Communal identity and historical claims to land in South Africa : the cases of the Clarkson Moravian Mission and the Tsitsikamma Mfengu

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In this thesis we examine the case of the Clarkson Mission and Tsitsikamma Mfengu communities on the Southern Cape Coast of South Africa, and highlight some of the ambiguities prevalent in their contested claims of entitlement to the Clarkson mission land. Their respective notions of communal identity are investigated, and the ways in which these are historically linked to land entitlement are examined. The analyses of the constructed communal identities of the "coloured" Clarksoner and the "native" Mfengu are located within the critical analytical approach of discourse theory, an important component of which is a socio-historical analysis. Primary data were obtained through archival, documentary, comprehensive Deeds Registry research, as well as fieldwork and in-depth interviews. Central themes in this study are colonial land dispossessions, the use of forced indigenous labour, resistance, rebellion and collaboration. The study shows that aspects of "coloured", "native", "tribal", "ancestral", Mfengu, and Moravian, used in contemporary communal identity formations are not fixed givens, but rather historical discursive constructions that are in a process of constant change. In the case of the Clarksoners we show how the Moravian historical narrative together with the Moravian Ethic had been transplanted and imposed by the early Moravian missionaries at the Cape and how these have over time come to be taken-for-granted and appropriated by members of Moravian Church, and Clarksoners in particular. We trace the origin of the Moravian narrative and show the similarities, differences, and continuity at both Genadendal in the Southern Cape and Clarkson. In the case of the Tsitsikamma Mfengu we show how the emerging colonial "Fingo" narrative and constructed colonial "Fingo" identity are firmly connected to land dispossession and forced labour in the aftermath of the 1835 Eastern Cape frontier war. We show how elements of both the "Fingo" narrative and constructed identity were appropriated and re-ordered in contemporary processes of Tsitsikamma Mfengu community identification. The study endeavours to make visible the dynamic changing history and relations of power and domination surrounding processes of communal identification that are connected to historical rights in land.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 312-342).