Location reference: 15 km north of Brits
The settlement at Losperfontein was a by-product of Hartbeestpoort Dam. It was the creation of the Department of Labour concerned at the time with addressing the problem white poverty. In 1919 when construction of the dam was well advanced, a scheme was approved to settle white ex-construction workers on land that would be irrigated by the canals below the dam. They would be paid an interim subsistence wage and encouraged to become productive small-scale farmers. It was hoped that this would discourage them from flocking into the towns where they would exacerbate the unemployment problem.

A map showing the Rustenburg District.
With the change of government in 1924 the character of this scheme altered to involve more explicit social engineering. Those settlers who were able to demonstrate personal discipline and signs of being successful earned the right to acquire freehold grants of land. Those who did not were dispatched to compulsory farm colonies. This principle of requiring people to 'qualify' in some way to earn a right was expanded by the Department of Labour to include every public works programme in the country. The poor whites at Losperfontein were not allowed to employ black labour; they were regularly inspected by officials to ascertain whether their families were 'suitable' in terms of their work ethic, the cleanliness of their homes, the behaviour of their children and their general personal appearance. Those who were not maintaining respectability were weeded out from those who were.
During the depression of the late 1920s there were many applications to join the Losperfontein probationary settlement – possibly drawn by the incentive of a daily wage – and initially local people enjoyed undoubted advantages. Newcomers worked under supervision, planting only approved crops with potentially high returns. They were graded as 'excellent', 'moderate' or 'unpromising'. Once they had passed the initial phase those who were approved were permitted greater levels of independence. However, some Losperfontein settlers resisted being controlled by government in this way and some even held secret meetings to try to arrange protests.
As a scheme intended to promote small-scale farming Losperfontein was partially successful thanks mainly to the Hartbeestpoort Dam irrigation scheme. However, its aim to create a 'white platteland' was thwarted and it did not spawn other similar schemes. Contrary to the wishes of F.H.P. Creswell, then Minister of Labour, it did not inhibit the growth of large commercial farming nor could it prevent the employment of black farm labour.
The Losperfontein smallholdings still exist today but a modern prison now dominates the landscape.

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

With special thanks to our sponsors