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CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

udas Seimela was a young man when the apartheid gov­ern­ment forcibly re­moved his com­mu­nity from vast tracts of land in the scenic Ge­orge’s Val­ley Gorge in Lim­popo.

The frail 88-year-old pen­sioner has been living in the im­pov­er­ished vil­lage of Ny­wa­neng, be­tween Polok­wane and Mo­ria, since the forced re­moval.

There are many like him in the vil­lage – for­mer in­hab­i­tants of Ge­orge’s Val­ley who had hoped to re­turn to the land in their life­times, but whose hopes have been dashed for a sec­ond time.

The pic­turesque Ge­orge’s Val­ley Gorge is a tourist at­trac­tion and a prime farm­ing area nes­tled be­tween the small town of Haen­erts­burg and Tza­neen.

Its at­trac­tions in­clude deep val­leys, wa­ter­falls and en­dan­gered plant species, which make it one of the most breath­tak­ing sights in the coun­try. It also has a busy truck route and a stopover to the Kruger Na­tional Park.

In 2004, the Land Claims Com­mis­sion handed over a prime piece of land with pine forests and av­o­cado or­chards, val­ued at R13 mil­lion, to the Ser­ala Communal Prop­erty As­so­ci­a­tion – about 400 fam­i­lies that had been dis­placed from the land.

But Seimela and other right­ful ben­e­fi­cia­ries were mys­te­ri­ously ex­cluded from the land resti­tu­tion process. They are now ag­grieved to see a few mem­bers of the Communal Prop­erty As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) mak­ing money by cut­ting and sell­ing tim­ber grown on their an­ces­tral land.

“A few in­di­vid­u­als are block­ing our ac­cess to the land,” said Seimela from out­side his mod­est home in the vil­lage.

“But I don’t know why they have shut us out and robbed us of the land. We were chased away by whites and now it is our peo­ple do­ing the same thing. We want our land back and I want to have cat­tle and goats on that farm,” he added.

Seimela has noth­ing but good mem­o­ries of life on the farm. His par­ents were born there and died there. When he was young, Seimela worked on sorghum plan­ta­tions in the Ge­orge’s Val­ley area be­fore the own­ers con­verted them into a busi­ness that traded in av­o­ca­dos and pine trees.

“Life was good back then. There was plenty of fire­wood and wa­ter. I can go back there any­time if given a chance to do so,” he said.

Seimela’s younger sis­ter, Le­nah Let­soalo, who has no idea how old she is, was a do­mes­tic worker for white landown­ers be­fore the forced re­moval from Ge­orge’s Val­ley.

But un­like her brother, Let­soalo is not nos­tal­gic about Ge­orge’s Val­ley. She would rather be paid out for the land in­stead of re­turn­ing to it.

“That place is far … I would be happy with fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion,” she said.

The sib­lings, both il­lit­er­ate, re­mem­ber be­ing called to meet­ings where they were in­formed about the claim that had been lodged on their an­ces­tral land.

Gov­ern­ment later bought the farm back and handed it over to claimants. Seimela was kept in the dark and had no idea that the land claim had been suc­cess­ful. The two now want what is right­fully theirs.

Paledi Ramo­gale, a school­teacher who is also a claimant by virtue of his par­ents and grand­par­ents hav­ing lived on the farm, has also been fight­ing against this “sec­ond dis­pos­ses­sion”.

“The CPA mem­bers are loot­ing the wealth of the com­mu­nity. Since this land was trans­ferred in 2004, there has never been a sin­gle claimant meet­ing and all the claimants have been ex­cluded from the busi­ness,” said Ramo­gale.

“I have been com­plain­ing to the Land Claims Com­mis­sion to con­sider ways of en­sur­ing that the claimants ben­e­fit, but they have not done any­thing,” he added.

Ramo­gale ac­cused CPA mem­bers Ed­ward Ra­mala and Phokela Maponya of hi­jack­ing the land claims process and squandering money and other re­sources.

“They are cut­ting trees and sell­ing tim­ber and av­o­ca­dos, but the money goes into their pock­ets. They’re also neg­li­gent be­cause some of the trees were burnt by a veld fire last year,” said Ramo­gale.

Re­spond­ing to the al­le­ga­tions, Ra­mala dis­missed claims that he and oth­ers had hi­jacked the farm and ex­cluded other right­ful ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

“We didn’t hi­jack any­thing, but I’m not sur­prised by Ramo­gale’s al­le­ga­tions be­cause he’s a dreamer.

“He pulled out of the project him­self. The other ben­e­fi­cia­ries are aware of what is go­ing on at the farm,” said Ra­mala.

“The farm is not mak­ing any money be­cause of the fire last year. Ramo­gale should be say­ing that we should find a way to work to­gether in­stead of lev­el­ling al­le­ga­tions,” he added.

But Ra­mala could not pro­duce any ev­i­dence prov­ing that all the ben­e­fi­cia­ries were still in­volved in the project.

Lim­popo Land Claims Com­mis­sion spokesper­son Ni­cholas Ma­gada said the com­mis­sion was aware of the squab­ble among the claimants.

“The depart­ment has lodged a court ap­pli­ca­tion with a view to place the Ser­ala CPA un­der ju­di­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion. [We] are cur­rently con­sid­er­ing the CPA’s re­quest to re­fer the mat­ter for me­di­a­tion,” said Ma­gada.

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