Season 4, Episode 2: Forging Property from Struggle in South Africa

In 1911, a contested horse race sparked one of the largest movements by black South Africans to reclaim colonized land. How does the history of the Native Farmers Association offer a glimpse into alternate futures of property ownership in South Africa? 

Close up of the upper half of a statue, a man named Pixley ka Seme. He is wearing a top hat and a jacket with a button-up shirt; he is holding a cane in his right hand. The statue is metal (like bronze) and has a dark brownish/black color.
Statue of Pixley ka Seme in Daggakraal, Mpumalanga (photo by Tara Weinberg, 2019).

In 1911 South Africa, two brothers—Ntshebe and Lunyolo Ngwenya—won a horse race. But their white competitors would not accept their win and responded with violence. The incident was about far more than racing horses. It was also about how to overcome the reality that the security of black people’s property—whether horses, homes, or crops—was subject to the whims of white landowners.

In this episode, Tara Weinberg tells the story of how the Ngwenya brothers joined with lawyer, businessman, and politician, Pixley ka Seme, and black families from around the country in setting up the Native Farmers Association, one of the largest land buying and farming projects set up by black South Africans. Members envisioned a collective form of property ownership, a movement that the South African government considered insurgent. This history offers glimpses into alternate futures of property ownership in South Africa. 

View the full episode transcript.

Historian Biography

Tara Weinberg is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan. They are the author of “A History of Communal Property Associations in South Africa,” published in Land, Law and Chiefs in Rural South Africa: Contested Histories and Current Struggles (2021). Their PhD thesis, “Property of the People: Imaginaries of Property Ownership in South Africa, 1900-1994,” examines how black land buyers debated and imagined kinds of property that offered alternatives to the state’s narrow categorizations of property law.

Episode Contributors

Bongani Kona is a lecturer in the Department of History at the University of the Western Cape. He is editor of Our Ghosts Were Once People: Stories on Death and Dying (Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2021).

Catherine Madlala is a resident of Driefontien, Mpumalanga province, and a longtime land activist. She was born in neighboring Daggakraal in 1945.

Athambile Masola is a lecturer in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. She has written on Adelaide Tantsi Dube’s poem “Africa: My Native Land” for Africa Is A Country. Her work also appears in Women Writing Africa, edited by Margaret J. Daymond, Dorothy Driver, and Sheila Meintjes (New York: Feminist Press at CUNY, 2003). Her Twitter handle is @athambile.

Snehlanhla Ngidi is a social worker based in Pretoria, South Africa. She has conducted several research projects, and assisted Tara with translation and research in Mpumalanga province in 2019.

Bongani Ngquluna is director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) at the University of Johannesburg and the author of The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme (Cape Town: Penguin, 2017).

Thuthuka Ngwenya lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a descendent of the Ngwenya brothers who fought the famous horse-racing court case, which sparked the creation of a land-buying syndicate in Daggakraal.

Learn more about artist Andrea Carlson and the Future Cache exhibition at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

South African Freedom Music

Listen to a Spotify playlist of South African freedom music curated by Tara Weinberg.

For a deeper dive:

Production Credits

Episode Producer: Tara Weinberg

Host and Season Producer: Hannah Roussel

Executive Producer: Gregory Parker

Editorial Board: Elizabeth Collins, Paige Newhouse, David Tamayo, Kira Thurman, Hannah Tweet, Jeffrey Veidlinger, Sophie Wunderlich

Special thank you to Reverb Effect Season 3 Producer Allie Goodman for her work on this episode.

Music: “Resolve,” by Jole Cummins (No Copyright Music, YouTube); “Empire Seasons,” by Dan Henig (No Copyright Music, YouTube); “Elegy,” by Asher Fulero (No Copyright Music, YouTube).

Image: Statue of Pixley ka Seme in Daggakraal, Mpumalanga (photo by Tara Weinberg, 2019).

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