Land is­sues: In their own words

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• “If they take away the land, we would die.” — Her­bal­ist and trader Thabo Elias Maro­tola

• “I don’t want to leave this world not hav­ing got my ti­tle deed. I want to leave my grand­chil­dren with some­thing.” — Alexan­dra pen­sioner Lydia Shadi Nh­lapo

• “Our cus­toms don’t agree with that. You can­not dig up a grave. We have never seen a dead per­son be­ing ex­humed. But the mine will go ahead be­cause they have the power.” — Kwazulu-na­tal land rights ac­tivist Lucky Sha­bal­ala

• “We are not steal­ing from any­one. I have been chased with he­li­copters, horses. They [po­lice and mine se­cu­rity] were look­ing for per­mits. My brother was ar­rested. Then he asked the po­lice: ‘Show me any­one who brought di­a­monds to this world when they were born?’ They beat him up. They come from

God. Di­a­monds come from God. No­body should stop an­other from mak­ing a liv­ing from them.” — North­ern Cape ar­ti­sanal miner Sa­muel Tl­hole

• “All th­ese sa­cred sites are vul­ner­a­ble to the greed of men. How do you de­stroy a whole ecosys­tem to build a ho­tel? When they [de­vel­op­ers] see a river, they just want to block it. They see a for­est, they want to log. Hu­man be­ings are de­stroy­ing their own habi­tat.” — Lim­popo land rights ac­tivist Mphathe­leni Makaul­ule

• “We are peo­ple of this land. God made us to look like the soil of this land be­cause we be­long to it. We were born to farm on our land and trade live­stock among our­selves. Money was never our thing as Africans.” — Kwazu­lunatal farm labour ten­ant Mn­deni Sikhakhane

• “We were do­ing noth­ing with the land. We would just wait for our pen­sions. When the money came we would spend it and wait again. That is when we de­cided to use our land to feed us.” — Lim­popo pen­sioner Kiba Frans Mmola you can die [at] any time.”

In Jan­uary, Pon­doland upris­ing vet­eran Mfih­lelwa Mnya­mane was re­cov­er­ing from an ail­ment that had trou­bled him for most of the year. But he was adamant he wasn’t go­ing to al­low his home of Mzamba near Xolobeni to be turned up­side down as a re­sult of min­ing.

His neigh­bour and ac­tivist Nonhle Mbuthuma ar­tic­u­lated their sit­u­a­tion in sim­ple but pow­er­ful terms: “We are the rich­est [peo­ple]. We have plenty of things that lots of peo­ple don’t have. We have land. We have clean wa­ter through­out the year. That is why we do agri­cul­ture through­out the year. We only buy what we can’t pro­duce. There are no taps here. Even the mu­nic­i­pal­ity doesn’t de­liver wa­ter here. We have clean nat­u­ral wa­ter. And you call us poor?”

In Novem­ber the Pre­to­ria high court ruled in the com­mu­nity’s favour, say­ing that com­mu­ni­ties needed to be con­sulted and give con­sent be­fore any min­ing ac­tiv­ity could take place in their ar­eas.

Wait­ing for the land

Mthakathi Si­mon Makhanya could not at­tend the hear­ings into land ex­pro­pri­a­tion in Nel­spruit be­cause of ill health. The 93-year-old in­stead sent his son to de­liver his mes­sage to the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee. He de­scribed how his fam­ily was plunged into poverty and de­pri­va­tion af­ter they were force­fully re­moved from their land in 1954. The fam­ily lodged a claim to the land be­fore the De­cem­ber 31 1998 dead­line. But, 20 years on, he is afraid he may never live to re­turn to his an­ces­tral land in Ten Bosch.

“The whites never bought this land. Af­ter [Adolf] Hitler’s war, the whites were given farms around here. The blacks, who also fought in the war, lost their land and were given only coats and bi­cy­cles. They [white peo­ple] are wrong be­cause they never bought the land,” Makhanya said from his home.

The un­re­solved land is­sue touched even ANC strug­gle vet­eran and for­mer MP An­drew Mlan­geni, who vis­ited his place of birth in Free State for the first time since his re­turn in 1989 from serv­ing a life sen­tence.

Weigh­ing in on the land de­bate, Mlan­geni said: “The gov­ern­ment’s land dis­tri­bu­tion has ac­tu­ally failed in the last 23 years be­cause the ‘own­ers’ of that land, the white peo­ple, when the gov­ern­ment wants to buy prop­erty or farms from them, they in­crease the prices when they them­selves got it for noth­ing. Our dis­cus­sion to re­solve the is­sue of land peace­fully has failed. That is why we want to change the Con­sti­tu­tion to al­low the gov­ern­ment to con­fis­cate land without com­pen­sa­tion.”

Who says we can’t use the land?

High up in the Ma­galies­berg moun­tains in Mamelodi, in­yanga and for­mer Umkhonto wesizwe op­er­a­tive Ephraim Mabena turned a for­mer dump­ing ground into a place of heal­ing, the Mothong Her­itage Trust, dis­pelling the myth that black peo­ple, es­pe­cially in ur­ban ar­eas, have no need or use for land.

“The big­gest hu­mil­i­a­tion you can visit upon an African is to take away his land. You can’t sep­a­rate us from the land. We are one with it,” said Mabena.

Across the coun­try, dur­ing com­mu­nity meet­ings in tiny halls and class­rooms in for­got­ten vil­lages, the eyes and faces of the peo­ple at­tend­ing told a haunt­ing story of frus­tra­tion and an­guish over the long wait for the land. Those who spoke gave mean­ing to those haunt­ing ex­pres­sions. — Muku­rukuru Me­dia

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