged to Be a Rip-Off." Sunday Times,
16 July 2006.

Dyantyi, Benson. "Dollar Brand: Crazy? Genius? Beatnik?." Drum, December 1959.

Erasmus, Zimitri, ed., Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities
in Cape Town. Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2001.

Floyd, Jr., Samuel A. The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United
States. New York: Oxford, 1995.

Fredrickson, George M. Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United
States and South Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

"The Genius We Rejected." Cape Herald, 17 May 1969, p. 9.

Haupt, Adam. "Black Thing: Hip-Hop Nationalism, Race, and Gender in Prophets of da City
and Brasse vannie Kaap." In Zimitri Erasmus, ed., Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New
Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town. Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2001.

Heyns, Jackie. "Is Dollar's Brittle Genius Cracking Up?" Drum, September 1968.

Hipcat, "So You Think You Know About... [sic] Soul." Cape Herald, 22 March 1969.

Horn, Andrew. "Festival of South African Arts."African Arts, 16, 2 (February 1983), pp. 78-9.

"If You Want to Get Ahead Get an Afro: But First You've Got to Get Your Hair to Grow." Cape
Herald, 5 June 1976.

Jaggi, Maya. "The Sound of Freedom," The Guardian, 8 December 2001.

Jordan, Seth. "Abdullah Ibrahim: A Well-Known Brand Name." http://
www.worldmusiccentral.org/article.php?story =20030418171224830.

"Kippie--Sad Man of Jazz." Drum, December 1961, pp. 68-71.

Lawrence, Howard. "Dollar Brand Back in Cape Town." Cape Herald, 20 July 1968, p. 3.

Layne, Valmont. "A History of Dance and Jazz Band Performance in the Western Cape in the
Post-1945 Era." Unpublished MA thesis, University of Cape Town, 1995.

Martin, Denis-Constant. Coon Carnival: New Year in Cape Town, Past and Present. Cape Town:
David Philip, 1999.

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Masekela, Hugh and D. Michael Cheers. Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela. New
York: Crown, 2004.

"The New Brand of Brand." Drum, 22 September 1974.

Pieterse, Cosmo ed. Seven South African Poets: Poems of Exile. London: Heinemann, 1971.

"Play on Dollar-There's a Message in Your Music." Grassroots, March 1983, p. 15.

O'Toole, James. Watts and Woodstock: Identity and Culture in the United States and South Africa.
New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973.

"Our Expression: Our Music, Dancing, Poetry, Art....." Grassroots, November 1982.

Rasmussen, Lars. Abdullah Ibrahim: A Discography. Copenhagen: The Booktrader, 2000.

___, ed. Cape Town Jazz, 1959-1963: The Photographs of Hardy Stockman. Copenhagen:
Booktrader, 2001.

___, ed. Jazz People of Cape Town. Copenhagen: The Booktrader, 2003.

"Skollies are Winning the 'Battle of Manenberg.'" Cape Herald, 2 August 1969.

"The Sound is Black and Very Beautiful." Cape Herald, 1 March 1975, p. Bl.

Szwed, John F. Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz, (New York: Hyperion,

Van Deburg, William L. New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture,
1965-1975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

van Dyk, Gary. "Jazz for Justice!." Cape Herald, 7 September 1985, p. 4.

van Wyk, Chris. Shirley, Goodness, & Mercy: A Childhood Memoir. Johannesburg: Picador Africa,

Ward, Brian. Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Western, John. Outcast Cape Town. Cape Town: Human and Rousseau, 1981.

Wilson, John S. "Dollar Brand Plays South African Jazz." New York Times, 4 June 1967.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: John Edwin
Mason. 'Mannenberg': Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem" African Studies Quarterly
9, no.4: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v9/v9i4a3.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

The Ash Heap of History: Reflections on Historical Research in

Southern Africa


Abstract: When I began conducting research as a graduate student in southern Africa in
1973, I was following in the wake of an intrepid group of American scholars -
Gwendolyn Carter, Tom Karis, Dan Johns and Gail Gerhart who were amassing a
remarkable collection of documents on the South African freedom struggle for their From
Protest to Cil.'di.g.. (1972-1977) series. They challenged archival/library research that
favored government or establishment sources by creating an alternative archive that laid
the foundation for reconstructing modern South Africa's freedom struggle. My own
experience with documentary collecting on political and religious movements over the
past three decades has been unconventional to say the least and has even involved
sifting through dustbins to retrieve documents. Because of my extended relationships
with individuals, groups, and communities, my own efforts at documentary collection
and retrieval have yielded totally unexpected and often surprising results. This essay is a
reflection on the methodology of documentary collection with a focus on two case
studies from the eastern Cape: 1) the discovery and return of the long-lost Ark of the
Covenant of the Israelite church group and 2) the search for the burial site of the African
woman prophet Nontetha in Pretoria and the return and reburial of her remains at her

In 1980, I was conducting research in Lesotho on Lekhotla la Bafo (LLB), a Basotho anti-
colonial movement that had been the precursor of the modern political party, the Basotho
Congress Party (BCP). A decade earlier, the BCP was on its way to winning the country's first
post-independence election when Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan declared the election results
null and void. After the BCP staged an abortive coup in 1973, many BCP leaders fled into exile
and any group linked to it in any fashion was targeted for retribution by the Jonathan regime.
Hence, when I began interviewing the elderly members of Lekhotla la Bafo, they were naturally
reluctant to divulge much. In one case, a person closed all the curtains and doors in his home
before he spoke to me. Shortly after that encounter, I stumbled across rich source material when
another historian and I located a LLB veteran, Hlakane Mokhithi, on the outskirts of
Maputsoe. Although Mokhithi's memory had dimmed, he was willing to share a document that
he had preserved for decades. He rummaged in an ash-heap in the burnt-out shell of a building
and pulled out a piece of piece of plastic sheeting wrapped around a hand-written notebook of

Robert Edgar, has researched 20th century African political leaders in South Africa. He is currently collaborating
with Dr. David Anthony on a documentary collection project on African-American linkages with South Africa (1890-
1965). Dr. Edgar is Professor of African Studies at Howard University. With Hilary Sapire, he co-authored African
Apocalypse: The Story of Nonthetha Nkwenkwe, A 20th Century South African Prophet (2000).

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

48 I Edgar

LLB songs.' This was a major find since members had not been willing to sing any of their songs
to me.2
During the decades that I have been researching history in southern Africa, I experienced
many other occasions when I retrieved evidence through persistently digging through other
kinds of ash heaps. Whether in Lesotho or South Africa, I operated in a super-charged political
environment in which I had to develop instincts and skills not taught in the classroom for
tracking down new sources of documentation in unorthodox ways and places and coping
sensitively and tactfully with a basic reality that the "politics of inequality," as Gwendolyn
Carter put it, erected barriers that impinged on all research undertakings.
For example, many Africans had an absolute skepticism of any researcher especially a
white researcher who came into their lives. Based on long and painful experiences with
political authority, their assumption was that anyone asking questions was not likely to be
gathering evidence that would benefit them. There was not much I could do to overcome this
stigma except to be honest and forthright and hope that with time people would begin to trust
and open up to me. In some cases that took a long time. One schoolteacher who assisted me in
the Ciskei and Transkei in 1974 told me years later that he had remained skeptical of me for
months and kept a close eye on my behavior before he began to trust me.
Nevertheless, there were occasions when someone agreed to talk with me that I fully
expected to be reticent. One such case was a venerable Communist Party of South Africa
(CPSA) veteran, Edwin Mofutsanyana, who was living deep in the rugged Maluti mountains in
Lesotho. He had been the CPSA's primary liaison with LLB and its leader, Josiel Lefela, since
the 1930s. In 1959, as the political crisis in South Africa was reaching a boiling point,
Mofutsanyana concluded that he would likely be arrested soon. He weighed his options of
staying within the country or fleeing into exile. After choosing the latter, he rejected heading
north in favor of seeking sanctuary in northern Lesotho, a mere twenty miles from his
birthplace in Qwa Qwa. After his Nhlapho kinsmen hid him in a village nestled on Lesotho's
border with South Africa, he hopped on a bus to look for Lefela at his home in Mapoteng. By
coincidence, Lefela was holding court on the bus and took him in, eventually finding him a
place to hide out. After working closely with Lefela and Lesotho's Communist Party during the
1960s, Mofutsanyana moved to a remote area to live, as he phrased it, "with the monkeys in the
Over time Mofutsanyana disappeared from sight. When I became aware of his links to LLB,
I had few clues to his whereabouts. Gani Surtie, a Maseru businessman whose Indian trader
father had known Mofutsanyana since the 1930s, was certain he was still alive (at least he had
not heard that he had died) and pinpointed the area, Kota ha Pentsi in the Leribe district, where
he was most likely to be living. Armed with that scant information, I set off on a crisp wintry
day in a sturdy Volkswagen Beetle on a rugged track that eventually turned into little more
than a horse trail. At each trading store I made inquiries about Mofutsanyana. Just when I was
ready to give up and turn back, I encountered some people who volunteered that there was a
man, Tente Majara, who lived on a nearby hillside, who knew him. Indeed, when Majara, a
longtime LLB member, came down to meet me, he confirmed that he knew Mofutsanyana well.
After I explained my reasons for wanting to speak with him, Majara agreed to take my hastily
scribbled note of introduction to Mofutsanyana on horseback.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

The Ash Heap of History I 49

When my note reached Mofutsanyana, it touched off a fierce debate among the villagers
that he did not reveal to me for several years. Sensing a trap, some villagers warned him that I
must be from the South Africa Special Branch and that my research interest in him was really a
ruse to kidnap him and consign him to prison in South Africa. However, he decided to take a
chance because of a recent dream in which Lefela, who died in 1965, appeared to him. The pair
took off on a long jaunt in the mountains. They discussed many issues, and the end of their trek,
Lefela turned to Mofutsanyana and advised him that a stranger was going to appear soon in his
life and that he must speak with him. By a fortuitous stroke of luck, my note appeared the next
day. Although a hardened Bolshevik in his Party heyday, Mofutsanyana culturally was a
person who placed great stock in his dreams throughout his life. He ignored the cautions to
steer clear of me and instead sent me a note: "I do welcome your providence given
appointment whole heartedly." I did not appreciate the reference to "providence" until much
He set a date to meet me at Tente Majara's place in about three weeks, but given the glacial
pace of mail delivery in Lesotho, his letter did not reach me until the date of the appointment
had passed. After patiently waiting three days for me to show up, he rode back to his village
and dispatched another letter:
Having caused me a great anxiety to know more about your dear self and your intentions,
you have just vanished mysteriously, as when you came, and left me guessing about what
might have taken place or happened to you.
You may probably have been trying to find out for your self if I am still in the world of the
living, for which thank you most sincerely. I am still alive and more enthusiastic than ever
before. If you are still in the territory, I am at your disposal at any time. If you are on your way
now I can only say it is a thousand times pities that we have not been able to know each other.

If the fates are willing.

Aurivoir tots siens.

Ed. T. Mofutsanyana4

After another exchange of letters, we managed to get together at Majara's
place. Mofutsanyana tactfully answered my questions on Lekhotla la Bafo. I knew then that I
wanted to talk with him more extensively about his life experiences. The following year he
accepted my invitation to spend a week with me at the National University of Lesotho at Roma,
and we recorded 15 hours of interviews. In subsequent years we developed a close friendship.
Although my introduction to Mofutsanyana had an unexpected and providential twist to
it, I had a more conventional introduction to A.P. Mda, one of the founders of the ANC Youth
League who had gone into exile in Lesotho in the early 1960s. Since I had directed my research
interests to Lesotho in the late 1970s, I decided to look him up and inquire whether he would
allow me to interview him about his life history. Although he had granted an interview in the
early 1970s to Gail Gerhart and had appeared briefly in the now classic documentary
Generations of Resistance, he had a reputation for being reticent to talk to academics. When we

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50 I Edgar

first met in Maseru in 1983, he was coy about doing an interview but agreed that if I contacted
him the following year when I was taking up a lectureship at the National University of
Lesotho, he would talk to me. When we met next at his modest law office in Mafeteng, he
operated in a lawyerly mode. He agreed to talk to me but set ground rules for what we could
cover in interviews. I could tape him about any event in his life up to 21, but for anything after
that, I had to rely on my notes. Mda's logic was that if my tapes ever fell into the wrong hands,
he did not want them played back to him in court. He could more easily defend himself if it
were a question of the reliability of my notes.
I learned much later that Mda, like Mofutsanyana, had consulted with his associates who
gave him conflicting advice about how to deal with this American fellow and whether he
should give me any time. Some advised him to proceed but with caution, while others were
deeply suspicious of any American researcher. Mda later informed me that he had gone ahead
with the interviews because he thought I was an energetic and thorough researcher who would
systematically track down pieces he had written in the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, he often
pointed me in the right direction, telling me about letters that he had sent to obscure black
newspapers and periodicals as a young man or alerting me to nom de plumes he used over the
years. Over time we became good friends and I convinced him to be filmed in 1986 for a
documentary on apartheid by a British Grenada television team. However, even after he agreed
to a taped interview with another scholar, I kept my contract and continued to make
handwritten notes on our exchanges.5


Although the political environment in southern Africa constrained my research in multiple
ways, I diligently worked to develop social networks that over time established enduring
relationships with people and groups that contributed to subsequent research projects. As I did
with Edwin Mofutsanyana and A.P. Mda, I attempted to sustain contact with other people I
interviewed. I also as much as possible paid return visits whenever I was in their area. These
relationships often yielded unexpected dividends for my research even decades later but
what I did not anticipate was how I inadvertently became part of the historical narrative of
some groups and how they interpreted my research in spiritual terms.
Inadvertently becoming part of the historical narrative was especially the case with my
dissertation study on post -World War I millennial movements in the Eastern Cape.6 It centered
on an Old Testament group known as the Israelites that followed the prophecies of Enoch
Mgijima. In 1919, he had called his followers to gather at his home at Bullhoek near
Queenstown and await the end of the world. By settling on crown land, they came into conflict
with the government. After local and national officials negotiated for many months to convince
them to leave the land peacefully, they finally concluded that the Israelites had no intention of
compromising and assembled a force of 800 police and soldiers to forcibly remove them. In the
showdown on 24 May 1921, the Israelites were no match for the heavily armed police. Around
200 Israelites were slaughtered in 20 minutes in what has come to be known as the Bullhoek

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The Ash Heap of History I 51

Gathering material on Bullhoek in the State Archives in Pretoria, I came across documents
on other millennial movements that I had not encountered before. One was led by a prophetess,
Nontetha Nkwenkwe of the King Williams Town area, who fell into a deep coma during the
influenza pandemic of 1918 that killed hundreds of thousands of people in southern Africa.7 She
had a vision in which God instructed her that he had sent this cataclysm as punishment for
people's sinful practices, and more suffering would follow unless they followed a righteous
path. All of this was a prelude to a doomsday that was drawing nigh. God also directed her to
preach to the amaqaba (the 'red' or illiterate people) and to convince the present and future
generations to acquire education. Although she was not inciting her followers to resist the
government, Native Affairs Department officials, wanting to head off another confrontation like
they had had with the Israelites, judged her to be a threat to peace and order. Since they had no
grounds on which to arrest her, however, they attempted to silence her by directing a
magistrate to declare her insane and commit her in late 1922 to a mental hospital fifty miles
away at Fort Beaufort. A month later she was released on the understanding that she should not
resume her preaching. When she violated the order in 1924, the authorities moved her six
hundred miles away to Weskoppies Mental Hospital in Pretoria. Although their intent was to
isolate her from her followers who regularly visited her in Fort Beaufort, that did not stop
almost a hundred of her followers in 1927 from participating in a 'Pilgrimage of Grace'. They
walked six hundred miles over a two-month period to visit her at Weskoppies. She remained
institutionalized until her death of cancer in 1935. She was buried in a pauper's grave without a
marker and officials resolutely refused to hand over her remains to her family and followers in
subsequent decades.
After completing my research on these and other millennial movements in the archives and
libraries, I shifted my research to two eastern Cape Bantustans, the Ciskei and Transkei, and
interviewed numerous people who had first-hand knowledge of these movements. At a time
when most historians were conducting their studies almost exclusively in the confines of
archives and libraries, I was one of the few historians to conduct interviews in these areas. But
because apartheid was in high season, I had to conform to the rules of racial engagement that
the government set for researchers working in 'Bantu' or African areas. The government issued
me a permit that I had to submit to the local magistrate in each district that I visited. The permit
stipulated that "Lodging with Bantu is not permitted" and that I "had to behave in a dignified
manner and refrain from any criticism of the administration of the Government or any of its
officials."8 Government officials and chiefs and headmen scrutinized me wherever I went.
Indeed, on several occasions, local people pulled me aside to inform me that security police
were making inquiries about what I was up to. Although the permit restricted me from staying
with Africans (and South African whites often warned me that I would have my throat slit in
my sleep if I did so), I was allowed to reside in African areas so long as I was housed in a 'white
spot', typically mission stations that were mostly staffed by German missionaries and priests.
The Israelites generally were prepared to talk with me but with some
reservations. Although the Israelites had welcomed several anthropologists in their midst in
previous decades, some of them questioned my motivations for digging into what had
happened at Bullhoek. Why was I resurrecting such a painful episode in their past that might
reopen wounds and that might lead to more unwanted government attention? Some Israelite

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52 I Edgar

elders, however, were keen on relating the history of their church and took me under their
wing. They introduced me to a dozen or so members who had extensive knowledge of their
church's history or who had been at Bullhoek the day of the massacre. I attended a number of
services, including a service of remembrance held on May 24, 1974 at Bullhoek for those who
died in 1921. Although I knew that most of the Israelites I spoke to were restrained in their
recollections, I was confident that I had enough written and oral documentation for my study.
For several periods of time 1977 to 1980 and 1985 to 1990 I was prohibited from entering
South Africa, but I maintained contact with the church's historian, Gideon Ntloko, and shared
with him my documentation on the Israelites. On one of the times I was persona non grata in
South Africa, I took advantage of the government's policy of granting a bogus independence to
the Transkei in 1976. Even though I did not have a visa for entering South Africa, I could cross
the Lesotho border at Telle bridge into Transkei's Herschel district which was separate from the
rest of the Transkei. I had no choice but to travel through South Africa before reentering
Transkei. Since there were only a handful of border posts for entering Transkei, as long as the
police did not stop me at a roadblock, I could make discreet detours to visit people in South
Africa. One was with Ntloko in Queenstown who let me know that the security police had
recently warned him against speaking with some foreign researchers who were in Port
Elizabeth intending to do research on the Israelites. Not wishing to compromise the Israelites,
following that incident I refrained from further visits with them until after I was allowed to
reenter South Africa in 1990.
My ties to the Israelites resumed in late 1994 when I was affiliated to the Institute for Social
and Economic Research at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. My curiosity was piqued by an
essay by Denver Webb, a leading eastern Cape heritage specialist. He related to me that an
Israelite artifact, a "wooden box containing a large parchment scroll with religious texts," was
stored in the basement of the Albany Museum. When museum officials allowed me to examine
the box, I found it contained a 6-foot long parchment scroll on which the Ten Commandments
were inscribed in ornate script in isiXhosa.
Although I was not sure of the box's provenance, I knew that as the Israelite dwellings at
Bullhoek were demolished and as the Israelites were dispersed after the massacre, the police
confiscated personal and church items from Mgijima's home and the Tabernacle. These
included the prophet's red gown, hats, and walking sticks, silver vessels and plates, brass
bugles, lamps, and, most importantly, the Israelite Ark of the Covenant, which had originally
been brought from the Orange Free State by Adonijah Ntloko and was a revered holy relic.
In late 1921, the government tried over a hundred Israelites for sedition but placed the
primary blame on Enoch Mgijima, his brother Charles, and Gilbert Matshoba. They were
sentenced to six-year terms with hard labor at DeBeer's Convict Station in Kimberley. Following
Enoch's release from prison in May 1924, he wrote the Queenstown magistrate requesting the
return of the confiscated items from the police, but they claimed that they did have not have
them in their possession.9 We now know that they were lying when they made this
statement. While we do not know how long the Ark remained in their hands, the staff at the
Albany Museum documented that around World War II an anonymous person donated the Ark
to the museum. Although the box containing the scroll had a tag stating that it was the property
of Enoch and museum officials were vaguely aware that it was something from the Israelites,

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The Ash Heap of History I 53

they had no idea of its significance and never displayed it in public. The Ark remained
forgotten in the museum basement for over a half-century.
I was also unclear of the box's significance, so I decided to consult Gideon Ntloko in
Queenstown. As I was describing my find in detail, he grew visibly excited. As a young man he
had heard his uncles describing the box and scroll, and he was sure that I had discovered the
missing Ark of the Covenant. Because he was concerned that the Israelite faithful would be
extremely excited about this find and might have unrealistic expectations about its immediate
return, he enjoined me to keep the news to myself until he had a chance to look at the Ark in
person. When we met some months later in mid-1995 at the Albany Museum and viewed the
Ark, he nearly passed out on the spot. He knelt and went into an extended prayer. We agreed
that he would convey the good news at an appropriate moment to the Israelite leadership, and
that I would talk to museum officials about what they had in the basement.
At a meeting with the museum's director, Wouter Holleman, I related the story of the
Bullhoek massacre and how the Ark had eventually been deposited in his museum and what its
significance was to the Israelites. Since I was leaving soon for the United States, I did not see
myself as an intermediary between the museum and the Israelites. My hope was that he and
other museum officials would not treat the Ark as the museum's private property even if they
had no hand in its seizure from the Israelites.10 I also suggested that it would be a major public
relations coup for the museum, especially in the context of post-1994 South Africa, if they
cooperated with the Israelites and facilitated a transfer of the Ark. Otherwise I envisioned a
scenario in which the aggrieved Israelites would be staging protests at the museum. I was
elated months later when I learned that the Ark had been transferred to the Israelites in late
1995 in a moving ceremony at the Israelites' main Tabernacle in Queenstown. The Israelites re-
consecrated the Ark and placed it in a vault in the Tabernacle to be displayed every three years.
I did not pick up the whole story about the transfer until the following year when I learned
that museum officials initially had refused to surrender the Ark to the Israelites and instead
offered to restore and display it at the museum and create a facsimile of the Ark for the
Israelites. They believed that the Ark would be preserved better under their oversight. As might
be expected, their stance threatened to inflame the situation, but eventually they backed down
and arranged for the transfer.
After the transfer, Israelite elders debated my role in discovering the Ark. When I stopped
in Queenstown in mid-1996 several elders sat down with me and related their discussions about
why I, an American, was the one who had solved the mystery of what had happened to the Ark
and set in motion the process for its return. Their interpretation was that an angel had
possessed me without my knowledge and guided me to the Ark's location. I may have thought
that I was acting out of curiosity, but they knew better.


My study on Nontetha Nkwenkwe featured even more profound and unexpected
methodological twists and turns. I had first learned of her through Native Affairs and police
files that I located in 1973 in the State Archives in Pretoria. Because of the fifty-year rule then in
effect, researchers were prevented from looking at documents written after 1925. I could piece

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54 I Edgar

together the early stages of Nontetha's movement after she began preaching, but not what
happened to her after the state committed her to a series of mental hospitals. I decided that I
would follow through on leads from the documents and visit the African locations mentioned
in official dispatches. Since I was going to work in the Ciskei, I arranged for accommodation at
the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice. After securing permission from local chiefs in the
Debe Nek area, I learned that two of Nontetha's children were still alive. In turn they informed
me of the existence of the Church of the Prophetess Nontetha headed by Bishop Reuben Tsoko,
one of Nontetha's leading disciples since the 1920s. After contacting him, he invited me to
attend a church service, where I explained my research and arranged to interview him and
church members both individually and collectively. By the time I left the area, I knew that I had
gathered enough information to reconstruct the main outlines of the story. There were still
remained enormous gaps, however, that were going to be difficult to fill until I had access to all
the government files. Indeed, after returning to the United States to write up my dissertation, I
found that I had enough source material to discuss Nontetha and her movement, but too little to
write up a full study. I had it in mind to return to the story in the future, but that took another
two decades, and I lost contact with Tsoko and his church.
In 1994-95 I was on sabbatical leave in South Africa when another historian, Hilary Sapire,
contacted me with the news that a colleague had alerted her to a substantial file on Nontetha in
the State Archives that I had not seen in 1973. Because of her interest in Africans, western
psychiatry, and mental hospitals, Sapire was preparing to do a study on Nontetha's (and other
Africans') experiences in the mental hospitals and with the diagnoses of European
psychiatrists. Hence, she desired to consult me about my previous research. After
communicating with each other we decided to pool our research findings and write an
extended essay on Nontetha's story. Having consulted the new government documentation, I
decided to return to the same rural locations I had visited in 1974 to see whether I could unearth
any fresh sources of information. I had no idea whether the church was still in existence, but
thought that it was worth a try since the climate for interviewing people had dramatically
improved since South Africa's independence in May 1994.11
With a close friend, Luyanda ka Msumza, I set out on an overcast Sunday in mid-1997 to an
area about ten miles from King Williams Town. We first visited the homestead of a prominent
faith healer, Nomthunzi 'MaNgconde' Mali, who practices a few miles from Nontetha's home
village. We observed license plates of cars from all over southern Africa, a testament to her
widespread fame as a healer. While we watched one of her mass blessings, we were not in a
position to penetrate her inner circle to approach her. We then drove to a nearby village where I
conducted interviews in 1974 and asked some men on the side of the road if they knew whether
Nontetha's church was still in existence. After confirming that it was, they directed us to an
elderly woman standing nearby. Although acknowledging her membership in the church, she
was reticent to speak with us. She pointed to the home of another member, a middle-aged
woman, and recommended that we should talk to her.
When she appeared at the front door of her home, we did not have a chance to introduce
ourselves before she began looking at me intently. She asked, "But aren't you Bob Edgar?" Her
question took me by surprise. After acknowledging that I was indeed Bob Edgar, she chided
me: "But what happened to you? You left many years ago and we did not hear any more from

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The Ash Heap of History I 55

you." She had been a teenager when I attended church services in 1974 and had a clear memory
of me. She said church members placed a great stock in my visit and were very disappointed
that I had disappeared and not remained in contact. She also queried me about my
appearance. "Your beard is now getting gray and you're not as thin as you once were." I
laughed and explained how the decades had altered my appearance. She advised us to go next
to the home of the church's head, Bishop Mzwandile Mabhelu, Tsoko's successor, at nearby
Thamarha Location.
I had not met Mabhelu on my initial visit in 1974, but on reaching his place and
introducing myself, his eyes immediately lit up. He was visibly excited that I had returned and
warmly welcomed me. Word circulated quickly in the village that I was around and, within a
short time, a stream of people flocked to Mabhelu's home. I was once again surprised to learn
that I had become part of their community's oral history "the American who had visited many
years before"- and I was heartened by their gracious reception. We agreed that I would return in
a week's time for a feast and a meeting with the congregation, where we both would have a
chance to catch up on what had happened over the course of the years. The following Sunday
they shared a history of Nontetha's life that they had compiled, and they introduced me to two
people, both in their nineties, who had known Nontetha as young people and who had
participated in the "pilgrimage of grace" in 1927. The congregation conveyed how anguished
they remained over how government officials had mistreated and institutionalized Nontetha
and then refused to return her remains to her family after her death. I shared with them the
documents that we had recently collected and the essay on Nontetha that Sapire and I had
After leaving them that day, I reflected on the occasion and determined that at the very
least I was going to look for Nontetha's burial place in Pretoria regardless of how remote my
chances were of finding it. Even if I could locate the cemetery where she was buried, what
chance did I have of finding her grave in a pauper's field with no gravestones? I had two pieces
of information to work with the date of her death in May 1935 and the name of the cemetery,
New, where she was buried. However, once I arrived in Pretoria and called around to the main
cemeteries, I learned that there was no cemetery still bearing that name. I then decided to visit
each of the cemeteries in turn beginning with Rebecca Street Cemetery, the one nearest
Weskoppies Mental Hospital. When that cemetery's superintendent, Johan Green, volunteered
that his cemetery's original name was Newclare, I knew I had probably found the right place. In
line with segregationist policy, the cemetery had maintained separate burial areas for
Europeans, Coloureds, Indians and Africans, but its register listed all burials in chronological
order regardless of racial classification. After Green brought out an oversized ledger for 1935,
we soon found a listing for a "Nontetho" with a burial date of 22 May. The entry noted that she
had died at age 62 of liver and stomach cancer. The entry mistakenly listed her as a male, but
we speculated that since she was wrapped in a blanket when she was brought to the cemetery,
officials probably did not bother to determine whether she was male or female. Three bodies
were normally placed in a pauper's grave, but we located the name of one other man who had
been buried below her a few days earlier and ascertained that no one had been buried above

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56 I Edgar

More importantly the ledger identified Nontetha's burial plot. Although I assumed that
would not be helpful in a pauper's field, Green not only informed me that he had a detailed
map of every plot in that area, but also that, with the help of surveyor's pins, he could pinpoint
the precise location of her grave. Driving to that area, he showed me roughly where he thought
her grave should be. Since this remarkable discovery came as I was preparing to return to the
U.S., I called on Mzumza to report this news directly to Bishop Mabhelu and to Nontetha's
family. As I anticipated they were ecstatic to hear about these developments.
The next year was spent preparing the groundwork for an exhumation of Nontetha's
grave. The Heritage Office of the Eastern Cape provincial government was exceptionally
cooperative. Its staff had considerable experience in working with local communities to
memorialize historical events and was sensitive to the cultural issues with which we would
have to contend. They advised that we should put Nontetha's family foremost in our
consultations before bringing the church or anyone else into the dialogue. In spring 1998, Hilary
Sapire and I met Nontetha's descendants from several branches of her family at the East London
home of Vuyani Bungu, a world champion boxer and Nontetha's great-grandson. We were
fortunate that all the branches were in agreement about how to proceed.
I returned to South Africa in mid-1998 to prepare the way for the exhumation. Sapire had
made contact with Coen Nienaber and his team of archaeologists, who were attached to the
University of Pretoria's Department of Anatomy, about conducting the exhumation.12 Although
their specialty was Iron Age archaeology, they were receptive to performing an exhumation of a
person from the recent past. They were also well versed in the complex bureaucratic process of
securing the necessary permits from offices at four different levels of government in the Eastern
Cape and Gauteng provinces.
All the stakeholders in the process family members, church leaders (including 93-year old
Tobi Mokrawuzana), government officials, archaeologists, a journalist, and myself finally
converged on Pretoria at the Holiday Inn on the morning of 13 July. But since Gauteng province
had not issued the last permit for the exhumation, the archaeological team was not prepared to
commence work until all the paperwork was in order, including having a policeman at the
gravesite. Since they had only a small window for conducting the exhumation, they would not
be able to reschedule for the foreseeable future. I was a nervous wreck since I felt responsible
for bringing all these people together. The church leaders, however, calmed me down by
assuring me that their prayers and Nontetha's spirit would see to it that the last permit was
issued. Indeed, within the hour, the permit arrived and we drove immediately to the cemetery,
where Green had marked off with twine a rectangular area that he was confident was
Nontetha's grave.
After Nontetha's family and church leaders held a prayer service at the gravesite, a laborer
cleared off a foot or so of topsoil, and Nienaber's team began their patient work. They dug six-
inch trenches at the end of the grave where they expected the femurs, the strongest bones, to be.
When struck, those bones would not crumble as would more fragile bones. If they did not
uncover any skeletal remains, they then cleared off the six-inch layer for the whole grave. As
they methodically dug down, they turned up many bones. To my untrained eye, they had to be
human remains, but the archaeologists quickly identified them as animal bones that were
strewn throughout the landfill that had been spread throughout the pauper's field. By the end

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The Ash Heap of History I 57

of the first day they had dug down three feet without any indication that there might be any
bodies in the grave. I was getting very nervous about the whole undertaking.
The next day, as the archaeologists inched deeper, my sense of foreboding grew deeper
since I anticipated that at least some evidence should have turned up by then. We had to wait
until mid-afternoon before a team member unearthed evidence of the foot bones. With a
whiskbroom, he meticulously exposed the imprints where foot bones had been before
decomposing, as another team member began uncovering the skull at the grave's opposite
end. Within an hour they uncovered what was left of the skeleton and made some preliminary
observations of what those remains told them. They determined the rough height (a little over 5
feet), the general age (at least over 50), and the sex (female) of the person and noted that there
were traces of cancer on the arm bones. They also found the remains of a second skeleton below
the first. That confirmed what we knew about there being two bodies in this grave. They
reasoned that since Nontetha was wrapped in a blanket when she was buried, she was likely
placed on top of the wooden casket of the other person. Then, as the casket decomposed and
evidence was found of the casket her body sank lower and lower.
The archaeologists carefully placed her remains in a storage box to be examined further by
an anatomist at the University of Pretoria. Their reading of the evidence led them to determine
that the remains were indeed Nontetha's. Her family and church leaders, on the other hand,
were faithful to their own cultural and spiritual truths. They, too, accepted that the remains
were those of their beloved prophet. In this case scientific and cultural logic came to the same
We left that day with a great deal of satisfaction (and relief on my part). Plans were set in
motion for the remains to be returned to Nontetha's home at Khulile in a few months for a
reburial service. The archaeological team, which had previously worked primarily on Iron Age
digs, had become personally invested in Nontetha's story and insisted that some of them
accompany her remains on the long trek from Pretoria to the Eastern Cape. In a moving October
1998 ceremony attended by several thousand people, Nontetha was finally laid to rest.
Even though I was personally involved in the process, I was not fully aware of how the
church interpreted my actions. In August 1999, I attended a service of the Church of the
Prophetess Nontetha so that we could review all that had taken place. In a discussion after the
service, a woman stood up and divulged something that they had not revealed to me before. In
the 1920s Nontetha had prophesied that her followers should look to the Americans because
one day they would do something miraculous for them. Her prediction then was most likely
influenced by the ideas of Marcus Garvey and a popular myth that was widely circulating in
the Ciskei and Transkei that African-Americans were arriving soon to liberate South Africa
from white oppression. To her followers, my appearance and disappearance in 1974 was a
source of discussion and disappointment precisely because I was an American. When I
reappeared almost a quarter century later and played a critical role in locating Nontetha's grave,
they interpreted my actions as the fulfillment of her prophecy.


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58 I Edgar

The story of Nontetha's exhumation and reburial was featured on a news magazine on
SABC-TV's evening English and Xhosa language services. These programs are religiously
watched, especially in the Eastern Cape. Among the viewers were Israelite elders who
remembered my earlier intervention in the return of their Ark and decided to call on me again
to solve the mystery of the location of Charles Mgijima's grave. He had died in a Kimberley
prison of Bright's disease on 12 March 1924 and had been buried in a Kimberley cemetery.
Although his widow and a few Israelite leaders knew where his grave was, they had not
followed through with a request by the prophet Enoch to erect a gravestone with his name on it.
Only an iron rod marked his grave site, and they carried the knowledge of the exact place with
them when they died.
After several Israelite leaders requested my assistance in locating Charles' grave, I agreed
to attend an Israelite religious ceremony and to hold a meeting with a group of elders to learn
all I could before agreeing to take on this project. Because of my previous involvement in
helping to return the Ark, I did not want their expectations to be unrealistic. Although I may
have acquired a reputation for achieving miraculous feats, I never lost sight of the fact that I
was relying on my investigative skills and that I was following whatever factual leads were at
The twenty-five elders and I talked for three hours on a wintry Saturday evening in the
chilly Queenstown Tabernacle. They offered compelling reasons for why they wanted to locate
Charles' grave. One was his pivotal leadership in the early years of the Israelites, his central role
in the negotiations with the government in 1920 and 1921, and his actions as the Israelites'
commander during the Bullhoek massacre, where he had been prepared to sacrifice his life.
When he fell gravely ill in prison, Enoch had prayed that the Lord should take him instead so
that his brother could return and hold the church together. Another reason was that they
wanted his remains buried with other church leaders at Bullhoek so that he could be reunited
with his ancestors. Finally, they noted that since they were involved in a partnership with the
Department of Arts and Culture of the Eastern Cape provincial government to develop the site
of the massacre (and a new memorial was dedicated to those slain at Bullhoek on the massacre's
80th anniversary on 25 May 2001), it was crucial for his remains to be returned to complete the
As our deliberations wound down, one elder took me aside and explained an unstated but
crucial reason and one that would not be voiced publicly-why locating Charles' grave was so
important top them. Before Enoch died, he enjoined his followers to bring Charles' remains to
Bullhoek in the family cemetery. Since that had not happened, they interpreted that as a breach
of Enoch's wish and eventually the cause of generations of turmoil in the church. The Israelites
split into two factions in 1947 over the laying of a stone to commemorate the 40th anniversary of
Enoch's first prophecy; the forty represented their decades in the wilderness. One faction led by
S.P. Mgijima of Shiloh favored laying the stone on Wednesday, 9 April, the actual date of
Enoch's prophecy, while the Queenstown Tabernacle pragmatically supported holding the
ceremony on the 13th, a Sunday when those who worked on weekdays could attend. Over the
decades the rift between the factions grew bitter. By the 1990s, the rivalries over leadership
between and within Israelite branches had grown so destructive that fistfights were breaking
out in tabernacles and some members were even being killed. Israelite leaders attributed the

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The Ash Heap of History I 59

troubles to Charles' restless spirit, and that no healing could take place until his grave was
located and his remains were brought home.
During our discussions I quizzed the elders about the availability of any documentation
that might give me clues to work on. They had none, but they volunteered that a few years
before, several Israelites had traveled to Kimberley to search for the grave. Their inquiries had
been fruitless. Armed with a few scraps of information, I set out for Kimberley, where I
consulted with officials of the Northwest Province Heritage Office and librarians at the Africana
Library. The latter held municipal records and death notices, but aside from a listing with the
date and cause of Charles' death, there were no other leads about where his grave might be.
DuToitspan Prison, where the Israelite leaders served their jail terms, had subsequently been
converted into a mining compound and its records destroyed.
My next stop was Green Point Cemetery several miles from the city center. Unlike the
segregated Rebecca Street Cemetery which maintained detailed records of burials, the Green
Point Cemetery was for blacks only and most of its records had been destroyed in a fire at some
point. A few surviving records that were deposited in a nearby school contained no leads. The
cemetery itself had fallen into disrepair. Few gravestones were still erect, and only a handful
had names on them. I walked around an older section hoping to stumble on some overlooked
clue, but I gave up after several hours. My search this time had faltered, but as I reflected on my
experiences with the searches for the Ark and Nontetha's grave, I understood what remarkable
undertakings those had been.


During the apartheid era, whether I was interrogating official records or negotiating with
people to talk about their recollections of the past, the "politics of inequality" set the ground
rules and boundaries for my research undertakings. With South Africa's independence in May
1994, however, the research landscape underwent a seismic shift. Independence unlocked the
memories of many black people who previously had been unwilling or reticent to speak with
me openly. While collecting oral data is challenging even in the best of circumstances, at least
the apartheid state's repressive machinery was no longer such an intimidating and intrusive
May 1994 also created opportunities for rectifying some of the injustices of the past that
were amply documented in my researches. Although historians are encouraged to maintain
their objectivity by keeping a distance from their subjects, my personal relationships with
individuals and church groups compelled me to take a different path. I applied my
investigative skills to search for the Israelite's holy relic, the Ark of the Covenant, which the
police confiscated after the Bullhoek massacre, and Nontetha Nkwekwe's anonymous grave in a
Pretoria cemetery. Those experiences exposed both the limits and possibilities of South Africa's
changing landscape as South Africans grappled with the legacy of the old order and the
possibilities opened up by transformation and the reconciliation process. While Albany
Museum officials were initially reluctant to concede their ownership of the Ark, eventually they
recognized that it belonged in the hands of the Israelites. Joined by provincial officials, they
fully supported transferring it. In the case of Nontetha's remains, government officials,

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60 I Edgar

archaeologists, and a cemetery superintendent as well as her descendents and church members
all embraced the efforts to identify her grave, exhume her remains, and return them to her
home. These experiences provide an African validation for William Faulkner's brilliant insight
in Requiem for a Nun "The past is never dead. It's not even past."


1. This reference to an ash-heap also has special meaning to me because I had a Marxist
colleague at the National University of Lesotho who was fond of quoting Lenin
whenever he wanted to consign his enemies to the "ash-heap of history."
2. Many of the songs were translated and published in Robert Edgar, 1986: 213-37. In the
early 1990s I interviewed Ntsu Mokhehle who had received his early political education
under the tutelage of the LLB president, Josiel Lefela. After expressing his pleasure that I
had published the volume, which he had read in exile, he gave me another LLB song
which I had not collected before.
3. Robert Edgar, 2005: xi.
4. Edgar, 2005: xi-xii.
5. Gail Gerhart informed me that when she interviewed Mda in an extended session in the
early 1970s he also asked her to take notes for the same reason. Ultimately I made one
exception to my agreement. When Luyanda Msumza and I were collecting the writings
of Mda's close friend, Anton Lembede, for an edited volume, I recorded Mda's
comments on Lembede that we edited into a forward. See Edgar and Msumza.
6. Edgar, 1977; see also Edgar, 1987.
7. Edgar and Hilary Sapire.
8. Permit (Under 24 (1) of Act No. 18 of 1936). Original in possession of author.
9. Enoch Mgijima to Magistrate, Queenstown, 29 January 1925 (South African Police
Archive, Pretoria).
10. The debate over who owns artifacts, museums or indigenous peoples, is explored in
11. The conventional date for South African independence is with the formation of the first
government of the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. Given, however, the lack of
franchise rights for over two-thirds of the population at that time and the blossoming of
the politics of inequality into the full blown racial domination of the apartheid era, 1948-
1994, I consider the inauguration of the Mandela government on 10 May 1994 as
marking the true independence of South Africa.
12. Nienaber and Steyn. The Eastern Cape Heritage Office has called on this archaeological
team on several more occasions to exhume the remains of political prisoners executed by
the South African state and to return them to their homes for reburial.


Cohen, David William. The Combing of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

The Ash Heap of History I 61

Edgar, Robert. "The Fifth Seal: Enoch Mgijima, the Israelites and the Bulhoek Massacre, 1921."
Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1977.

Edgar, Robert, ed. Prophets with Honour: A Documentary History of Lekhotla la Bafo. Johannesburg:
Ravan Press, 1986.

Edgar, Robert. Because They Chose The Plan of God: The Bullhoek Massacre of 1921. Johanesburg:
Ravan Press, 1987.

Edgar, Robert. The Making of an African Communist: Edwin Mofutsanyana and the Communist Party
of South Africa, 1927-1939. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 2005.

Edgar, Robert and Luyanda Msumza, eds. Freedom in Our Lifetime: the Collected Writings of Anton
M. Lembede. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1996.

Edgar, Robert and Hilary Sapire. African Apocalypse: the Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, a Twentieth
Century South African Prophet. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000.

Karis, Thomas and Gwendolen M. Carter. From Protest to Challenge: A documentary History of
African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964. 4 vols. Standford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1972-

Nienaber, W.C. and M. Steyn. "Archaeology in the Service of the Community: Repatriation of
the Remains of Nontetha Bungu." South African Archaeological Bulletin, 57, 1576 (2002): 80-84.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Robert Edgar.
"The Ash Heap of History: Reflections on Historical Research in Southern Africa." African
Studies Quarterly 9, no.4: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v9/v9i4a4.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

South African Land Reform and the Global Development



Abstract: Over the past decade, "land issues" have reclaimed centre stage in
international development debates, with Hernando De Soto's influential work on land
tenure and capitalism playing an important catalytic role. Post-apartheid South Africa
has been highly visible in international discussions and debates about land reform, land
tenure and land administration. The three major elements of land policy in South
African, namely tenure reform in the former "homelands," restitution, and "market-
based" land reform, have frequently been used as an example or model in discussions
about land policy in other countries. South African land policy has frequently been used
to draw contrasts with the highly publicised land reform policies in Zimbabwe. This
paper will analyse the way in which the "South African model" has been deployed in
debates about land and development. It will examine in particular the discussions and
debates leading up to the World Bank's 2003 report "Land Policies for Growth and
Poverty Reduction," and the use to which South African examples and policies are put in
the final report.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been an increasing focus on the role of land in promoting
economic growth and poverty alleviation in the international academic and professional
debates about development.1 In a widely cited 1978 article in World Development, David Lehman
pronounced the 1950s to 1970s wave of land reform as "dead."2 Since the mid-1990s, however,
land has been very much alive on the policy agenda of the international development industry.
The failure of macro-economic restructuring, which characterized the mid-1980s to mid-
1990s "Washington Consensus," led to an increased emphasis on "second-generation" reforms
and in particular on institutions, including land tenure generally, and specifically on tenure
insecurity. Increased emphasis has been placed on the impact of extreme inequality on overall
economic growth, especially in Latin America, and access to land and other assets has
increasingly been seen as a key determinant of inequity (reflecting in part the extremely
influential work of Amartya Sen).3 The widely debated 2000 World Bank World Development
Report heavily influenced by Sen's approach outlined three key areas for action in order to
reduce global poverty: promoting opportunity, facilitating empowerment, and enhancing
security.4 Land reform was seen as a key element of "promoting opportunity," while security of

Thackwray "Dax" Driver is CEO of the South Trinidad Chamber of Industry and Commerce. A historian by training,
he has written extensively on land policy and administration in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the history of anti-
erosion policies in the mountain areas of Lesotho.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

64 I Driver

tenure was seen as a key target element of "empowerment," especially in the context of making
the legal system "more responsive to poor people."
The end of the Cold War and the sudden inclusion of the former Soviet bloc into the realm
of international development gave further impetus to land policy issues, with the moves to
privatise former collective farms and other production units, to (re) establish a land-market, and
to provide restitution to former land-owners whose lands were seized in Communist era land
reform initiatives. In addition to this renewed interest in land reform projects in international
development debates, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was significant academic
interest in issues of land and resource tenure. This was often as a result of increased social
science research into environmental issues and the role of "communities" in natural resource
management, especially in Africa and South Asia. Much of this work emphasised the complex
and contested nature of land and resource rights and examined the social and historical setting
of land and resource rights (for example see articles by Berry, Peters, Shipton and Goheen in the
special 1992 edition of Africa).5 In the African context, this academic work often critiqued
previous land tenure reform programmes, for example the World Bank funded land titling
programmes in Kenya, and conservation projects, especially the establishment of national parks
and game reserves, from which farmers and herders were expelled. In much of this work there
were often explicit or implicit connections drawn between the impact of some of the
contemporary conservation and development projects on land and resource rights and prior
colonial era development projects, such as the infamous South African "betterment schemes."
Ideas associated with "new institutional economics" have played an important role in
much of the academic work on resource and land tenure.6 This perspective places an emphasis
on institutions that mediate relations between individuals, including the market. In terms of
land markets, the "new institutional economics" framework places an emphasis on property
rights the social relations between people that dictate how property is owned, accessed, used
or transacted often described in the land tenure literature as a "bundle of rights". The new
institutional economics approach to property rights meshes well with the general development
studies interest in institutions, as outlined in the World Development Report 2000. The failure of
past land reform efforts from the 1960s and 1970s has been explained in terms of a failure to
understand the "institutional economics" of property rights.7
This increased interest in land and the institution of property rights in the international
development community has led directly to increased investments into "land projects" by
international development agencies. Between 1990 and 1994 the World Bank approved only
three stand-alone land projects. In the 1995-99 period this increased to nineteen projects
approved (with US$700 million in funds commitment) and twenty five projects approved in the
2000-2004 period (with US$1 billion funding commitment). In Latin America and the Caribbean,
the Inter American Development Bank, the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International
Development have all placed an emphasis on land administration projects, with at least US$ 851
million in investments into these projects being committed over the past decade .8 Unlike the
previous land reform initiatives in Latin America, the emphasis in many of these new projects
has not been on redistributing land-holdings from large landlords to small peasant farmers
through direct government action, but rather on improving the functioning of the legal,
technical and institutional framework for land ownership, with the objective of increasing

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 65

security of tenure for poorer households. Much of the investment in Latin America has gone
into land titling programmes, through which households occupying land with no formal
documented title are given various forms of title documents. By contrast, much of the land-
related World Bank funding in Africa is contained in either wider structural adjustment
programmes or in more integrated rural development projects.
In 2000, interest in land titling projects beyond the normal confines of the development
industry was given a significant boost by the publication of an extremely influential, widely
read and hotly debated book by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. De Soto's book The
Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else received
widespread media attention and was favourably reviewed in a whole host of international
newspapers and journals.9 The Economist magazine declared that it was "the most intelligent
book yet written about the current challenge of establishing capitalism in the developing
world."10 The media frenzy that the book created has been fuelled by the accolades that De Soto
subsequently received from a whole host of major international figures, probably most notably
from former US President Bill Clinton, whose face and endorsement currently (June 2007) grace
the home-page of De Soto's Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD). De Soto is seen as a key
player in not just Latin American development circles (in which he was well known prior to
2000), but across the globe. In addition to its "think-tank" role, ILD has implemented or advised
governments on a whole series of land titling projects in numerous countries (including Peru,
Mexico, Brazil, Tanzania, Egypt, and the Philippines), often with USAID funding."
The arguments presented in The Mystery of Capital are neither new nor exceptional. The
basic premise behind the book is that that poor people are unable to take part in the market-
economy, and make capitalism work for them, because of the existence of a bureaucratic and
legal system that does not recognize the assets that they hold (especially land). This therefore
prevents them from taking full advantage of the asset to create working capital, increased
income and improve the standard of their living. The solution to this problem is widespread
and drastic legal reform to bring these informal assets into the formal system and to unlock the
massive hidden capital that they represent. As in the new institutional economics approach,
there is a particular emphasis on reforming and building trust in the institutions that regulate
property (land registries, cadastres, licensing agencies etc.), but also on the possibility of
massive one-off land titling programmes to bring large numbers of poor people currently
occupying land in the "extra-legal" realm into the formal system. De Soto places special
emphasis on the way in which European and U.S. legal systems adapted in the nineteenth
century to take into account and formalise extra-legal property relations that had arisen in
response to changing demand for land. Given its avowed evangelical ambitions and block-
buster tone, The Mystery of Capital inevitably simplifies and glosses over many issues
surrounding property, informality, and legal reform, but it has certainly led to a huge and
seemingly growing interest in land as a key component in the development debate.
The huge interest in De Soto's book has also spawned an opposition movement to "World
Bank land titling" programmes, with international peasant solidarity groups such as 'Food First'
and 'War on Want' targeting De Soto as an agent of global capitalism and a (witting or
unwitting) advocate for the oppression of peasants. The support that De Soto has received from
the Economist magazine and even Margaret Thatcher has not helped his cause with left-leaning

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66 I Driver

ant-globalisation campaigners. There is now a "De Soto Watch" website, dedicated to
highlighting ILD's involvement in projects around the world.12


Within the international development industry, the interest created by De Soto's work was
further increased by the discussion leading up to the publication of a new World Bank Policy
Research Report (PRR) on land issues in 2003. During the 1990s, the World Bank conducted or
contracted a significant amount of research into land policy and related issues. In keeping with
a general shift in World Bank policy, there was also a more concerted effort to consult with
"stakeholders" and with research communities outside of the Bank. The previous World Bank
official position paper on land reform was the 1975 "Land Reform: Sector Policy Paper" and the
Bank recognized that much of the content and ideological basis of that report had either been
overtaken by events, experience or subsequent research. The Bank therefore set about
publishing a revised Policy Research Report on land issues to try to distil the initial experience
gained through a new round of international development agency funded land projects and the
new research into land tenure, especially the institutional basis of property rights.13
In order to try to form a broad consensus on land policies, the Bank invited a number of
well respected academics to form an external technical advisory committee and invited a broad
range of other bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies, NGOs, advocacy groups and government
representatives to take part in a series of regional workshops and on-line discussion forums.
Some civil society groups, most notably Brazil's MST (the Landless Workers Movement),
refused to take part in the consultations on the new PRR. Consultants were contracted to
undertake supporting research projects in a variety of related themes and a large number of
papers, discussant responses, position papers and commentaries were either presented at the
four regional workshops (April-June 2002) or during the email discussion forum (December
2002-January 2003).14
Both inside and outside the PRR consultation process, the major point of debate was
"market-assisted" or "negotiated" land reform programmes, especially the programmes in
Brazil, South Africa and Colombia. Interestingly these land reform programmes, widely
regarded as World Bank "flagship" projects, were not actually mentioned in the initial
discussion draft of the PRR released by the World Bank.15 Nevertheless, the World Bank's
support of these programmes became the major contentious issue in the debates around the
PRR. The Bank's support of the projects was cited as the reason that some social movements
refused to take part in the discussion. Speaking at a 2003 final consultation on the PRR in
Washington D.C., Robin Palmer, Oxfam's Global Land Policy Advisor (a key researcher-cum-
advocate on land and property rights, who took a very active role in the discussions around the
PRR) stated:
for many of my colleagues and Oxfam partners such close collaboration [between Oxfam
and] the Bank is highly problematic, and in some countries would be deemed quite
inappropriate on account of much extremely negative past historical experience. I am thinking
here of countries such as Indonesia and parts of Central and South America. The Bank would
do well to remember that very many people across the world unambiguously see it as 'the

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 67

enemy', as being totally dogmatic in its approaches (for example over market assisted land
reform), as being unwilling to listen, and as being fundamentally antagonistic to the needs and
interests of the poor.16


Market-assisted or negotiated land reform initiatives refer to land reform projects in which
the state provides grants or cheap loan financing to targeted individuals or groups to assist
them in purchasing land from existing land-owners on a "willing seller-willing buyer" basis
and, crucially, to provide the beneficiaries of the programme with some working capital to
initiate productive agriculture. The state tends to play a facilitative role in these market-assisted
programmes, helping potential beneficiaries identify suitable land, assisting in negotiations, and
undertaking the necessary legal formalities to transfer the land.
The two most commonly cited market-assisted land reform initiatives are those in Brazil
and South Africa. The South African land reform programme is often cited as a "pet project" of
the World Bank, despite the fact that it has not been financially supported by direct Bank
funding. The World Bank has, however, played an extremely important role in designing and
subsequently re-designing the South African land reform programme.
The World Bank's involvement in South African land policy began prior to the first
democratic elections, with a series of visits from Bank staff and consultants beginning in early
1992. Possibly the two key World Bank advocates for land reform during the current era, Klaus
Deininger and Hans Binswanger, took part in some of these early consultations. In 1993,
Deininger and Binswanger published an article in World Development making a strong case for a
"rapid and large scale land reform programme," arguing that South Africa faced a choice
between a large-scale reform programme or decades of peasant insurrection.17
These sentiments were regarded with suspicion by many in the southern African
development studies community. Richard Levin and Daniel Weiner, writing in a book
produced as part of the MacArthur-funded "Community Perspectives on Land and Agrarian
Reform in South Africa" (CPLAR) project, regarded these as "unexpected sentiments." They
argued that these statements appeared to be part of a "process of legitimizing the Bank's
presence within South Africa," implying they were an element of an overall project to embed a
"neo-liberal" development agenda rather than a genuine desire to advance the land reform
While undoubtedly in this period the World Bank was seeking a role for itself in a post-
apartheid South Africa, this view perhaps takes a too instrumentalist line, as Binswanger in
particular had a long history of advocating a central role for small-scale farming within World
Bank development priorities. Levin and Weiner's comment also possibly downplays the strong
international moral impetus to identify with the oppressed black population of South Africa a
sentiment that would surely affect even World Bank economists. World Bank consultants did,
however, clearly play a lead role in developing the rural policy agenda for post-apartheid South
Africa. After 1994, the World Bank's Rural Reconstruction Programme proved to be highly
influential on the new democratic government's land and agrarian policy and the basic land
programme components found their way into official South African policy.

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68 I Driver


South African land policy has consisted of three major strands: land restitution, land
redistribution and land tenure reform. The land restitution component has involved the process
by which people or descendents of people evicted from land as a result of racially
discriminatory laws or practice, since the passage of the 1913 Native Land Act, could reclaim
their land-holdings. The legal basis for this process was laid out in the Restitution of Land
Rights Act, 22 of 1994 and a deadline for submitting claims was set at the end of 1998. About
80,000 claims were submitted by the deadline and about seventy percent of these have been
settled. Many of these settled cases were for urban land and were settled through cash
compensation rather than return of land. One report estimated that by the beginning of 2005,
some 9,000 rural claims, involving millions of people, remained outstanding.19 Legal
amendments to the legislative framework were introduced in 2005 to extend the timeframe for
dealing with the outstanding claims and for easing some of the bureaucratic burden associated
with the dealing with the claims. Nevertheless, the restitution component of the overall land
reform programme is the least controversial, as it clearly and directly addresses the righting of
the most obvious wrongs of apartheid, and has shown a fair degree of success in
implementation. Cheryl Walker describes it as the "flagship of land reform."20
The land tenure component of the overall reform programme is widely seen as having
experienced the least progress. The South Africa Bill of Rights within the democratic
constitution includes an entitlement to security of tenure or "comparable redress" for those
whose tenure is insecure as a result of past discrimination, and requires Parliament to enact
legislation to provide appropriate measures.21 The passage of legislation to provide greater
security of tenure to labour tenants on commercial farms was passed in 1996, though it is
widely seen as not having created the desired increase in security of tenure, based on the high
level of evictions that continue to be reported.
Legislation concerning land tenure in the former "homelands" has been very contentious
within South Africa, with a number of Bills and repeated re-drafts of Bills having been tabled.
Interim legislation to give some level of protection against sale of land by chiefs or initiation of
projects without consultation of occupants was also passed and subsequently extended, while a
more comprehensive legal framework was being developed. The key issue has remained the
level of powers to be vested in "traditional leaders" in the allocation of land and the level of
individualisation of tenure. In 2004, a Communal Land Rights Act (CLRA) was passed by
The CLRA of 2004 involves the transfer of rights over land within the former "homelands"
from the state to "communities." In a critical review of the Act, Aninka Claassens demonstrates
how the Act deems communities actually to be tribal authorities, originally established under
apartheid-era legislation. The CLRA does allow for the registration of "old order rights" (those
created by customary law or usage) as new formally registered rights, where demand for this
exists within the "community." However, the Act gives significant powers to the Minister of
Land Affairs to determine both the boundaries of community landholdings and the power to
define and register new order rights. Passage of this Act has been highly controversial and it

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 69

has been severely criticised by groups representing rural women because of the potential for the
Act to erode the security of tenure of women, especially un-married women.22
The constitutionality of the CLRA has been challenged, on the grounds that it undermines
certain groups' property rights. Despite the criticisms, and the legal challenges the government's
stated intention is to push for the full implementation of CLRA. In his state of the nation
address in February 2007, President Thabo Mbeki reiterated the government's intention to start
implementing the Act, a promise he later re-stated at the opening of the National House of
Traditional Leaders. Interestingly, the justification for the implementation of the Act was stated
as being "in order to improve the economic utilisation of communal lands."23 Despite this stated
intention, it is unclear when or how the CLRA will be implemented, not just because of the
pending legal challenge but also because of the administrative hurdles and costs associated
with the Act.
While the land tenure reform component of the overall South African land reform
programme has been hotly debated within South Africa, as noted above it is the land
redistribution component that has received most attention outside of South Africa, and was a
major issue of debate in the dialogue and consultation leading up to the World Bank Policy
Research Report. The original market-assisted land redistribution programme developed in
South Africa, with active World Bank support, consisted of providing a grant to qualifying
households. The Settlement/Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) was a R15,000 grant (equivalent to
the National Housing Subsidy available in urban areas) which was available to anyone with a
monthly salary below R 1,500 and could be used to purchase land on a negotiated basis. The
SLAG programme was clearly targeted at the poor, and some preliminary research indicated
that it did successfully achieve this targeting of poor households.24 However, progress to
meeting the overall quantative targets in terms of hectares of land transferred was extremely
slow, with only some 200,000 hectares of land being transferred through the programme before
it was more or less suspended to make way for a new programme.
This new programme, the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD), was
introduced in response mainly to the very slow pace at which SLAG had been operating. Unlike
SLAG, LRAD was targeted towards emergent black commercial farmers, not just the poorest
households. LRAD uses a combination of state grants and commercial loan finance (calculated
on a sliding scale). Opponents of LRAD suggested at its inception that it was an 'elitist
programme' that would be inaccessible to the very poor.25 It has led to an acceleration in the
amounts of land redistributed, but the overall delivery of land through the redistribution
component is still far behind schedule if the government is to meet its stated targets for land
In 1994, the government set an extremely ambitious target for delivering land reform, with
the target of redistributing thirty percent of land to African owners by 1999. There is a large
degree of ambiguity about the actual target figure. Government statements seem to suggest that
the target of thirty percent of commercial farm land in African ownership by 2014 will be
delivered through all three forms of land reform. This is backed by the figures quoted in
government reports and statements. This implies that if land tenure reform is successfully
implemented in the thirteen percent of land in the former "homelands" and on other state-
owned landholdings, this would be included as having contributed to the overall thirty percent

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70 I Driver

target. However, the same government statements tend to also say that the target is to transfer
30 percent of land owned by "commercial farmers." The target tends to be stated in terms of
land area transferred rather than the number of individuals receiving land.


Opposition to the market-assisted land reform programme in South Africa has four major
aspects: firstly, that it is too slow and South Africa has been unable to meet its own targets;
secondly, that it is ethically and ideologically wrong to expect victims of apartheid to contribute
financially to buying back land stolen from them (and in some cases by implication, not
punishing white farmers for stealing the land); thirdly, the market-basis of the programme
means that it will not assist the poorest members of society; and finally, that it is based on a
global capitalist "De Soto" ideology of individual property rights, which by its very nature
discriminates against the poor, marginal groups, women etc. A sub-text of these complaints is
that the programmes are part of a global capitalist agenda of the World Bank to wipe out
peasant farmers and promote large agri-business:
The World Bank is imposing a virtually identical set of policies on widely different
countries, without regard for their unique histories, cultures, or patterns of land use. The
policies focus on privatizing and individual titling to create markets in land, and in some
countries include credit funds by which the poor acquire debts to purchase land from "willing
These complaints were made vigorously by some civil society groups in the discussions
surrounding the World Bank's Policy Research Report in 2002-3, and continue to be made by
many groups both inside and outside South Africa. Less vocally, there has been a large degree
of support from within the international development industry for the overall approach being
taken by the South African government. The continued commitment to the rule of law and the
constitutional protection of pre-1994 property rights is seen as a key strength in the South
African programme and are often presented as a contrast to Zimbabwe.
The South African land reform programme has clearly failed to meet the quantative targets
set in 1994. Department of Land Affairs figures for 2005 (the latest available) show that a total of
3.1 million hectares have been transferred through the entire programme up until March 2005.
This represents about 3.7 percent of commercial agriculture land.27 The Department of Land
Affairs notes that its delivery rate has been increasing by about ten percent per annum, but
there is obviously going to have to be a step-change in delivery if the government targets are to
be met: the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) talks of delivering 2.2 million hectares per
annum by 2007.28 At the time of writing, the DLA Annual Report for 2006 is not yet available on
their website.
This obvious failure of the programme to meet its targets was highlighted by many of those
opposed to the concept of market-assisted land reform. Ironically, political pressure to increase
the rate of redistribution was a chief factor in the government's retreat from the strong pro-poor
emphasis of SLAG and the move to encourage more "emergent black commercial farmers"
under LRAD. The World Bank Policy Research Report acknowledged the slow pace of delivery

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 71

under SLAG and LRAD, and suggested that improvements could be made through greater
"community-involvement" and involvement of the private-sector.
The political issues raised by market-based land reform (righting the historical wrong) are
almost entirely ignored in the World Bank's Policy Research Report, yet this is a key element of
the land reform debate in South Africa.29 The political issues surrounding land in South Africa
are obviously heightened by what has taken place in Zimbabwe. There is a consensus in most of
the literature that "recent invasions of commercial farms in Zimbabwe highlight the urgent
need for bold interventions to de-racialise the structure of commercial agriculture in South
Africa."30 This issue is clearly at the forefront of South African government concerns. In 2001,
Sipho Sibanda (DLA Director of Tenure Reform) contrasted the Zimbabwean and South African
government's approach:
In South Africa too, land and land reform are unquestionably emotive issues, and matters
related hereto need to be handled with circumspection and sensitivity by government. At the
same time, government has taken firm control of the matter, to discourage and prevent a
"tinderbox" situation similar to that now prevailing in Zimbabwe, occurring in South Africa. In
this regard, the South African government has since 1994 been involved in designing and
developing a land reform programme that aims to bring about a fair and equitable land
dispensation in South Africa in an orderly and planned way.31
Dealing with the politics of land is a key issue for the South African government. The
World Bank and the international development industry are not well placed to advise or assist
on this issue, and there is little to be gained from debating this issue within the confines of the
international development industry (as some of the peasant advocacy groups seem to demand).
Political demands to increase the pace of land reform have been made increasingly vigorously
by various civil society groups, most notably the Landless People's Movement (LPM), which
has strong support from MST (Brazil) and the international anti-globalisation campaign.
Over the past two years, the South African government has made various statements
suggesting that it could move more aggressively on land reform, including using its powers of
expropriation to speed up the process of redistribution. There has been one widely reported
recent case in which the government's right of expropriation has been utilised in order to
resolve a dispute about the value of a parcel of land being re-distributed. It is not clear,
however, how his right will be utilised in a programmatic manner to speed up delivery. In the
meantime, the government continues to emphasise that it will act in a reasonable and
responsible manner (though again it does not really say what this means in practice).
One of the frequent complaints by the critics of market-based land reform is that it favours
better-off farmers and supports the development of global agri-business. There is a general and
rather romantic rejection of individual title and private property that underlies much of this
criticism. This has spawned a series of adverse reactions to the work of De Soto. The claim that
the World Bank favours large over small farmers was heartily denied by World Bank officials
during the consultation process to draft the land Policy Research Report. At the African regional
consultation in Kampala (April-May 2002) Roger van den Brink, the World Bank's African
region land policy advisor, emphasised that the World Bank policy was to support small-scale
family farming and that indeed in many countries the World Bank only worked on rural
projects that directly supported small-scale farming.

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One of the key arguments that permeates the Policy Research Report is the idea that there
are no economies of scale in most tropical agricultural systems. Rather, the argument goes, the
productivity advantages of large farms have historically been created and sustained through
deliberate land, labour, marketing, and subsidy interventions by governments, and that without
these interventions small farm units would be more productive producers of agricultural
products than large farms (on both a per hectare and per person basis). This idea is perhaps the
key intellectual theme that runs through the World Bank's Policy Research Report and is used
to justify land reform on an economic efficiency basis, rather than a political or equity basis.
This argument appears not to have been significantly debated by either the advocates or
opponents of the market-assisted land reform process in southern Africa, where the greater
efficiency of large scale commercial agriculture is generally assumed on the basis of the past
record. Sam Moyo, writing on the Zimbabwe case argues that: "To date land policy in southern
Africa has not fully taken on board mainstream agricultural economics debates. These have
demonstrated through global case evidence that small-sized farms tend to use their land more
productively, in terms of higher unit yields and the use of labour."32


The South African market assisted land reform programme has been much discussed in the
international development industry. This in part reflects the important role that the World Bank
played in developing the strategy, but perhaps just as importantly the continued high
international profile enjoyed by South Africa and the domestic and international legitimacy
enjoyed by the ANC/Alliance government (despite growing civil society opposition). The World
Bank Country Strategy for South Africa emphasises the exchange of ideas as being a key
component in the relationship:
For South Africa, gaining access to international expertise and knowledge is at least as
important as providing financial capital, and the Bank has operated as a clearinghouse and
sounding board for international experts and best practice. But functioning as a knowledge
bank does not involve only the transfer of knowledge to South Africa in many areas, we can
learn as much from South Africa as they learn from us. For example, South African efforts to
build a nation based on principles of reconciliation and inclusion provide invaluable insight into
how we can better deal with post-conflict situations elsewhere in the world. Analytic and policy
work in areas such as land reform and inter-governmental fiscal relations have provided
important lessons for other client countries.33
This is an unusual statement in a Country Strategy paper, reflecting the exceptional
position enjoyed by South Africa in international development discussions. The goodwill
around land reform that existed inside South Africa in the mid-1990s may have eroded to a
situation that is now currently labelled as a crisis or impasse, but there needs to be a recognition
both inside South Africa and amongst the global critics of market-assisted land reform that this
is a long and difficult process, or in the words of Cheryl Walker "a slow rather lumbering
process."34 There are few examples of countries that have successfully redistributed large scale
commercial farms to smaller farmers. As the World Bank Policy Research Report notes,
successful examples of major land reform have tended to involve the transfer of ownership

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 73

from landlords to tenant farmers already occupying the land, rather than redistribution of large
commercial farms where the labour is provided by workers.
Ideological positions that either reject or valorise individual titling and the land market are
not going to be helpful in overcoming the current impasse. There needs to be an increasing
recognition of the need for a mixture of different policies and programmes to deal with specific
locations with different histories, economies, social settings, and political demands. In a recent
article, Cheryl Walker sums up the current land reform debate thusly: "It focuses too narrowly
on the so-called 'white countryside,' underplays the importance of urban land reform and the
former reserves and underestimates the contemporary challenges of agriculture."35 Similar
sentiments have been expressed in the CDE report and in various contributions by Ben Cousins.
The wholesale rejection of individual titling and the demonisation of De Soto favoured by
some anti-globalisation campaigners should not be allowed to drive the debate on land reform
in South Africa. There are many interests in South Africa, such as the National African Farmers'
Union who believe "freedom lies in an escape from the oppressions of the enforced 'communal'
order of the past," and who will continue to push for individual titling of former "homelands"
and state-owned property.36 In peri-urban areas (the domain in which De Soto's ILD has tended
to work most effectively) there are significant benefits to be gained through individual titling to
help break the power of 'shacklords' allocating land in return for cash and warlords building a
power base through control over land.
Furthermore, the valorisation of communal tenure has clear dangers, as we have seen with
the Communal Land Registration Act of 2004. Concerned about the impacts of this legislation
especially on un-married women, Claassens has argued for an approach that priorities the
recognition and strengthening of use or occupation rights by individuals and families, rather
than communities (i.e. Tribal Authorities), with rights and administration cascading upwards
from this level to higher decision making bodies headmenn, village councils etc.).37 It may be
worth noting that research from Kenya indicates that women have (on occasions) been able to
counter men's claims to landholdings under customary tenure through the acquisition of land
under registered title, in addition to making claims under certain customary practices.38
There is some evidence that the land market has, without government assistance, also
contributed to the redistribution of the racial basis to land ownership. One study in KwaZulu-
Natal found that between 1997 and 2001 45,121ha of land were transferred to "previously
disadvantaged groups" through the SLAG project. During the same period 36,148ha were
transferred to previously disadvantaged groups through private mortgage loans; 24,118ha
through private cash purchases; and 16,097ha through non-market private transfers (mainly
bequests). On average, the land transferred without government assistance was of higher
quality, reflected in the higher total land values transferred through non-government assisted
routes (R174.3 million compared with R.36.9 through government-assisted programmes). There
were a total of 905 private transactions to "previously disadvantaged groups" in this period,
compared with eighty-nine through the SLAG project.39
The land reform process needs to involve comprehensive legal reforms to make land
transfers cheaper and more effective, especially reforms that will assist in market-based
transfers of land to potential African farmers. The Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act of 1970
has prevented commercial farmers from dividing up their farms, or selling portions of farms to

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74 I Driver

new black commercial farmers. Legislation of this nature exists in many countries and is based
on the concept that small parcel sizes will lead to less productive agriculture. As noted above
this idea is now widely rejected within agricultural economics, especially for tropical crops. The
repeal of this legislation needs to be enacted, but further reforms that make title registration
easier and cheaper should also be implemented. These reforms, undertaken in many countries,
typically involve changes to the way in which land surveying is regulated and in the manner in
which land transactions are registered so as to take advantage of new technology. This is
usually termed "land administration" in most of the literature.
The opponents of the World Bank approach to land policy have criticised the concentration
on land administration in many Bank projects, involving the strengthening of registries,
cadastres, and mapping functions (see for example "Statement Against World Bank Market-
based Land Reform," April 2002). However, it is the weaknesses in these institutions that
frequently led to failure of past land reform programmes (certainly in Latin America) and one
of the key challenges for South Africa is overcoming these administrative barriers:
While the various factions in the land reform debate are off looking for painless or costless
ways of speeding up land redistribution in South Africa, there is the increasing risk that the real
obstacles to land reform will continue to be overlooked. Insufficient financial resources
allocated to land reform programmes and inadequate administrative capacity devoted to
implementation must eventually receive the attention they require.40
The tendency to contrast fluid "customary" practices with rigid "private-property regimes"
should also be resisted or at least questioned. Private-property regimes have always been able
to take into account wider community interests (for example through assertions of common-use
rights under English common law) and they have hardly been stable, uncontested, or
unchanging as some commentators assert. In the Caribbean, unique and innovative property
rights, such as family land, have evolved within the context of a private-property regime and
without any formal legal recognition in statute. A nation-wide systematic title registration
programme in St. Lucia has not led to an erosion in family land property rights and indeed
could be considered to protect non-resident family members.41
Finally, as Walker emphasises, the South African land reform programme needs to take
into account the changing reality of the agricultural sector. There has been a significant decrease
in the number of large-scale commercial farms in South Africa, down from about 61,000 in 1996
to 45,818 in 2002.42 A total of 19,736 new black farmers have reportedly been resettled through
LRAD since its inception in 2001 and some estimates put the total number of African
commercial farmers at 90,000 (obviously mostly in the former "homelands").43
The data indicates that while new small scale commercial farming units are being created
through the land reform process, many large-scale commercial farmers have been leaving the
agricultural sector. This indicates that, contrary to the World Bank's views on the efficiency
advantages of small farms, there is a process of consolidation underway in the large commercial
sector. One factor that has to be taken into account is the fact that while small farms may have
efficiency advantages at the level of production, larger units have advantages at the all-
important agricultural marketing level.
Data on the South African agricultural sector indicate that the value of agricultural exports
as a percent of total exports has remained fairly constant at about seven to eight percent. There

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 75

has however been a shift in commodities, with intensive horticultural sectors now contributing
more than the traditional extensive commodities such as mohair, wool and hides. The
horticulture sector increased from twenty-two percent of the agricultural GDP to twenty-six
percent over the 1990s. The horticultural sector, especially for export markets, relies upon
extremely well integrated supply chains and the ability to deliver large quantities of high
quality produce on a consistent basis. The broiler industry has shown the strongest growth out
of all agricultural sub-sectors in South Africa and it share of agricultural GDP rose from 6.7
percent in 1980-81 to 12.6 percent in 2000-1.44 This sector also relies upon extremely well
integrated and responsive supply-chains.
This raises both a challenge and an opportunity for the land reform process and general
agrarian transformation process in South Africa.It highlights the possibilities of contract
farming or other linkages between smaller-scale producers and larger units with the scale to be
able to negotiate in the international marketing arena. As noted in the CDE report, there are a
number of examples of commercial farming associations or groups working with or through
small-scale producer groups, including making land holdings available, to integrate supply
chains and improve productivity. The land reform process needs to build on these existing
private initiatives to try to create a new agricultural sector that meets both the realities of the
market-place and the needs of the rural poor. A quote from Carter and Zimmerman, discussing
land and agrarian reform in Latin America, would seem to be equally apt for South Africa:
The rigidities of the old antagonistic agrarian politics have been shaken by the events and
reforms of the last two decades. There would thus seem to be the political space for new
coalitions, built not around a blind faith in either free markets or their completion negation, but
rather around a more refined understanding of the role that time, markets and ancillary policies
can play in resolving the agrarian question.45
As South Africa continues to grapple with the challenge of inequality in access to land
resources, calls will continue to be made for the government to either support or reject "market-
based" land re-distribution and "World Bank" or "De Soto" models of land reform. At the same
time, the South African experience will continue to inform global debates about land reform.
While the politics of South African land reform will be played out in various arenas at national
and international levels, it is important to remember that actual access to land will be
determined by a series of decisions, events and actions taken by individuals and groups at a the
local level, rather than by global ideological debates.


1. The phrase "academic and professional" discussions on development is use as a
convenient short-hand to indicate that research in the development studies sphere
encompasses work within universities, within international development agencies, such
as the World Bank or the United Nations system, private consultancy groups (often
contracted by the international agencies), and international and local non-governmental
organizations. There are frequent overlaps between these "networks of professionals" in
and out of the academy and a wide literature on the nature and implications of these

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76 I Driver

2. Lehman 1978.
3. Senn 1981 is perhaps his most influential work in this regard.
4. World Bank 2000.
5. Berry; Peters; Shipton and Gohenn.
6. See for example Lipton.
7. Vogelgesand.
8. Barnes.
9. De Soto.
10. Quoted on the ILD website: http://www.ild.org.pe
11. See ILD website for details: http://www.ild.org.pe
12. www.desotowatch.net
13. It should be noted that a World Bank PRR does not set out official Bank policy on a
subject, but is designed to provide guidance, generate ideas and capture knowledge on
particular issues which should be used in the design and implementation of World Bank
14. I undertook one small consulting project, examining the total costs associated with
regularising title in Trinidad & Tobago, as part of this process and was a participant and
discussant at the Latin American & Caribbean Workshop, in Pachuca, Mexico, May 2002.
See Driver.
15. Palmer.
16. Quoted in Palmer.
17. Binswanger and Deininger.
18. Levin.
19. CDE.
20. Walker.
21. Cousins.
22. Claassens.
23. Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the annual opening of the
National House of Traditional Leaders: Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, 23 February
2007. Retrieved March 20, 2007 from:
24. Deininger and May.
25. CDE.
26. FoodFirst.
27. Based on the figures in CDE.
28. Department of Land Affairs, Annual Report 2005 (April 2004-March 2005).
29. A point that I made in my commentary paper at the consultation in Pachuca, Mexico, see
30. Lyne and Darroch.
31. Sibanda.
32. Moyo.
33. World Bank, 1999: foreword.

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 77

34. Walker.
35. Walker: 823.
36. Cousins.
37. Claassens.
38. MacKenzie.
39. Lyne and Darroch.
40. Cousins.
41. Griffith-Charles.
42. Walker.
43. CDE.
44. Based on data in Fenyes and Meyer.
45. Carter and Zimmerman.


Barnes, Grenville. "Land Administration Opportunities and Challenges." Presentation to
Property Rights and Development Forum, Port of Spain, January 2005 (available at

Berry, Sara. "Hegemony on a Shoestring: Indirect Rule and Access to Agricultural Land," Africa:
Special Edition. 62:3 (1992).

Binswanger, Hans P. and Klaus Deininger. "South African Land Policy: the Legacy of History
and Current Options." World Development, 21:9 (1993).

Carter, Michael and Frederic Zimmerman. "Can Time and Markets Eliminate Costly Land
Ownership Inequality?" Paper prepared for the Annual World Bank Conference on
Development Economics, 18-20 April 2000.

Claassens, Aninka. "The Communal Land Rights Act and Women: Does the Act remedy or
entrench discrimination and the distortion of the customary?" Land reform and agrarian
change in southern Africa No. 28, occasional paper series, Programme for Land and Agrarian
Studies, School of Government, University of the Western Cape, 2005.

CDE (Centre for Development & Enterprise). Land Reform in South Africa: A 21st Century
Perspective, Research Report 14, Johannesburg, 2005.

Cousins, Ben, "Legislating Negotiability: Tenure Reform in Post-Apartheid South Africa." Pp.
67-106 in Krintine Juul and Christian Lund (eds.) Negotiating Property In Africa Portsmouth, New
Hampshire: Heinemann, 2002.

Deininger, Klaus and Julian May. "Can there be Growth with Equity: An Initial Assessment of
Land Reform in South Africa." World Bank Policy Research Paper No. 2451, 2002.

Department of Land Affairs. Annual Report 2005 (April 2004-March 2005).

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

78 I Driver

De Soto, Hernando. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails
Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Driver, Thackwray. "Land Administration Reform in Trinidad & Tobago: New Paradigm for
Old Problems or Old Paradigm with New Problems? A Comment on Jolyne Sanjak and Isabel
Lavadenz 'Land Administration: new paradigm for old problems'" Paper prepared for
Workshop on Land Policy and Land Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean,
Pachuca, Mexico, 19-22 May 2002.

Fenyes, Tommy and Nico Meyer. "Structure and Production in South African Agriculture." Pp.
21-46 in Lieb Nieuwoudt and Jan Groenewald (eds.), The Challenge of Change: Agriculture Land
and the South African Economy,. Scotsville, South Africa: University of Natal Press, 2003.

FoodFirst, News and Views 25:85 (Spring 2002).

Griffith-Charles, Charrise. "Case Study: St Lucia Land Administration Project." Presentation to
Property Rights and Development Forum, Port of Spain, January 2005 (available at

Lehman, David. "The Death of Land Reform: A Polemic." World Development 6:3 (1978).

Levin, Richard and Daniel Weiner. "Towards the Development of a Popular and Participatory
Land Reform Programme in a Democratic South Africa" in Richard Levin and Daniel Weiner,
eds. No More Tears... Struggles for Land in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Trenton, N.J. and Asmara,
Eritrea: Africa World Press, 1997.

Lipton, Michael. "Land Reform as Commenced Business: The Evidence against Stopping."
World Development 21: 4 (1993).

Lyne, Mike and Mark Darroch. "Land Redistribution in South Africa: Past Performance and
Future Policy." Pp. 65-86. in Lieb Nieuwoudt and Jan Groenewald, eds. The Challenge of Change:
Agriculture Land and the South African Economy. Scotsville, South Africa: University of Natal
Press, 2003.

MacKenzie, Fiona. "Land and Territory: The interface between two systems of land tenure:
Murang'a District, Kenya." Africa 59:1 (1989).

Moyo, Sam. "The Political Economy of Land Acquisition and Redistribution in Zimbabwe, 1990
- 1999." Journal of Southern African Studies 26:1 (2000).

Palmer, Robin. "Critical Reflections On The Role Of An International NGO Seeking To Work
Globally On Land Rights With Specific Focus On Oxfam's Experiences In Southern Africa."
Paper for international conference, Social Movements Perspectives: Land, Poverty, Social Justice
And Development, Institute Of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague 9-10 January 2006 (Available
at http://www.oxfam.org.uk/landrights).

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South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry I 79

Peters, Pauline E. "Manoeuvres and Debates in the Interpretation of Land Rights in
Botswana,"Africa 62:3 (1992).

Sen, Amartya K. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford:
Clarendon Press and New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Shipton, Parker and Mitzi Gohenn. "Understanding African Land Holding: Power Wealth and
Meaning." Africa 62:3 (1992).

Sibanda, Sipho. "Land Reform and Poverty Alleviation in South Africa", Paper presented at the
SARPN conference on Land Reform and Poverty Alleviation in Southern Africa, Pretoria, 4-5
June 2001.

Vogelgesand, Frank. "After land reform, the market?" in Land Reform, Land Settlements and Co-
operatives. Rome: FAO Bulletin, 1998/1.

Walker, Cherryl. "The Limits of Land Reform: re-thinking the land question", Journal of Southern
African Studies 31:4 (2005).

World Bank. South Africa Country Assistance Strategy: Building a Knowledge Partnership (available
on World Bank website), 1999.

World Bank. World Development Report: Attacking Poverty, World Bank/OUP, Washington DC,

World Bank. Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction (Policy Research Report), World
Bank/OUP, Washington D.C, 2003.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Thackwray
Driver. "South African Land Reform and the Global Development Industry." African Studies
Quarterly 9, no.4: [online] URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v9/v9i4a5.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 4 I Fall 2007

Patrolling the Resource Transfer Frontier: Economic Rights and

the South African Constitutional Court's Contributions to

International Justice


Abstract: Coming out of the apartheid nightmare in1994, South Africa became an
immediate sovereign beacon for global justice with its path-breaking Constitution of 1996
that is the most rights-protective in the world. South Africa's Constitutional Court has
garnered global acclaim for the quality of its legal reasoning and the strength of its rights-
protective commitment. Decisions such as that prohibiting the death penalty under the
Constitution, in a national context of growing crime rates, have inspired rights-protective
legal and judicial approaches throughout the global community. This is similarly true for
the Court's decisions especially in the Grootboom and Treatment Action Campaign cases -
more recently. This paper explores the Court's contributions to global justice notions
through its legal reasoning in Grootboom and subsequent related cases. Particularly, the
paper examines the Court's use of "reasonableness" as an essential element of its
justiciability analysis, and asks how reasonableness here advances notions of justice
regarding the particular importance to poor people in South Africa, and elsewhere, of
effectively enforcing economic, social, and cultural rights as legal rights. The Court's use
of reasonableness is compared with approaches on the same major issues in the reports
of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which
provides standards of global justice for these issues. The question here is how strongly in
a justidability analysis this Court should push its judicial authority towards having
actual dedsional influence on national resource priorities and allocations, including
where resources are scarce. Issues and arguments are also explored as to whether the
Court has done all it could do in its legal approach to these rights. Whether or not this
Court 'has gone far enough' in protecting these rights, however, it has provided a model
for the competence of courts anywhere to protect these rights as legal rights -
notwithstanding a western legal history of strong expectations and market demands to
limit them to 'aspirations.' Through principled legal analysis it has held that where great
needs exist for poor people, not least those of color, judicially-enforced legal rights can
provide access to critical resource transfers for their basic welfare.

Henry J. Richardson III is Professor of Law at Beasley School of Law at Temple University. Professor Richardson
was International Legal Advisor to the Malawi Government for almost three years shortly after independence, and
subsequently in charge of African policy on the Carter Administration National Security Council staff, a member of
the Commission on the Independence of Namibia, helped monitor the 1994 South African elections, and was a
constitutional advisor to the Rwandan government, He has written extensively on issues of human rights,
international law, and development questions in Africa. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a past
vice president and honorary vice president of the American Society of International Law, and a founding member of
the National Conference of Black Lawyers.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

82 I Richardson


The judicial leadership of South Africa's able Constitutional Court under both that
country's national Constitution and international law, in defining and enforcing economic,
social and cultural rights for South Africans through holdings in important cases, has been
prominent in the world community.2 It has been both nationally and globally significant in the
struggle to protect economic rights against what amounts to different shades of global economic
apartheid. The Court's analytical strategies and jurisprudential approach in protecting these
legal rights, in a nation of limited resources whose history and economy remain tortured by the
results of comprehensive apartheid, are the focus of this article. Some assessment of the Court's
work will be presented, as it has decided issues relative to protecting these rights, including
justiciability, separation of powers, "minimum core" rights, "reasonableness," scope of remedial
orders and judicial supervision, constitutional duties versus international legal duties, and
judicial restraint versus the need to define a new role of judicial involvement in protecting and
enforcing this particular category of human rights.
Assessments of the Court's work in South Africa can help us understand, among other
things, the Court's contribution to global justice along this global frontier of potential resource
transfers as a matter of legal rights, as these rights confront refusals from entrenched interests to
modify processes of exclusive wealth and privilege. Since the global judicial potential and
success on these issues contributes directly to an answer to Heilbroner's question below, judicial
orders upholding and enforcing the economic rights of those petitioners before the Court
generally represent a real or potential resource or wealth transfer across the fault-line to those
particular poor people of color and all who are similarly situated on those issues.
Establishing and maintaining the legal existence and enforceability of international
economic, social, and cultural rights is critical to realizing any system of justice in the world's
organized nations and communities. Doing so is particularly critical for communities of color
who are embedded in economic contexts and processes that are leveraged or dominated by
Anglo-American, Western European and generally Northern Tier decision-makers and
interests. Protecting and enforcing these rights under the rule of law is especially pertinent to
the prominent late economist Robert Heilbroner's question of whether a global politics will
evolve in the near future which realistically can promise a transfer of wealth and resources to
people of poor and deprived communities of color, which will be of real meaning in bettering
their lives.3
With the rise of rampant official free market ideology, of public equations drawn between
money and public praiseworthiness, and the elevation of policy trends facilitating and
demanding that Southern Tier nations welcome incoming multi-national foreign investment,
there is much reason for pessimism about a positive answer to Heilbroner's question. All the
more so because this question in the current global policy context inherently brings into play
strategies by dominant power-holders that subordinate such poor communities, and create
divide-and-conquer strategies aimed towards destroying the leverage needed to improve these
communities by fragmenting their effective leadership, and undermining their political unity. In
other words, the attempted claiming and enforcement of human rights, and particularly
economic, social and cultural rights, tends to bring forward an array of the aggressive and

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Patrolling the Resource Transfer Frontier I 83

traditionally crude, as well as the subtle and carefully tailored strategies of race and class
domination from above.
The priority to enforce these human rights has long established a global fault line between
the haves and have-nots a frontier patrolled by those interests able and willing to use all
means, including violence, to prevent any meaningful transfer of wealth and resources. For
example, this was the case in systemic terms for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
in 1968 in Memphis, during his presence to support the economic rights of that city's public
sanitation workers and during the last stages of his planning for the Poor Peoples' March on
Washington later that same year.
That same frontier, fortunately, is also patrolled and mediated by a process of legal and
jurisprudential invocations, prescriptions, enforcement, appraisals and determinations of the
body of international economic, social and cultural rights under international law, intertwined
as those rights may be with their constitutional and other legal analogues in any specified
country.4 Under the principles of its 1996 Constitution, which I consider the most rights-
protective in the world, South Africa, as a new nation of thirteen years, and its excellent
Constitutional Court are barely holding their positions on this global fault line, as the nation
struggles to rectify the embedded continuing problem of economic apartheid.5 It is a
commonplace that this problem has long exhibited international and national strategies of racial
and class deprivation, in the context of Northern Tier and allied internal pressures to define
economic justice as maintaining a free market, foreign investment-friendly national economy.
The last part of this article will look at the Court's holdings in this regard in light of both
differing and harmonious perspectives from the United Nations Committee on Economic,
Social, and Cultural Rights (UN Committee on ESCR), which I take as indicative of international
organizational perspectives about global justice standards.6 I1 do so to further understand this
Court's decisions in particular cases, as they contribute to building perspectives of global justice
around the enforcement of these legal rights, along the great length of, as well as across, the
global fault line.


Progress has indeed been made by the South African government and South Africans since
1994, in spite of large obstacles, towards meaningful transfer of resources across this fault line to
meet the great needs of the many Black and Coloured South Africans. In this regard, South
Africa has already given the world community much justice-leadership, even beyond the
epochal anti-apartheid movement. It has given us the institution of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission,the philosophy of ubuntu to approach one's former enemies,and through the
essential historic leadership of Nelson Mandela, it has recalibrated, for the guidance of peoples
and states everywhere, the relationship between revenge and justice, through truth-telling,
honesty, and reparations.7 But there is much yet to do, especially regarding economic justice.
To better understand the Constitutional Court's work, we should widen the frame of South
Africa's post-1994 global justice-leadership. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has made the prophetic
insight that South Africa is a laboratory for the world: if its peoples can work out ways to get
along equitably, the world will directly profit by its example.8 This insight gains importance in

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84 I Richardson

light of the historic symbiosis, not least in the matters of race long discussed by George
Fredrickson and other scholars, between South Africa and the United States.9This symbiotic
linkage with the world's current sole hyperpower has had some positive recent consequences
for the world community. They include the visibility of South Africa's advocacy of a more just
U.S. policy towards Cuba, and greater visibility, especially through Mandela's observations, of
the illegality of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.
However, the same symbiosis has had negative consequences in the vulnerability of a new
South Africa, just getting organized in 1992-94, to American and European pressures to
relinquish the ANC (African National Congress) Freedom Charter as the rightful economic map
to address the monster distortions of the apartheid economy. Thus, its organizing leadership
and processes of decision may have been prematurely prodded to adopt a free market, free-
trade approach to national economic objectives, and a subsequently deep and vulnerable
reliance on Western foreign investment to provide essential development capital for bringing
the majority population of Black South Africa into the national economy on an equitably
beneficial basis. More recently, though, the symbiosis has had further beneficial consequences
for South African justice-leadership and the international community. Under strong national
NGO leadership, it has served as a framework to define, at the opening of the 21st century, the
principle that international trade law must provide, in conjunction with their human right to
health, affordable essential medicines to people in South Africa and elsewhere who are HIV-
infected, no matter the source of these medications. South Africa has further defined that such a
right cannot be infringed by the claimed patent-protective legal prerogatives of American or
other international pharmaceutical companies who originally developed such medicines.10
Thus, it is in this wider frame of the New South Africa's global justice-leadership that the
leadership of its Constitutional Court in protecting economic, social and cultural rights under
law must be understood.


The South African Constitutional Court has taken a globally prominent leadership role in
protecting economic rights in a series of major cases, beginning, for the purposes of this article,
in 1997. Among these are the Soobramoney case in 1997, the Grootboom case in 2000, the Treatment
Action Campaign case in 2002, and also the Port Elizabeth Municipality and Jaftha cases in 2004.11
In each of these cases, as many South African and international commentators have already
discussed, the Court recognized, developed and refined the justiciability of various economic,
social and cultural rights. These decisions enabled the Court to protect these rights for South
Africans as their legal rights under the South African Constitution, and also as rights under
international law, notably codified by the ESCR Covenant.12 In doing so, the Court aimed to
ensure that these rights are protected as legal rights that are entitled, and not as discretionary
executive, administrative, or legislative governmental policy contingencies.
The Court has decided these cases against a history, along with continuing practices, of
much Western official and academic opposition to such justiciability, i.e. the notion that these
rights are quite manageable by judicial courts, which should play an important role in
interpreting and protecting them under law to individual petitioners. This history of opposition,

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Patrolling the Resource Transfer Frontier I 85

much of which stems from cold war perspectives on this entire body of rights as 'socialist' or
'communist,' has persisted notwithstanding the wide global scope of ratification of the above-
noted Covenant.13 The United States signed this treaty in 1976, but has not yet ratified it, nor has
it permitted itself as a nation to have the crucial national conversation about economic rights as
legal rights as South Africa has done. The ESCR Covenant provides some ammunition for these
rights' opponents by its textual definitions of gradual state duties, but still creates international
legal obligations, to support and enforce them domestically.14 Nonetheless, in the intervening
years, as the global demand for such legal protection has generally risen, there has been much
United Nations and international narrative about economic rights protection and justiciability.
Led and supported by the Bill of Rights of South Africa's Constitution, its Constitutional
Court has tackled the justiciability and related questions head-on in these cases to give these
rights, as interpreted, a protected place in the law of post-apartheid South Africa.15 This is a
country where the gaps between rich and poor people, which break largely along racial lines,
are difficult and deep. Thus the Court has had to interpret the content of these rights in this
context, which also features appreciable but limited national resources to reallocate the national
wealth equitably among all South Africa's people. In doing so in its rulings, it has constantly
confronted the potential of Court-ordered wealth transfers to classes of poor people, not
previously agreed by executive or legislative decisions.16 If taken too far, this potential could
render the Court as with any independent national judiciary more vulnerable to attack, by
interests disposed to do so, for being anti-majoritarian and anti-democratic. The Court, clearly
aware of these dangers, has faced them squarely in the cases discussed here, through several
approaches of legal interpretation, emphasis, and remedies to be examined below.


Since 1997, the Court has taken opportunities of litigation to focus on the justiciability and
applicability of these rights. These major cases will now be discussed, roughly chronologically,
although we will begin with Grootboom as the most globally prominent.

Gov of Republic of SA and Others v. Grootboom and Others

Irene Grootboom and others were living in deplorable conditions in an informal squatter
settlement called Wallacedene. The conditions in this settlement were "lamentable" as one
quarter of the households had no income; more than two thirds of the residents made less than
R500 per month; children comprised approximately half of the settlement; and water, sewage
and refuse removal were unavailable. Rather than stay in these conditions indefinitely, Irene
Grootboom, who had previously applied for subsidized low-income housing from the
municipality and had been on the waiting list for approximately seven years, left Wallacedene
and established shelter on vacant land (now referred to as "New Rust") that was privately
owned, and had "been earmarked for low-cost housing." Since the new squatters did not have
the landowner's consent, the owner obtained an eviction notice, which the squatters ignored.
Subsequently, the landowner obtained an order authorizing the sheriff to evict the parties and
dismantle their structures.

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The issue in this case is whether the measures taken by the State to implement the right of
access to adequate housing, a right guaranteed under the South African Constitution, were
reasonable. Under the Constitution, the Court has authority to review and rule on whether the
Legislature is adequately providing the socio-economic rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Upon its review of the current Housing Program, the Court held that the measures taken by the
State to provide access to housing were not reasonable, and that the State's available resources
would not prevent them from establishing a reasonable Program.
The Court addresses the UN Committee on ESCR's concept of minimum core (if owed
protection for these rights) and states that the UN Committee on ESCR's pertinent
general comment does not specify precisely what the minimum core is. The concept of
minimum core obligation was developed by the UN Committee on ESCR to describe the
minimum expected of a state in order to comply with its obligations under the ESCR Covenant.
It is the floor beneath which the conduct of the State must not drop if there is to be compliance
with the obligation. Each right has a 'minimum essential level' that must be satisfied by the State
parties... Minimum core obligation is determined generally by having regard to the needs of
the most vulnerable group that is entitled to the protection of the right in question. It is in this
context that the concept of minimum core obligation must be understood in international law.17
Since in a subsequent case, the Court explicitly rejects adoption of minimum core, it is
noted that the Court here seems to be more open to the concept, as they state "there may be
cases where it may be possible and appropriate to have regard to the content of a minimum
core obligation to determine whether the measures taken by the State are reasonable."18 In the
end, the Constitutional Court holds that:
it is not possible to determine the minimum threshold for the progressive realization of the
right of access to adequate housing without first identifying the needs and opportunities for the
enjoyment of such right.. .In this case we do not have sufficient information to determine what
would compromise the minimum core obligation in the context of our Constitution. It is not in
any event necessary to decide whether it is appropriate for a court to determine in the first
instance the minimum core content of a right.
The Court next turned to the important question of reasonableness. "In determining
whether a set of measures is reasonable, it will be necessary to consider housing problems in
their social, economic and historical context and to consider the capacity of institutions
responsible for implementing the program."19 "A reasonable program therefore must clearly
allocate responsibilities and tasks to the different spheres of government and ensure that the
appropriate financial and human resources are available."20 In order to be "reasonable" "each
sphere of government must accept responsibility for the implementation of particular parts of
the Program but the national sphere must assume responsibility for ensuring that laws, policies,
programs and strategies are adequate to meet the State's obligations."21 "The precise contours
and content of the measures to be adopted are primarily a matter for the legislature and the
executive. They must, however, ensure that the measures they adopt are reasonable."22 "A court
considering reasonableness will not enquire whether other more desirable or favorable
measures could have been adopted, or whether public funds could have been spent better. The
question would be whether the measures that been adopted are reasonable." The policies and
programs must be reasonable in their conception and their implementation.

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In Grootboom, the Constitutional Court provides a Reasonableness Test:
In determining whether a set of measures is reasonable, it will be necessary to consider
housing problems in their social, economic, and historical context and to consider the capacity
of institutions responsible for implementing the Program. The program must be balanced and
flexible and make appropriate provision for attention to housing crises and to short, medium,
and long term needs. A Program that excludes a significant segment of society cannot be said to
be reasonable. Conditions do not remain static and therefore the Program will require
continuous review.23
The Court makes clear that the government has a thorough, well-funded policy and
program on the housing problem in South Africa. At the same time the Court finds that "there is
no express provision to facilitate access to temporary relief for people who have no access to
land, no roof over their heads, for people who are living in intolerable conditions and for people
who are in crisis because of natural disasters such as floods and fires, or because their homes are
under threat of demolition. These people are in desperate need."24 Additionally, the Court
characterizes reasonable measures as those which take into account "the degree and extent of
the denial of the right they endeavor to realize. Those whose needs are the most urgent and
whose ability to enjoy all rights therefore is most in peril, must not be ignored by the measures
aimed at achieving realization of the right."25 With respect to the "reasonableness within
available resources," the Court states that the Constitution "does not require the State to do
more than its available resources permit. This means that both the content of the obligation in
relation to the rate at which it is achieved as well as the reasonableness of the measures
employed to achieve the result are governed by the availability of the resources."26
In offering a remedy to Mrs. Grootboom and the other individuals, the Court does not
provide applicants with immediate access to housing. "Neither section 26 nor section 28 entitles
the respondents to claim shelter or housing immediately upon demand.... However, section 26
does oblige the State to devise and implement a coherent, coordinated program designed to
meet its section 26 obligations."27 "It is necessary and appropriate to make a declaratory order.
The order requires the State to act to meet the obligation imposed upon it by Section 26(2) of the
Constitution. This includes the obligation to devise, fund, implement and supervise measures
to provide relief to those in desperate need."28 The Constitutional Court acknowledges that
Grootboom and others are living in deplorable situations, but states that there are thousands in
South Africa in the same situation. Also, the Court states that Grootboom was involved in land
invasion and although the province did not properly hear her case or treat her appropriately,
the Court is not prepared to approve "any practice of land invasion for the purpose of coercing
a state structure into providing housing on a preferential basis to those who participate in any
exercise of this kind. "29 The Constitutional Court disagreed with the High Court's determination
below that the State discharged its obligation to applicants under section 26. The High Court
had held that, since section 26 does not require the State to provide applicants with minimum
core entitlements, the State fulfilled section 26 by enacting reasonable legislative and other
measures within its available resources, devising housing legislation in the national and
provincial spheres, and targeting low-income earners regardless of race.30 The High Court
stated that a national provision for the desperate is not a necessary consideration in the

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reasonableness of a policy, and that such provision would detract from integrated housing
development as defined in the Act.31
Upon its review on appeal, however, the Constitutional Court found the state's policy
unreasonable in that it failed to provide immediate or temporary relief for those in dire need,
especially in light of the severe and indefinite nature of the housing shortage. The
Constitutional Court criticized the Program as lacking an express provision to facilitate access to
temporary relief for people in desperate need of access to land and shelter, and for people in
crisis because of a natural disaster or because their homes are under threat of demolition. While
the Constitutional Court stated that the Program is not necessarily haphazard, it questioned
whether the measures are reasonable under the Constitution and deemed it not "sufficiently
flexible to respond to those in desperate need in our society and to care appropriately for
immediate and short-term requirements."32 The next case features facts which define a
somewhat different relationship between immediate need and a justiciable right.

Soobramoney v. Minister of Health, KwaZulu-Natal

Appellant is a 41-year-old unemployed man, who is diabetic and suffers from ischaemic
heart disease and cerebro-vascular disease which has caused him to suffer a stroke. His
condition is irreversible and is in the final stages of chronic renal failure, but his life could be
prolonged by regular renal dialysis (treatment two to three times per week). This patient has
been receiving dialysis treatment from private hospitals and doctors, but can no longer afford
the treatment. The hospital does automatically provide resources for patients who have acute
renal failure. However, patients suffering from chronic renal failure must qualify for treatment
under a special hospital Program. The primary requirement under the Program is that a patient
be eligible for a kidney transplant. Due to this appellant's ischaemic heart disease and cerebro-
vascular disease, he is not eligible for a kidney transplant and therefore does not quality for the

Appellant brings claim under section 27(3) of the Constitution which provides that "no one
may be refused emergency medical treatment" and section 11 which requires, "everyone has a
right to life." He does not argue that the guidelines issued by the Hospital (or the State) are
unreasonable or not applied fairly or rationally as the Court states, "it has not been suggested
that these guidelines are unreasonable or that they were not applied fairly when the ... appellant
did not qualify for dialysis. "33 Rather, appellant contends that patients such as himself, who
suffer from terminal illness and require treatment to prolong their lives, are entitled to
treatment provided by the state, including funding and resources.

Thus, the issue in the case is whether all patients who suffer from terminal illnesses and
require treatment to prolong their lives are entitled, in terms of section 27(3), to be provided
with such treatment by the State, and whether the State "is required to provide funding and
resources necessary for the discharge of this obligation."34 The Court rules against appellant's
contention, finding that "it would make it substantially more difficult for the State to fulfill its
primary obligations under 27(1) and (2) to provide health cares services to 'everyone' within its
available resources. It would also have the consequence of prioritizing the treatment of terminal

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illness over other forms of medical care and would reduce the resources available."35 While the
State has a constitutional duty to comply with the socio-economic obligations imposed on it by
the sections of the Constitution, the appellants were unable to show that the State's failure to
provide renal dialysis facilities for all persons suffering from chronic renal failure constitutes a
breach of those obligations.
The Court distinguishes this patient's case from a person in need of "immediate medical
attention" or a person in an "emergency" and states that in order "to be kept alive by dialysis he
would require such treatment 2 to 3 times a week. This is not an emergency which calls for
immediate remedial treatment."36 Then the Court rejects the appellant's contention that the
Court should tell the legislature how to spend the budget. "These choices [about funding of
health care] are difficult decisions to be taken at the political level in fixing the health budget
and at the functional level in deciding upon the priorities to be met. A court will be slow to
interfere with rational decisions taken in good faith by the political organs and medical
authorities whose responsibility it is to deal with such matters."37 The Court addresses the
appellant's contention that nurses should be offered overtime hours and hospitals stay open
later to handle the patients. Ultimately, the Court rejects the expenditure of additional resources
and states,

If all persons in South Africa who suffer from chronic renal failure were to be provided
with dialysis treatment. .the cost of doing so would make substantial inroads into the health
budget. And if this principle were to be applied to all patients claiming access to expensive
medical treatment or expensive drugs, the health budget would have to be dramatically
increased to the prejudice of other needs which the State has to meet.38

The next case leads the Court to further refine the relationship between constitutional
criteria of reasonableness and the creation of a workable remedy under the right.

Minister of Health & Others v. Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)

The applicants in TAC challenged the Government's Program for the prevention of mother-
to-child transmission of the HIV virus. The Program only made Nevirapine (NVP), a drug used
to prevent the transmission of HIV between mother and child, available to two pilot sites per
province, one urban and one rural. A public sector doctor, who was not in one of the pilot sites,
was unable to prescribe the drug to his patients. NVP was given free-of-charge to the South
African government. However, the government would be required to spend money on
infrastructure, training, counseling and other related services in conjunction with their
comprehensive Program.
The issue at bar is whether the Government's Program, which offered NVP on a limited
basis, sufficiently satisfied their obligations as stated by the South African Constitution.39 In
deciding this issue, the Court clarifies its position on Minimum Core from Grootboom. The Court
states, "There is a minimum core of a particular service that should be taken into account in
determining whether measures adopted by the State are reasonable; the socio-economic rights
of the Constitution should not be construed as entitling everyone to demand that the minimum
core be provided to them."40 Minimum core was thus treated as possibly being relevant to

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reasonableness under subsection (2) and not as a self-standing right conferred on everyone
under subsection (1). The Court further adds, "It is impossible to give everyone access to even a
"core" service immediately. All that is possible, and all that can be expected of the State, is that it
act reasonably to provide access to the socio-economic rights identified in sections 26 and 27 on
a progressive basis."41 "It should be borne in mind that in dealing with such matters the courts
are not institutionally equipped to make wide-ranging factual and political enquiries necessary
for determining what the minimum core standards called for by the [amici pleadings] should
be, nor for deciding how public revenues should most effectively be spent. "42
The Court must determine whether the legislature's actions were reasonable, stating that
"the state is obliged to take reasonable measures progressively to eliminate or reduce large areas
of severe deprivation that afflict our society." Such determinations of reasonableness may in fact
have budgetary implications, but are not in themselves directed at rearranging budgets. In this
way the judicial, legislative and executive functions achieve appropriate constitutional balance.
The Court uses the Grootboom model for determining reasonableness which requires that the
program for realization of the economic right be: 'balanced and flexible and make appropriate
provision for attention to. crises and to short, medium, and long term needs. A program that
excludes a significant segment of society cannot be said to be reasonable." Thus, the Court held
that the government's policy was unreasonable as it was inflexible in that it "denied mothers
and their newborn children at public hospitals and clinics outside the research and training sites
the opportunity of receiving a single dose of NVP at the time of the birth of the child."43 The
Court agrees with the government that there is significant cost in creating a comprehensive
drug program that provides many useful services to women. However, such services are not
being challenged here. Rather, it is the ability to have access to a single dose of NVP. Since, that
dose of NVP is free to the State, the cost is not an issue and is within the available resources of
the state.
The Court required the government to immediately remove the restriction that NVP would
not be available at hospitals and clinics other than the research and training sites. Once this is
done, the government should devise and implement a more flexible and comprehensive policy.
However, they do not afford everyone the right to NVP. The Court also urged the government
to make NVP available in more locations immediately stating, "the steps that [must] be taken to
comply with the order.. .should be taken without delay."44 The Court, though, reversed the
lower court decision and did not require the State submit a revised policy that would be
consistent with their decision, despite admitting that the court possessed supervisory authority
and had the power to require such behavior.
The next case presents a collision between a different socio-economic right and long-held
property law doctrine.

Jaftha v. Schoeman and Others; Van Rooyen v. Stoltz and Others

The appellants in these cases (two cases were consolidated into single matter) were two
women. Both women, Jaftha and Van Rooyen, were single, impoverished mothers who had
both acquired their homes from State housing subsidies. Should they lose their homes pursuant
to a sale-in-execution, these women would be barred from receiving future state assistance.

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Jaftha had two children and suffered from serious heart problems. Unable to continue payments
on a loan for R250, she was forced to vacate her property following a sale-in-execution for R5000
which was permitted pursuant to section 66(1)(a) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 32 of 1944.45
The other applicant, Van Rooyen, was an unemployed mother of three. Similarly, her
home was sold-in-execution for R1000 and she was forced to vacate when she purchased
vegetables on credit for approximately R190 and was unable to make her payments. It should
be noted that in both cases the amount in debt was very small and the sale of the house to
satisfy the small debt was considerably larger. Also, the proceedings were instituted and
conducted almost entirely by the creditor or a private party. The State's function in the eviction
was issuing and/or authorizing the judgment order on behalf of the debtor, as compared to
Grootboom where the state failed to provide housing.
The issue at bar is whether the section 66(1)(a) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 32 is
unconstitutionally overbroad by allowing a person's right to have access to adequate housing, a
constitutional right protected under section 26(1) of the Constitution, be taken away even in
circumstances where it is unjustifiable and thereby removing their security of tenure. The
Constitutional Court holds that section 66(1)(a) is unconstitutional to the extent that sales-in-
execution may be permitted even when not justifiable. That Court overrules the High Court and
holds that the State has a negative obligation with respect to guaranteeing the rights in section
The Constitutional Court first provides a brief review on the Constitution's protection of
socio-economic rights, holding that "any claim based on socio-economic rights must necessarily
engage the right to dignity. The lack of adequate food, housing, and health care is the
unfortunate lot of too many people in this country and is a blight on their dignity. Each time an
applicant approaches the courts claiming that his or her socio-economic rights have been
infringed the right to dignity is invariably implicated. "46 The Court comments on the particular
importance of housing, citing the UN Committee on ESCR's view that "security of tenure takes
many forms, not just ownership, but that all persons should possess a degree of security of
tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other
threats."47 Then the Court provides a historical review of "security of tenure" and its influence
on section 26. It significantly discusses the history of "forced removals and racist evictions in
South Africa," including how "the focus on security of tenure in section 26 of the Constitution
marks an intention to reject that part of our history where invasive legislation was used to
remove people from their lands and homes forcefully and to intimidate and harass with
senseless eviction rendering them homeless."48 "The situation under apartheid demonstrates the
extent to which access to adequate housing is linked to dignity and self-worth."49 Section 26
speaks directly to the practice of forced removals and summary evictions and the section is
aimed at "creating a new dispensation in which every person has adequate housing and in
which the State may not interfere with such access unless it would be justifiable to do so."50
Finally, the Court is very clear and concise when it states that "the underlying problem raised
by the facts of this case is not greed, wickedness or carelessness, but poverty."51
In TAC, Grootboom, etc., the applicants were claiming a positive obligation on the State to
provide access to the socio-economic rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Contrary to those
cases, Jaftha presents a situation where the applicants are arguing the State has a "negative

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obligation under 26 [which] is not to prevent or impair existing access to adequate housing."52
The applicants argue that the positive obligation only applies to the State whereas the negative
obligation to the right applies to everyone, including State and private individuals.53 The
applicants further argue, rather successfully it seems, that where the positive obligations are
subject to progressive realization, such is not the case with respect to negative obligations, as
they currently have their homes and it is the State's duty to protect their right of access.54 In its
holding, the Court holds that Section 26 does create a negative obligation on the State. In order
for a measure to deprive a person of an existing access to adequate housing, that measure must
be justified under section 36 of the Constitution.55 The Court holds that the "fact that trifling
debts can lead to sales-in-execution is not relevant to the question of whether the right to
adequate housing has been limited by section 66(1)(a) but is relevant to the justifiability of this
particular measure."
The Court ultimately finds the measure in Jaftha to be unreasonable and unjustifiable in
deprivation of access to housing. The Court states, "it is difficult to see how the collection of
trifling debts in this case can be sufficiently compelling to allow existing access to housing to be
totally eradicated, possibly permanently, especially when other methods exist to enable
recovery of the debt."56 The Court does not create a bright line rule that taking someone's home
to cover a debt would never be justifiable, and they offer these factors to be considered,
including the circumstances in which the debt was incurred, any attempts made by the debtor
to pay off the debts, the financial situation of the parties, the amount of the debt, whether the
debtor is employed or has a source of income to pay off the debt, and any other factors relevant
to the particular facts of the case.
The Court's remedy is to institute a more comprehensive and flexible form of judicial
oversight over the execution process. Previously, judicial oversight only occurred at the first
stage of the debt recovery process, where the creditor seeks the judgment.57 Hereafter, the Court
adopts the appellant's suggestion and holds that if a creditor wants to satisfy a judgment by
executing immovable property of the debtor, they must go in front of the Court in order to get a
special execution order "only if the circumstances of the case make it appropriate."58
Section 36 of the Constitution provides an analysis of circumstances in which such a special
execution order may be appropriately granted:
The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to
the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society
based on human dignity, equality and freedom taking into account all relevant factors including
the nature of the right, the importance of the purpose of the limitations, the nature and extent of
the limitation, the relations between the limitation and its purpose; and less restrictive means to
achieve the purpose.
The Court states that, of the factors that section 36 enjoins the courts to consider, the nature
of the right and nature and extent of the limitation are of great importance when weighed
against the importance of purpose of the limitation.59
This final case continues to confront the legacy of apartheid as related to the constitutional
right to access to housing.
Port Elizabeth Municipality v. Various Occupiers

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The respondents in this case comprise sixty-eight people, including twenty-three children,
who have been occupying twenty-nine shacks, for between two and eight years, on privately
owned land, which is within the Municipality, the applicant. The Municipality sought eviction
of the occupiers in response to a petition by the people in the neighborhood. The occupiers
agreed to leave the land if the Municipality provided them with suitable alternative land. The
Municipality suggested Walmer, which the occupiers rejected as it is crime ridden and
unsavouryy," and also because they faced possible eviction there.
The Court gives a detailed background of racism and segregation in South Africa and how
the housing laws were established and enforced to foster such views. The Prevention of Illegal
Eviction (PIE) and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 replaced The Prevention of
Illegal Squatting Act, 52 of 1951. PIE was adopted with the "manifest objective of overcoming
the abuses and ensuring that eviction in the future took place in a manner consistent with the
values of the new constitutional dispensation."60 The Act decriminalized squatting and the
eviction process was made subject to a number of requirements, some in compliance with the
Bill of Rights. The new system instituted "humanized procedures that focuses on fairness to all.
People once regarded as anonymous squatters now became entitled to dignified and
individualized treatment with special consideration for the most vulnerable."61 The court's new
role was to "hold the balance between illegal eviction and unlawful occupation" with the new
law guiding "them as to how they should fulfill their new complex and constitutionally
ordained function: when evictions were being sought, the courts were to ensure that justice and
equality prevailed in relation to all concerned. "62 The issue in this case is whether the Supreme
Court of Appeal properly applied PIE, and thus whether their order overruling the eviction
order should be upheld. The Court affirms the decision of the lower court and denies the
This case turns on "establishing an appropriate constitutional relationship between section
25 dealing with property rights, and section 26, concerned with housing rights."63 The State has
a duty to satisfy both the land (property) rights and the socio-economic rights (as stated in
Grootboom). There are three ways the Constitution approaches the interrelationship between
land hunger, homelessness and respect for property rights. The Court considers that "the rights
of the dispossessed in relation to land are not generally delineated in unqualified terms as rights
intended to be immediately self-enforcing," that the Constitution acknowledges that "eviction of
people living in informal settlements may take place, even if it results in loss of a home," and
notes an emphasis on the need to seek concrete and case-specific solutions to the problems that
arise.64 Therefore, the role of the Court is to "balance out and reconcile the opposed claims in as
just a manner as possible taking account of all the interests involved and the specific factors
relevant in each particular case."65
An action for eviction may be brought by the State or the owner of the property, and
different factors will be considered. This case is brought by the State and eviction requires that,
the court may grant such an order:
(1) if it is just and equitable to do so, after considering all the relevant circumstances and if
it is in the public interest to grant such order; (2) the public interest includes the interest of the
health and safety of those occupying the land and the public in general; (3) In deciding whether
it is just and equitable to grant an order of eviction, the court must have regard to: (a) the

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circumstances under which the unlawful occupier occupied the land and erected the building or
structure; (b) the period the unlawful occupier and his/her family have resided on the land; and
(c) the availability to the unlawful occupier of suitable alternative accommodation or land.66
The Constitutional Court makes it clear that the three factors listed are not the only
circumstances that a court should look at in determining whether the eviction is just and
equitable; the Court suggests that courts should also examine the "vulnerability of occupiers"
(as stated in section 4, the elderly, children, disabled and households headed by women).
Further, it is stated that what is just and equitable "could be affected by the reasonableness of
offers made in connection with suitable alternative accommodation or land, the time scales
proposed relative to the degree of disruption involved, and the willingness of the occupiers to
respond to reasonable alternatives put before them."67 Each decision should depend on the
specific facts of the case.
The Court's analysis of the facts and the law are as follows: the Municipality clearly meets
the first part of PIE as the occupiers built the shacks on privately owned land without consent of
the owner; the land owners admit that the land is vacant and it is clear that they are not using
the land for productive purposes; most of the occupiers have been there for a long period of
time; and some of the children attend nearby schools and the parents work close to the land.
The Court takes note of the alternative land suggested by the Municipality, but however notes
that the Municipality has not discussed with the occupiers what their interests are, and further
the Court states the obvious problems of safety and distance of the suggested locales. Also the
Municipality fails to determine whether Walmer can be safe and permanent. The Court angrily
rejects the Municipality's contention that instituting a four-peg housing program adequately
accommodates the homeless families. The Court cites Grootboom and states that when a
municipality tries to evict a party they must comply with the Constitution and fulfill their
obligation to housing. Due to the factors listed above, specifically the time that the occupiers
were on the land, the lack of use of the land and the absence of any significant attempts to find
more suitable land, the Court affirms the lower court.


In analyzing these cases regarding protecting the pertinent socioeconomic rights as
primarily constitutional rights, but also international human rights, we see that Reasonableness
as a doctrine allows the Court:

to find that a government program addressing the content of the constitutional
international human right is constitutionally sufficient, without providing immediate
remedy, or the known needs of petitioners before the Court;68
to assess the relationship of a government program to a person's constitutional right
under an independent, essential value of reasonableness, with Court controlling the
latter's legal definition, and its elements of comparative reasoning if any;
to thus independently examine the details of any challenged South African government
program and its merits;
to examine the government program and the person's right in full context, including the
person's need in a socio-economic context, and in the national context of resources

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available to the government, plus the scope of different national needs among which the
government decides priorities for allocating its total national resources, and to give more
legal weight to the latter;
to not define minimum core right for any constitutional/human right as a separate
source of legal entitlement to the person/petitioner. Instead, the Court can use the facts
of desperation and comparatively severe deprivation elements of minimum core
regarding the person and her group, in social context, as one or more analytical factors
(whether the government program addresses these elements of deprivation sufficiently)
in assessing the reasonableness of the government program addressing that
constitutional right (e.g. to housing). Thus, the Court may find the program reasonable
or unreasonable without ordering an individual remedy for petitioner's known needs;
to have a doctrine which is both contextual and absolute (reasonableness) which can be
applied by the Court to all legal elements of any constitutional right as a defining judicial
trope to administer and oversee the South African government's duty (both
constitutional, and international under the ESCR Covenant) of "progressive realization"
of all pertinent rights, regarding any person or group who may claim to enjoy benefit
from any among those rights;
to support the government as a defendant where it says: "My program with its national
focus on implementing the right is connected to the lack of needed resources for a
petitioner/person with the same constitutional/human right, even causally connected,
but whether my program is reasonable or unreasonable, I am not legally liable for harm
to that person because my program failed to address or give individual help to her for
her admittedly severe (deadly) problem defined by the same constitutional/human right;
to determine under what facts and contexts the Government is obligated to give
children's rights/needs immediate and targeted attention, e.g. TAC; and
to portray a finding under the reasonableness doctrine as both a declaratory judgment -
e.g. validating the government program or either as a basis to order a specific
petitioner's remedy, or not, but in any case as a basis from which to address the issue of
petitioner's individual remedy.

Thus, reasonableness, as a central part of its application-of-the-right analysis, enables the
Court to control the flow of resource-transfers to poor people of color, under the particular
national and global right, across the fault line. The Court exercises this control in the cases
brought to it, and also through its national stare decisis authority.
But reasonableness here also enables the government to interpret its constitutional/
international duty (within latitudes) to "progressively realize" the economic right within its
national jurisdiction. It does so through programs which fail to immediately, or even through
the medium term of time, transfer new economic resources to clearly deprived poor persons. In
thus asserting its reasonableness, the government is allowed to maintain the fault line between
'haves' and 'have-nots' at the status quo. It is allowed to do so by saying under law to deprived
citizens, "my programs are linked to your continuing deprivation, that you are entitled to have
meaningfully met, but I am not liable for your continuing deprivation, nor for frustrating your
entitlement to relief under your economic rights."

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 9, Issue 41 Fall 2007

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