Ex­pro­pri­a­tion of an­ces­tral land

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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.”

South Africa

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

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