Borders and land claims

Borders and land claims

It is a truism that formation of the settler states involved land grabs and other ways of possessing land (and other scarce resources) in association with the creation of labour to work it. And this latter occurred not just by means of force, but also by encouraging the development of a desire for what wage labour could enable, such as clothes, tools, guns and other resources. Many places in southern Africa came into being in this way, some of them as protectorates under the aegis of the British government, others of them abrogated to settler control entirely. But peoples are a different matter, for customs and traditions and affiliations are not fixed within the resulting borders. Such borders represent the meeting and clashing of different social systems and worlds.

These matters have come into the news in the last few days because a Lesotho member of Parliament, elected on a ticket to do so, has advanced a claim that the Basotho people earlier in pre-colonial times occupied much land that is now labelled as South African and this should be returned to them. If this argument was accepted, the country would multiply in size and become economically viable in a way it presently is not, as it is a mountainous and fairly barren place in agricultural terms and many of its people work as migrant labour in different parts of South Africa.

The present borders and creation of countries is certainly the result of colonial and settler jiggery-pokery, and the bottom-line being argued here is that there should be restitution in the form of a return to an earlier sense of an intact peoplehood. It is difficult not to feel a great deal of sympathy for Lesotho in this, but the argument being made is somewhat dodgy, for the people being referred to did not historically exist within defined boundaries, so redefining boundaries to create a new bordered unity does not relate very closely to the historical circumstance. This is not to say there is no power in the wider argument about the Basotho people, just that fixing it historically is problematic. After all, the contrary argument has been put forward at different points in time, that Lesotho should be swallowed up by South Africa as a means of uniting what was previously not divided by borders.

For the news report, see HERE.

Last updated: 31 March 2023


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