Bargaining with the state? Black farmers’ petitions for agricultural support, amidst white farmers’ subsidies, 1920s-1970s

Monday, 11 September, 2023 - 16:00

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In the early 20th century, groups of black land buyers purchased land in the Transvaal with the intention of farming on a large scale. Three of those farms include: Daggakraal and Driefontein in the Wakkerstroom district, purchased by Pixley ka Seme and the Native Farmers Association (‘the Association’), and Mogopa in the Ventersdorp district, purchased by a group of families from the Free State. I suggest that there remained windows of possibility for Transvaal black farmers to accumulate in the early 20th century, later than in the Eastern Cape. I trace the declining fortunes of these Transvaal farmers between 1920 and 1970, an era in which the government undermined black collective land holding projects like the Association and lent hitherto unprecedented support to white agricultural cooperatives. I examine how families in Daggakraal and Driefontein launched petitions seeking economic and infrastructural assistance from the government, in a context in which the state aimed to cut off areas privately-owned by black farmers from access to markets and resources. I argue that Association farmers were willing to co-operate with certain government mandates, without submitting entirely to the categories of political community demanded by the government. In Mogopa too, residents found ways around the limitations in place for black farmers, though their economic prospects were bleak. They relied on white intermediaries to access markets, equipment and credit usually available only to white farmers through agricultural cooperatives.

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