Expropriation of ancestral land
Zimbabwe and Venezuela — “the disasters of the last century”.
Hinting at possible violence if such expropriation were to go ahead, Roets says: “The question of whether there will be violence is not dependent on the state [but rather] on the [willingness of] people whose properties are being expropriated to defend themselves.”
Taking a different tack, Northern Cape resident Pieter Meyer calls for expropriation by telling the committee: “We want the diamond land back” — otherwise “we will take the land back; we will fight”.
During her submission, Lucia Roman adds: “The land was taken from us. We want our land. Change this law. Change it.”
On the day of the hearings, among tranquil hills — far from the din of emotive speeches, applause and boos — Randall April is doing what he has been doing for the past four years: herding goats on communal land, about 5km outside Concordia.
Although he says he has three of his own, most of the goats in his care belong to his “laanie [boss]”.
April has heard about the possibility of this land no longer being in their hands and is not pleased at the prospect.
“Ek weet nie wat van ons sal gebeur as hulle so maak nie. Ons kry al reeds swaar. Ons sukkel al klaar [I don’t know what will happen if they do this. We are already suffering and struggling],” he says, before running off to try to keep the now-errant goats together.
Van Neel, a local radio show host who promotes entrepreneurship in tourism, says of the importance of land to the region’s Nama descendants: “Land is the single most important thing for the people of this region, and has been for generations. But once that was taken away from them in big chunks, people … couldn’t practise their traditional ways any more.”
We do not ask for wealth because he that has health and children will also have wealth. We do not pray to have money but to have more kinsmen. — Chinua Achebe,
Although it’s only 15km from Concordia, Jacob and Magrieta Cloete’s farm feels like a world away; it’s like somewhere in another time. The couple are among the few Nama descendants who adhere with dogged determination to their traditional ways.
At 64, Jacob still ploughs his tiny field with a donkey (“Dis harde werk, ja [Yes, it’s hard work],” he laughs). In the rondehuisie — traditional Nama hut — Magrieta prepares their food over fires. There is no electricity. Flour is ground by hand.
Magrieta is sitting on her favourite bench where, on nights when she cannot sleep, she comes to stare at stars, listen to the odd jackal’s cry or, she laughs, pointing to a tree, “praat met ’n uil wat daar kom sit [talk to an owl that comes to sit there]”.
For the couple, adherence to the ways in which they were raised is not up for discussion.
“Ons het ons eie paar veetjies, hoendertjies, ’n kat, honde, donkies, drie beeste. Maar dit is vir ons uniek om so aan te gaan. As ek my oë hier kan sluit, dan is dit tip-top vir my. Dit is wat ons voorgeslagte ook begeer het. Om hul oë hier te sluit. Hier wou hulle in vrede gaan [We have our own livestock, chickens, a cat, dogs, donkeys, three cows. But for us, it’s is unique to live like this. If I can die here, I will be happy. This is what our ancestors desired: to die here, in peace].”
“Dit was hulle lewe. Dit was al wat hulle geken het. En hulle het geglo die landskap waar hulle op is, is hulle heiligdom. Hulle het hulself voorberei. Dit gaan van geslag tot geslag. Hier op hierdie land wil hulle hulle kinders voorentoe laat gaan,” Magrieta says.
She is describing how this was the life her forebears knew, that “their land was their kingdom” to pass it down to future generations.
Being the third generation to occupy this piece of land, she says it is very important that their sons and grandchildren take over once the pair have “shut their eyes”.
On land expropriation without compensation, Jacob, a kind-eyed man of few words, says: “Dit is onregverdig [It is not fair].”
Magrieta is more vocal. “Jy vat my land, jy vat ’n stuk van my weg. Jy beroof my van dit wat ek lief het en vir dit wat ek lewe, behalwe my God [You take my land, you take a piece of me. You rob me of what I love and what I live for, except for my God].”
She adds: “Ons twee se lewe is amper verby. Maar ons hou aan God se voet vas. Hy het ons voorgeslagte hier gesit [Our lives are almost over. But we cling to God’s foot. He placed our ancestors here].”
For Arthur Cloete, land is inextricably linked to his identity as a Nama descendant. “I’ve come to the realisation that I need to own my heritage. This is where I learned to speak, where I learnt to walk. And I am passionate about it. Everything. I love the rocks, the plants, the flowers.
“We’ve been going through a drought for three years — the worst drought in over 100 years — but even so, I love Namaqualand. It’s in me. It’s part of me and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“Everything was stolen from the Nama people — their land, their identity. We need to prevent that from happening ever again.”
Your aspirations asphyxiate me
I die each day just to live free
Bonded to the lie that I could own any land
Or that you could ever build a fence that could hold all of me
The dead have us by the collar
The dead squeeze themselves into our dreams
You believe that you belong to yourself The dead are using our eyes to see
— Lebo Mashile,
Back at the graveyard, Jakobus Cloete sighs: “Ja, so is die lewe. Maar dis ons s’n, hierdie. Dis ons land. Waar anders [Yes, such is life. But this is ours, this is our land. Where else would we go]?”
With nowhere else they can go — or want to go — he and the farmers in this region will keep fighting for their land. Fighting to ensure that those who come from the people buried beneath those nameless, seemingly ordinary little rocks are always remembered. Never nameless. Never landless.
Arthur Cloete: ‘We are proud Nama people, even though we are mixed in our lineage’
Jakobus Cloete: ‘My great-great-grandchild is the eleventh generation on this land’
Small stones, vast significance: Humble rocks represent the unmarked graves of generations of Nama people. Photos: Paul Botes