Mahmood Mamdani:

(I)n 1993 … (I) first went to South Africa to study apartheid as a form of the state. I realized that basic institutions of apartheid had been created long before the name and the state came into being. The ethnic cleansing of the African population of South Africa began as early as 1913 when the Natives Land Act declared 87% of the land for whites and divided the remaining 13% into so tribal homelands into which to herd the native population. These homelands were called “reserves.” I wondered why the name sounded so uncannily like the American “reservation.” The answer was illuminating, and chilling. White South Africa became independent from Britain in 1910. That same year, the new settler government sent a delegation to North America, specifically to USA and Canada, to study how to set up tribal homelands for, after all, they had first been created in North America, half a century before. The American “reservation” became the South African “reserve.”


Image Credit: “Portrait of a Native American named Big Head, ca. 1905.” (Library of Congress/Edward S. Curtis)

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Sean Jacobs

Otherwise known as Hasan Wasan.

2 thoughts on “#WhiteHistoryMonth: The American reservation became the South African reserve

  1. Actually, the Native Lands Act of 1913 did not have to amend the American “reservation” to become the South African “reserve.” It simply had to adopt the name used then and still used today to describe the lands assigned to First Nations people in Canada. Subsequently, apartheid’s pass laws were also modelled on regulations restricting the movement of First Nations people in Canada. Not something of which this Canadian is terribly proud.

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