Northern Cape Nama farmers fear
Where else would we go? ask Nama descendants who fret that communal land will be taken. Some still follow traditional ways, writes Carl Collison
To knock on doors of our ancestors We died in militant silence
We are true battalions
And we … have been one with this land Napo Masheane, his face lacks in youth, his eyes more than make up for it. Deep-set, dark and always smiling, they glint warmly as he speaks at breakneck speed about the land he has lived on all his life.
As we bob along on the rough gravel road from his bright-green home to a communal farm a few kilometres away, he laughs as he complains about the state of roads in the area. “Ons het met die regering gepraat en gepraat, maar hulle luister nie [We’ve spoken to the authorities again and again, but they don’t listen],” he says.
To keep the communal farm in his family, he is prepared to do even more speaking to the government — and hopes that this time it will listen.
With an equal measure of pride and fear, Jakobus says: “My agter-agterkleinkind is elfde geslag wat nou op hierdie land is [My great-greatgrandchild is the eleventh generation on this land].
On expropriation without compensation, he says simply: “Dis nie reg nie. Wat joune is, is joune [It’s not right. What’s yours is yours].”
Pointing to the pen and notepad in my hand, he adds: “As ek die boek en die pen van jou af neem — sonder om vir jou iets daarvoor te gee nie — dis mos nie reg nie [If I take that book and that pen away from you — without giving you anything in return — that’s just not right].”
The close on four years of ongoing drought the region is experiencing might be tough (“ons kry swaar [we are suffering]”), but it has done nothing to dampen his passion. “Dis ons land hierdie. Ons is gelukkig hier [This is our land. We are happy here].”
At the same hall where, a day before, he had made an impassioned plea to the committee not to allow his land to be taken away, Arthur Cloete arrives to collect the governmentsponsored drought relief vouchers he has been waiting months for.
“Every time they would tell us to come here, but nothing,” he laughs wryly, as he and a smattering of other early-bird farmers fight off the bitter early-morning cold in the hopes of being the first to catch the proverbial long-waited-for worm.
Arthur and his fellow farmers are in luck. That day, they leave the hall with their vouchers in hand.
But the relief is soured by the prospect of perhaps having to give it all up one day.
A young farmer (“I think I’m 43,” he laughs), Arthur has been farming on the communal land that has been in his family for generations for “about five years”.
The tract of land on which they live has small livestock and “some geese and poultry”, he says.
“[It] has a lot of meaning for us in the family. The fact that we have Nama heritage, before ’94 we could not acknowledge it. It was not something to be proud of. We can now say we are proud Nama people, even though we are mixed in our lineage. That is what the new dispensation brought us.”
But what the new dispensation could be taking is what Arthur is now fighting against. A member of the Concordia Farmers’ Association, which submitted a written representation to the constitutional review committee, opposing changes to the Constitution, he says: “As soon as we give the government explicit power to take land without compensation, you open everybody up to that risk of losing their land, their ownership.”
He also sees the issue as potentially divisive. “People will use this issue in politics to divide people. And it shouldn’t be that [way].”
As part of her oral submission during the public hearing, Ilanushca van Neel, an activist from Concordia, also takes to challenging the government.
Van Neel asks: “Why is it that there are millions of rands to run this process [of holding public hearings], but no money to send the department of rural development here to start the process of getting our land into our names?”
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian over “’n koppie tee” in her Concordia home, she concurs with Arthur Cloete.
“Politicians have a tendency of keeping our people locked in a history that did not benefit them. Keeping people in that loop … they can play a card that will keep the divide forever.”
At the province’s first public hearing into land expropriation, the divide is already felt.
AfriForum’s Ernst Roets calls the process an attempt by the government “to take more land and not give people land”.
The organisation has delivered a petition to the government, containing about 300000 signatures of people opposed to land expropriation without compensation.
Roets adds that the government is “hero-worshipping the policies of some of the world’s worst economies”. He’s referring to countries such as
Unlikely allies: Jacob and Magrieta Cloete (above), who adhere to the pastoral ways of their Nama forebears, and Ernst Roets (left) of minority rights group AfriForum are dead set against allowing the government to expropriate land without compensation.
Randall April: ‘I don’t know what will happen if they do this. We are already suffering’
Ilanushca van Neel: ‘Land is the single most important thing for the people of this region’
Photos: Paul Botes