I will have to begin by conceding that I did not go into this book uninitiated in the intricacies of the South Africa land discourse. In fact, I would go as far as saying that I had little knowledge about decolonial and South African history. However, Patric Tariq Mellet’s book, The Lie of 1652, taught me more than a few things about the South African land question, and I am certain that anyone who reads this book will find themselves enriched by his wealth of knowledge on South African history and restorative justice.
The author describes The Lie of 1652 as the idea that Southern Africa was a ‘land without people’ when European settlers arrived at the Cape. And that while there where small groups of indigenous Khoi and San people, these people have mostly gone extinct. Colonial historians account for the presence of black South Africans here, in the bottom of Africa to a sudden wave of Northern Bantu people who arrived in South Africa shortly after the Boers had colonised the Cape and the inland.
Mellet provides a comprehensive argument against this falsehood. He draws on evidence from pre-colonial African history and makes the case that the Khoi and the San are the founding people of Southern Africa and that their blood and heritage is deeply embedded in the identity of all black Southern Africans.
This book is very detailed and on more than one occasion I had to stop and reflect on the text, because some of the ideas expressed by the scribe are quite radical, even for Pan African millennial like me. He calls for a reimagining of the project of restorative justice, so that it addresses the loss of land, resources, community, culture, liberty, labour, and identity, that black people have endured for centuries under colonialism.
South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world; there continues to be a direct correlation between one’s economic class and the colour of their skin. There seems to be a lack of will to address the issue of land redistribution by the political elite and no wonder because any earnest attempt to do so would require a drastic reimagining of our capitalist hegemonic structure.
Of course, the South African land issue is very complex, but every winter when black people lose their lives and livelihood to shack fires, or when the City of Cape Town evicts Coloured people from their homes so that they can gentrify the city centre, the urgent need to address the issue becomes more pertinent.
I have always found South African journalism needlessly cumbersome. I think we can all agree that corruption and misappropriation of state resources are a real problem, but reporting by the liberal media establishment is always needlessly partisan.
The author provides a refreshingly honest account of our political history and his commitment to South African heritage is a credit to the continued South African liberation movement.
The project of restorative justice has been burdened by the media’s liberal bias, which has pushed the issue of land reform to the fringes of our political discourse. There aren’t many writers who are committed to documenting our nation’s complex issues within the context of centuries of colonisation. Without this context, ideas like expropriation of land without compensation, restorative justice, and reparation can seem quite abstract and are easily misrepresented by opportunistic fear mongers.
The Lie of 1652 provides us with this much-needed context. We need to hold ‘whiteness’ accountable for its prejudices, but also for its privilege. The privileges that white people accumulated for centuries at the expense of the black majority, and that they continue to enjoy, to this day.
Mellet’s book reminds us that it is the European settlers who began by expropriating land, labour and African identity without compensation. The only adequate form of restorative justice would be the return of land which was stolen from our African ancestors.