“A superstitious respect for the soil”? : environmental history, social identity and land ownership – a case study of forced removals from Lady Selborne and their ramifications, c.1905 to 1977
Thesis (DPhil (History))—University of Stellenbosch, 2008.
This thesis presents, from the perspective of socio-environmental history, a case study in forced removals and their ramifications from 1905 to 1977. The focus area is a township called Lady Selborne in South Africa, near Pretoria, and Ga-Rankuwa, where some of those displaced were relocated. The thesis demonstrates that forced removals did not only result in people losing their historical land, properties and material possessions but also their sense of being and connectedness. The focus is thus on the changing perceptions of people in the midst of their land loss, an area of study that is generally under-examined in academia. The research provides a complex picture of the ramifications of forced removals on the former inhabitants of Lady Selborne. Lady Selborne was a “home”, a place for being human where the residents managed to engage in food production and owned properties in a multiracial area. Forced removals emanated from the National Party government’s desire to control African land ownership, and the manner in which land dispossession took place resulted in environmental injustice. This thesis applies theories of environment, power and injustice to explore how the people related to their environment and how that relationship was defined by class, gender and race. In Lady Selborne, black Africans were displaced from an area that was fertile, close to the city centre of Pretoria and relocated to infertile Ga-Rankuwa on the outskirts of the city. This resettlement resulted in many of those relocated being prevented from engaging in food production which was in turn an affront to Sotho-Tswana culture and religion with its emphasis on land as lefa: a bequest that has to feed its inhabitants. This thesis thus argues that successive governments (and many scholars) have downplayed black African environmental ethics, dismissing them as ‘superstition’. This mindset once resulted in forced removals and they in turn led blacks to disregard environmental issues. Ga-Rankuwa became degraded with litter, soil erosion and dongas, especially in the 1970’s, as people realised that there was no hope of returning to Lady Selborne. Environmental apathy emerged unconsciously as a response to forced removals. The thesis concludes by considering the idea of a ‘usable past’ and proposes that socio-environmental history can play a role in realising environmental justice.