A Hundred Years after the 1913 Land Act

Sol Plaatjie

In 1652, the year that Jan van Riebeeck first stepped on to these shores, Gerrad Winstanley, an English radical, published a pamphlet called The Law of Freedom in a Platform. Three years earlier he had led a land occupation on St. George’s Hill in Surrey. The occupation had aimed, against the growing enclosure of common lands for private profit to insist that “the Earth becomes a Common Treasury again”. It was quickly and violently crushed.

The pamphlet that Winstanley published three years after the occupation of St. George’s Hill argued that land should not be bought and sold and that, when it was, “some shall enjoy great possessions, and others who have done as much or more for to purchase freedom shall have none at all, and be made slaves to their brethren”.

But as English colonialism frequently driven by actual rather than metaphorical enslavement gathered momentum from the seventeenth century onwards, people around the world who sought to hold on to their land and autonomy in defiance of an advancing storm were presented as monstrous – a many headed hydra that needed to be destroyed so that land and labour could be exploited.

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