The Glen Grey experiment

The laboratory for the ideas of Cecil Rhodes and Jan Hofmeyr was the African reserve next to Queenstown, originally called the Tambookie Location but later renamed Glen Grey. The reserve had been created in 1853 to accommodate the black population displaced by white commercial farms in the Queenstown district.

Many of the Glen Grey people had become successful peasant farmers but others had no interest in farming and supported themselves by occasional wage labour. Some of the colonial officials blamed these non-productive residents for the overcrowding of the reserves, and thus was born the idea of dividing the black population between serious and respectable peasant farmers, voting for their own councils in their own areas, and wage labourers with limited land rights destined to earn their living by migrant labour on the mines and commercial farms.

Postage stamp depicting the Bunga

A postage stamp depicting the Bunga. The most substantial of the District Councils created by the Glen Grey Act was the United Transkeian Territories General Council, popularly known as the Bunga. It incorporated 27 magisterial districts, though ironically enough Glen Grey itself remained in the Ciskei. From 1976 to 1994 this dignifi ed and spacious building housed the Legislative Assembly of the separate development Republic of Transkei. It is now home to the Nelson Mandela Museum.

The Glen Grey Act of 1894 entrenched white supremacy through creating a special title that allowed prosperous blacks to hold land, but gave them political representation in their own local councils rather than in the government of the Cape itself. The law provided for farms of four morgen, each granted on the basis of ownership or freehold. The eldest son would inherit the plot. The intention was that other sons would be forced to learn ‘the dignity of labour’ and to seek work in the colony. A tax of ten shillings a head was imposed to press all the younger sons to find work to pay the tax. These men were expected to return to the reserve after they had stopped working in the colony, with communal grazing rights meant to meet their needs. Ownership of the new plots would not qualify blacks for the vote.

It was hoped that the Act would deflect black political attention away from Parliament to new institutions in the reserves. There were Location Boards, elected by registered plot holders, and District Councils, for which the Location Boards elected six members, while the government appointed another six to advise on local issues such as the allocation of local levies for public works, schools and clinics. The Glen Grey plan was meant to provide for productive black peasants to influence politics where they lived, but it did not work out this way. The labour tax and the imposition of individual land tenure were fiercely resisted and never actually implemented. The most lasting significance of the Act was its displacement of the political rights of Africans living in communalareas, away from the seat of power in Parliament and into Local Councils which, by their nature, were precluded from dealing with national issues. In this respect, the Glen Grey Act was indeed most successful, and the District Councils established in consequence later became the basis of the independent homeland parliaments.


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