Land issues: In their own words
• “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