The Highveld

Vrede District

African tenants might bring oxen, plows, and family labor to white-owned land.

The high plateau of the Orange Free State, where Bourke-White visited the farm of George Prinsloo in the Vrede district, had long been the agricultural heartland for Afrikaner commercial farmers.  There, impoverished African tenants plowed the white-owned maize fields from which their forebears had been evicted by the Natives’ Land Act of 1913.

Between the 1850s and 1900 the Orange Free State had been an independent “Boer Republic”, founded by some of the original Voortrekkers. The Republic remained at odds with both the British Empire and the surrounding African societies. In the election of 1948, whites in this rural hinterland voted overwhelming for Daniel Malan and the Afrikaner nationalists.

“Our deepest satisfaction comes from the land,” finance minister N.C. Havenga boasted to Bourke-White. “White civilisation is deeply rooted in Southern Africa, more firmly entrenched even than that of the pastoral Bantu nomads who were pushing down from the north about the same time that the Europeans came pioneering from the South.” This was the view used by Afrikaners to justify the dispossession of African farmers in the Highveld of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Many times during my travels in South Africa I heard statements that could have been made in our own Deep South. –MBW


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