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Cruelty, King Lear and the South African Land Act 1913

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Stanley Wells
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
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Summary

Present-day South Africans read Shakespeare in a semi-industrialized, capitalist, apartheid state located in a condition of advanced crisis. This may prove to be a period of transition or collapse, but it is one that remains, as has been the case in the last fifty years and longer, characterized by brutal exploitation and repression. The Land Act of 1913, for instance, was one of the crucial pieces of legislation in the formation of what subsequently became the apartheid state. It distinguished different groups within the population of South Africa and purported to divide the land between them. In fact, as political commentators have underlined, it was to reserve less than ten per cent of the total land surface of what was then the Union of South Africa for the black inhabitants of the country. Thus the Act, in responding to the demands of white farmers to convert sharecroppers on their land into farm labourers or servants, dispossessed many black landowners and outlawed, as well, leasing or tenant farming. Commentators recognize that this Act, which came about partly as a result of the sustained thrust of mining as well as farming capital, together with other laws, ostensibly protecting black rights, actually eroded them.

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Chapter
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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 135 - 144
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1988

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