The “second great Boer trek”

Friday 27 May 2005

Since the defeat of apartheid, South African capital has begun a brutal march northwards that is reminiscent of a “Second Great Boer Trek”. South African supermarket chains have sprung up across Africa, as have cell phone companies, mining groups and even South African style water front developments. The next big sector being eyed by Afrikaner farmers is land, writes Issa Shivji.

Nature did not create a group of people with capital on one side and another group with only muscle-power but no capital on the other side. Political economists tell us that this great division of the human race, what we call the system of capitalism, is the result of a long historical process. In this historical process, the original capital was acquired through a gruesome process of plunder, expropriation, looting, wars, invasions, slavery, indentured labour and colonialism and imperialism. Political economists call this process of acquiring original capital ‘primitive accumulation’.

Even after capitalism has established itself and capital more or less follows the laws of the market to accumulate more capital through profits, the processes of primitive accumulation continue side by side in different areas and under different circumstances. Under today’s system of international capitalism called globalisation the processes of primitive accumulation are most intense on the African continent. Let us palaver on one example which is close to this part of the world and which concerns us directly. This is the inflow of South African capital into neighbouring countries after the fall of apartheid.

Apartheid itself was the great human invention to enable primitive accumulation in South Africa. The 1913 Native Land Act declared that the whole of South African lands belonged to white South Africans with a small print provision which stipulated that 13 per cent of the land will be “scheduled areas” held in trust for the welfare and benefit of “natives”. Thus the whites came to own 87 per cent of land while the majority blacks were bundled into the remaining 13 per cent, the reserves.

On this system of segregation was built the whole edifice of South African capitalism in which the state - not the market - played the pivotal role. Migrant labour from the reserves and homelands in South Africa and from neighbouring countries, including Tanganyika, provided the muscle-power to exploit the land and minerals of the southern tip of the continent. Thus was built the modern South Africa in which the Whites created and lived the ‘heaven on earth’ leaving the Blacks to burn out in the man-made hell of apartheid.

The 1913 Land Act was the turning point in the First Primitive Accumulation of the South African capital. The turning point in the Second Primitive Accumulation is the fall of apartheid enabling South African capital to move out into the rest of the African continent. The process is still unfolding whose end result cannot be predicted but certain interesting trends are taking shape.

Africa is the third largest export market for South Africa. Africa’s share of the South African exports rose from 4 per cent in 1991 to 12 per cent in 2001. Much of this export goes to SADC countries. Today we see South African onions and potatoes and oranges and, of course, wines and beers and spirits and steaks and dried meats in “our” supermarkets and restaurants and hotels called Shoprites and Steers and Debonairs and Protea. Shoprite has branches in 15 African counties and is in the process of expanding in other countries.

Then there is the South African investment, both from parastatals as well as private. Over the five years (1997-2001) South African investments in Africa increased by 300 per cent. It stood at 77 billion Rand in 2001. Almost half of this was direct investment and 80 per cent was in SADC countries. South African capital went into strategic sectors: mining, banking, insurance and finance and telecommunications, airline and railways.

The beer industry, which is trumpeted as a success story in this country (Tanzania), is only a showcase. The jugular vein lies in the strategic sectors. The South African AngloGold, now merged with Ashanti Goldfileds, and Randgold control our gold. Vodacom is dominant in cell phones; ABSA, through NBC, and Stanbic dominate banking; Networks “manages” TANESCO; and South African Airways (SAA) have taken over the national airline ATC with a view to create an East African hub for SAA. SAA wanted to create a similar West African hub through taking over Nigeria’s national airline, but the deal has apparently fallen through because Nigerians demanded 10 per cent equity in SAA which the South African government refused.

Escom Enterprises, a giant South African electrical corporation, has presence in 33 African countries. It has utility management contracts in Malawi, Mali, Uganda and Nigeria. It would not be surprising if eventually TANESCO falls in Escom’s lap.

Then there is a South African company called V&A Waterfront which has contracts in Mauritius, Gabon and Nigeria to construct waterfront complexes. A similar project is afoot in our ‘Heaven of Peace’ in which, sooner than later, heavens will line the ocean leaving behind “hell-holes” of slums in Kariakoo, Manzese and even the city centre and Upanga.

The next big sector awaiting South African “investment” and keenly eyed by Afrikaner farmers is land; as one South African official put it: “For the Boers, land is next to God and the Bible”. As South Africa attempts land redistribution to redress the wrongs of the apartheid period, it has to find a place for its white farmers. Mozambique has already given 50 year concessions of thousands of acres of land to South Africa’s Boers who are busy recreating apartheid-like settlements.
Mozambique, which is being hailed in the Western, especially the American, official circles as a success story, is almost a text-book case of South African investments. Almost half of South Africa’s corporate investment in Africa is in Mozambique. South Africa has become the single largest investor in Mozambique, Between 1997-2001 some 250 South African companies opened operations in Mozambique.

It is ironical that the land of Samora Machel which was in the forefront of the struggle against makaburu should be the first to fall in the “Second Great Boer Trek”, this time around to the North of the continent. The first Boer Trek was in the mid 19th century when Boer farmers ran away from the British into the interior opening up new lands, in the process decimating African communities. This is how the Boer republics of Free Orange State and Transvaal were created. Tanzanians may do well to study the Mozambiquen experience as they may be next in the path of the “Second Great Boer Trek”.

Issa Shivji. Shivji is Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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