Limpopo — It took Manare Frans Molele at least three hours to drive to the municipal hall in Jane Furse, Limpopo, where scores of people had gathered to make their submissions on the Restitution of Land Rights Bill.
The Bill proposes certain amendments to the 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act. These include extending the date for lodging land claims from the initial cutoff date of December 31 1998.
Back in 1997, Molele and his kinsmen lodged a claim to 19 000 hectares of commercial farming land near the towns of Mogwadi and Senwabarwana in northwestern Limpopo. But 21 years on, the 135 families whose forebears were forcibly removed from the land in 1936 are still waiting in frustration to have their claim processed.
When he left his home in Mogwadi on Tuesday morning, the 105th anniversary of the passing of the notorious Natives Land Act of 1913, Molele had only one mission in mind.
“I wanted to tell them [the committee] that these hearings and amendments are a waste of time because there are still many outstanding claims [but] they want to open for new claims,” he said, after making an oral submission in the late afternoon.
Last month, the minister of rural development and land reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, told a gathering in Sekhukhune — where she was handing over a title deed to the Roka Lebea community — that there are still 1 866 outstanding claims in Limpopo. She said 7 374 claims had been lodged in the province before the 1998 cut-off date.
The Act was amended in 2014 to allow for the reopening of a new window for submission of claims and to set a new cut-off date for June 30 2019. Yet in July 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the amendments were invalid and interdicted the Commission for the Restitution of Land Rights from processing any land claims lodged after July 1 2014 unless it finalised all the estimated 8 000 outstanding claims submitted by the 1998 cut-off date.
This was after the Land Access Movement of South Africa (Lamosa) and five other organisations and communal property associations (CPAs) took 14 state organs and four communities to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the public consultation process leading up to the amendments was flawed.
The parliamentary committee on rural development and land reform commenced with countrywide public hearings on the amendments this week. Only two were held in Limpopo’s five districts: one in Vhembe in Thohoyandou on Monday and the other in Jane Furse, Sekhukhune, the next day.
But there was dissatisfaction among traditional leaders, community representatives and land rights organisations about the amount of time scheduled for the hearings. Curious locals were not even aware that the hearings were being held in their town, with some wandering into the hall hoping they would be offered refreshments, as is the norm with government functions.
“This amendment is a delaying tactic. They want to buy time so that we can go to the election next year,” said Molele.
He said the business plans for use on the land they are claiming have been gathering dust for the past 20 years. “It is frustrating. They have been telling us all this time they are busy with other claims. Why can’t they assist us?”
Billy Masha of Lamosa expressed surprise that the committee was conducting hearings when it hadn’t met the guidelines set down by the Constitutional Court in its 2016 judgment. “We are disappointed and surprised that you are gathered here while you still have outstanding [land] claims from 18 years ago,” he said.
Only about 100 people made it to the hearings on June 22. They comprised mostly traditional leaders, nongovernmental organisation (NGO) officials and political activists. In its submission, the Nkuzi Development Association decried the fact that no provision made for poor people to travel from the province’s other areas to attend the hearings.
They also lamented the lack of proper interpretation facilities to cater for people of different language groups, and raised concerns that, although attendants were given copies of the proposed amendments, they were not provided with copies of the primary Act.
Kgosi Ngwato Maila — who is visually impaired — objected to the lack of Braille documentation at the hearings. The hearings, which were scheduled to start as early as 10am, only got under way two hours later owing to logistical issues, such as additional chairs having to be sourced from the local community.
The hearings also brought to the fore the brewing cold war between traditional leaders, NGOs and communities. Chiefs want to be recognised as custodians of the land and to be able to lodge claims on behalf of their communities, which is contrary to legislation and the wishes of communities organised under CPAs.
Although the provincial Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa expressed satisfaction with the proposed amendments, chiefs asked the committee for more time to consult with their communities, saying they had been given inadequate notice. But in terms of legislation, chiefs cannot lodge claims on behalf of their subjects; they can only do so as individuals or members of CPAs.
Members of the public expressed their frustration with legislation governing the ownership and control of mineral rights, arguing that the current Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act still favoured big, white-owned companies over ordinary rural folk, as it did under apartheid. They also raised concerns that the offices of the department and the commission were far away from the public.
Vasco Mabunda of the Nkuzi Development Association, which was one of the litigants in the 2016 Constitutional Court matter, questioned the legitimacy of the hearings, saying they were a mere “political tick-box exercise”.
“What is the hurry [when you have outstanding claims]? In fact, what is the intention? Electioneering, we suspect. We charge political grandstanding,” he said.
In its submission, Nkuzi said the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights lacked capacity to settle land claims and was not equipped to offer claimants post-settlement support.
“The resources should be channelled to finalising [the] 1995-98 claims. The current amendments will not result in providing land to poor people. These [hearings] are just a waste of resources and should be stopped with immediate effect,” said Mabunda.
He argued that, with a backlog of 8 000 claims outstanding from the 1995-98 period nationwide, it would take at least 35 years to settle all of them, given that the commission only settles about 560 claims annually.
In her budget vote speech last month, Nkoana-Mashabane said government planned to settle 1 151 land claims at a cost of R2‑billion in the current financial year.
Meanwhile, public hearings into the proposed amendments to Section 25 of the Constitution dealing with the contentious issue of land expropriation without compensation are to begin next week. The parliamentary review committee is due to report back to Parliament by August 30.
“We need to find a solution, and the only solution is getting our grandfathers’ land back,” said Molele.
Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosioua Lekota was forced to move from his front seat at the parliamentary public hearings into land expropriation constitutional after a tiff with Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.
The pair were seated next to one another at the packed-to-the-rafters Marble Hall town hall when Malema erupted in rage after the lunch break.
Malema lost his cool and appeared to be chastising Lekota while members of the public were making oral submissions.
Proceedings were brought to a halt as security intervened between the two MPs.
Lekota hastily moved to a seat at the back. It is not clear what sparked the eruption but those within earshot claimed Lekota had accused Malema of orchestrating ‘the whole thing’, apparently in reference to the hardline sentiments expressed by EFF supporters in attendance.
Earlier in the day, before proceedings had gotten under way, EFF and Democratic Alliance supporters were embroiled in a stand-off which outside the hall but this did not escalate into anything explosive.
It was a day of high drama in which scores of people expressed support for the amendment of Section 25 (3) of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
Marble Hall, some 180km from Limpopo’s capital Polokwane, is an agricultural town specialising in cotton, citrus fruit, grapes and tobacco.
The majority of landowners and farmers are white Afrikaners.
However the majority of those present were mainly black youth and adults, who expressed anger over racial discrimination, human rights abuses on farms and lack of land ownership, which they said stifles economic freedom.
It appeared also that many of those who made oral submissions did not understand the purpose of the gathering, using the platform to raise issues ranging from poor service delivery, labour issues and one even asking the gathering to simply put its trust in god and forget about Constitutional changes.
A large crowd of those who attended did not make it into the hall and were instead accommodated in a tent near the hall. At the close of proceedings EFF supporters rushed to the stage to take pictures and videos of Malema, who responded with a smile and shook hands with some among the boisterous crowd.
The hearings have so far exposed the deep rooted anger among landless black South Africans.
They have also brought to the fore the fear and uncertainty among whites, who although are in the minority, own most of the land.
They have also brought to the fore the fear and uncertainty among whites, who although are in the minority, own most of the land.
Scores of people, some of them dressed in EFF regalia began arriving in the early morning in preparation to make their submissions.
However many appeared star-struck, always beginning their oral submissions by heaping praise on the EFF leader.
Many were oblivious to the fact that Malema was there in his capacity as MP and committee member as seen in how they expressed their appreciation to him for ‘bringing government’ to hear their views.
Others credited Malema and the EFF for having forced the debate on the constitutional changes to become a reality.
This was often followed by chants of Juju! Juju! in praise of Malema who smiled occasionally to acknowledge the chants.
Some reserved their ire and humour for Congress of the People leader Mosioua Lekota, accusing him of opposing the proposed changes in order to protect his wine farm in the Cape.
While the hearings are mainly focused on amending Section 25, participants who came mostly from Limpopo’s rural villages used the platform to raise a wide range of issues from harassment by mining houses, denial of access to ancestral graves on white owned farms to detention of livestock.
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, We Have Been Here Before
Northern Cape — To the uninformed eye, they look like ordinary little rocks. Jutting out across an area no more than 70m in length and 10m in width, their seemingly haphazard positioning makes gauging their number difficult.
But these are not ordinary little rocks. They are nameless gravestones, marking the lives and deaths of some of the Northern Cape’s Nama inhabitants.
Located outside Steinkopf, a coloured area — or “reserve”, as it is referred to here — the graveyard, local resident Jakobus Cloete estimates, has been there for more than 200 years.
Along with other Northern Cape residents who made their way to the town hall in Concordia, Jakobus Cloete was one of many farmers who attended the Northern Cape’s first public hearing on land expropriation without compensation.
The hearing was held in Concordia, near Springbok in the Namaqualand area, and forms part of national hearings on a review of Section 25 of the Constitution — which addresses property ownership — to make it possible for the state to expropriate land “in the public interest without compensation”.
Years of exposure to the harsh Northern Cape sun has weathered Jakobus’s face, making him look older than his 65 years. But what his face lacks in youth, his eyes more than make up for. 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.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces mandated the joint constitutional review committee to review this section of the Constitution. More than 700 000 written representations on land expropriation were submitted by the public.
With an equal measure of pride and fear, Jakobus says: “My agter-agter-kleinkind is die elfde geslag wat nou op hierdie land is [My great-great-grandchild 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 government-sponsored 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 and 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 for “about five years” on the communal land that has been in his family for generations.
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.
Northern Cape — AfriForum’s Ernst Roets calls the process an attempt by the government “to take more land and not give people land”.
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 300 000 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 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, Things Fall Apart
Northern Cape — 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 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 voete vas. Hy het ons voorgeslagte hier gesit [Our lives are almost over. But we cling to God’s feet. 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, The Dead Living
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.
Northern Cape — Dressed in 7cm-high lace-up boots, faux-leather tights and flashing a gold-tooth-capped smile, Ipeleng Makae would hardly be considered a poster child for farming. But her girl-about-town image is a deceptive one.
In a car park outside the Kimberley City Hall, the 35-year-old is applying makeup as she prepares to make an oral submission to the joint constitutional review committee on whether Section 25 of the Constitution should be amended to allow for the expropriation of land “in the public interest without compensation”.
The Kimberley hearings — the final leg in the Northern Cape’s hearings after those in Concordia, Upington and Kuruman — form part of national hearings on section 25, which addresses property ownership. Earlier this year, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces mandated the committee to review this section. More than 700 000 written representations on land expropriation were submitted by the public.
‘Change this thing’
Makae’s argument is simple: “Anything written by a person can be changed by a person. So, for me, I want this thing changed.”
Introduced to farming by her grandfather and father, Makae says she “grew up with it; with that passion for farming”.
Seeing the unemployment around her in Kamden, about 50km from Kuruman, the married mother of three began farming on her own in 2014 “so that I can put something on the table at my place for my family”.
Unable to afford a decent-sized piece of land, Makae farms in her back yard. “It’s small-small; not so big. But we can do something on it,” she says of the area on which she grows spinach, onion and beetroot.
She uses her yield in her catering business, supplies vegetables to schools and Kamden’s resi- dents pay “R10 a bunch of spinach”.
But it is her frustration about not being able to expand her business that has brought her to Kimberley to address the committee.
“We have a lot of issues,” she says of small-scale farmers. “We don’t have our own farm so we can’t go to the bank and ask for a loan to start a business. So, for me, this thing [Section 25] must be amended.
“You know,” she says, pauses and adds: “No, I don’t want to say this, so let me keep quiet.”
Then, changing her mind, she continues: “The whites, nè, the whites take our belongings. They took this land from our grandfathers, so it is a very big problem for us, because we can’t do anything. Can’t even get a loan from a bank. When you don’t have land, you have nothing. When you have land, you have something. You can do anything there.
“This continent is Africa. We are African. The African people must have it.”
‘Expropriation will be chaos’
Makae was one of 12 women who were part of Kedinametse Maluleke’s goats project, which aims to assist young women to become successful farmers.
Driving from the Thabiso Moorosi Centre — where the Kuruman leg of the hearings took place — to her communal farm in Kamden, 46-year-old Maluleke says she has been farming since her mid-20s.
Like Makae, Maluleke was introduced to farming by her grandfather and father. “My father had cattle and goats and we used to help him after school and during school holidays. I really enjoyed it as a child. I loved milking the cows.”
It was after finishing her matric and having “nothing to do” that she turned this love into feeding her family.
“I have to pay school fees but I don’t have R20 000 to pay, so I have to go to the cattle. Every time I need money, I go to the cattle. The cattle, the goats, they help us,” she says.
Establishing the goats project, she says, was a way of empowering young women in the area. “We were just housewives, so we were just at home not doing anything. [But with farming] we could make a living.”
Despite the project no longer being in existence — largely because of a lack of funding — Maluleke says she is pleased that four of the project’s 12 women are still farming. “The others,” she says, “are working at the mines or for government.”
The decision of the majority of these women to jump ship for more stable jobs should come as little surprise, given the difficulties they face — not least of which is the drought in the province, now in its fourth year.
The tiny reservoir near the farm’s entrance is a little more than a quarter of its total capacity.
“But still they become thin because they are not eating well,” Maluleke adds, referring to the problem of overgrazing. This, she says, is as a result of “other farmers having the cattle graze on the land. We’ve tried speaking to the authorities about this but nothing is being done. We need more land.”
Desperate as she may be for more land, Maluleke does not want it to come through land expropriation without compensation.
“I’ve got a fear of what happened in Zimbabwe. I condemn this thing of pushing people out without compensation. I rather say, ‘put some land restitution measures in place’. [Expropriation] will be difficult and there will be chaos. This thing is just for the politicians. Poor people like us who are down, down, down, we will not benefit,” she says.
“During August, September, October, we struggle. The water goes down. So every day we have to take the bakkie and drive about 30km to get 50 litres of water to give to the cattle.
Taking land ‘is ’n ander ding’
The eight years spent farming in the Northern Cape’s harsh sun has yet to show on 28-year-old Aysha Samiullah’s face. A communal farmer on a two-hectare piece of land about 200km from Upington, Samiullah says the shortage of land is her biggest difficulty.
“Ons het meer grond nodig. Jy kan nie voortgaan met jou boerdery nie. Jy kan nie vorentoe gaan nie. Die diere is te veel vir die grond waarop jy boer [We need more land. You can’t continue with your farming. You can’t move forward. The animals are too many for the land that you farm on],” she says.
Like Maluleke, the possibility of getting this much-yearned-for land by expropriation does not sit well with her.
“Dis ’n ander ding, daai. Om iemand te ontein van die grond wat miskien van sy voorouers is en hy kry nie betaling vir dit nie. Dis mos nie goed nie [It’s another thing, that. To take away someone’s birthright that perhaps comes from his forefathers and he doesn’t get paid for it. That is not good],” she says.
Samiullah sticks to her passion despite the problems of overgrazing, drought and not being taken seriously as a young women farmer
“As ’n vrou, hulle voel net vroue is nie daartoe in staat om te kan boer nie. Net slegs die manne. En as ’n jong vrou is dit baie moeilik om self te boer. Jy moet daardie challenges net accept [As a woman, they believe that women are not able to farm. Only the men. And as a young woman it is very difficult to farm yourself. You just have to accept those challenges],” she says.
‘Dish out land to women first’
In a June 15 opinion piece for the Mail & Guardian, Fatima Shabodien, director of
ActionAid South Africa, wrote: “If land reform has a chance of success then women, but specifically black women, must
be at the centre of land reform. This is, after all, the biggest demographic.”
Concurring with this sentiment at the Kimberley City Hall, 19-year-old Barkly West resident Motshabi Segopolo made an impassioned oral presentation calling for expropriation without compensation — and for women to be the first to benefit from it.
“We are tired of seeing sisters sell their souls and bodies just so they can feed their families. We are tired of seeing our mothers wake up every single day at 4am, to clean up after madam Helen and baas Jan, running after their ungrateful brats that call us the k-word,” Segopolo said, to rapturous applause.
“Women must be first in line when dishing out land. Because the time for land to be returned is now and the time for women to lead is now,” she said, adding: “How dare you whites come here and threaten violence? But your threats do not scare us. Asijiki.”
‘Expropriate – it’s our land’
For years, Gloria Petersen’s mother begged the farmer who owns the land where Petersen’s grandfather is buried for access to the grave.
After decades of pleading, Petersen and her mother were one day allowed on to the farm in Sydney on Vaal, about 30km from Barkly West. But, Petersen says, “when we went there, we were escorted by a security guard — like we were criminals”.
Years after eventually putting up a gravestone, Petersen wants more than just occasional visits. She wants the land where her grandfather is buried to be in community hands. Part of her vision is to use a section of the land to upgrade young women’s farming skills.
Petersen is a member of a community property association, which put in a land claim “years ago”. But because the claim has yielded no results, Petersen has made her way to the Kimberley hearings to tell the committee why she believes the Constitution should be amended.
Remembering her and her mother’s “years of begging and begging”, Petersen says: “I’m angry.”
Asked to explain this anger, she pauses and then says: “Just put yourself in my position. How can you even ask that?”
‘More or small, we need to farm’
Checking her reflection in a car window one more time before stepping into the Kimberley City Hall to try to convince the committee that the Constitution “written by people” should be changed, Makae says that, whether or not this happens — and she does or doesn’t get her hands on a bigger piece of land — she is determined to pass her love for farming on that “small-small” piece of land to another woman — her daughter.
Not an easy task, she concedes. “She doesn’t like it, this farming thing,” she laughs. “But I tell her: ‘You must like this thing; this thing is what gives you food on the table and helps me pay your school fees.’ I tell her: ‘You must do these things because at the end of the day, the job that you are going to be looking for, you’re supposed to produce a certificate from a university or what-what. But when you have farming, there’s nothing that you need to produce to someone to give you a job. So you, you must like this thing.’ ”
KwaZulu-Natal — Thembinkosi Dwayisa knows all about the expropriation of land without compensation.
Dwayisa, a former newspaper photographer, had to watch as nearly two hectares of his maternal grandfather’s land at Izingolweni in southern KwaZulu-Natal was taken away.
The land, which had been used by the community for almost half a century, was expropriated in 2015 by the Vukuzithathe tribal authority in KwaDlovinga, under which his home, inland from Port Shepstone, falls.
Dwayisa (50) lost the land — which had originally been used by his grandfather, Nqaba Ntobela, for grazing — thanks to a new regulation stipulating that any land that is not fenced, ploughed or built on for three years is forfeited to the tribal authority.
The regulation, introduced several years ago, was implemented by the tribal authority despite an existing arrangement that allowed Dwayisa’s family not to fence the land to give the rest of the inhabitants access to it.
Dwayisa’s land, which had been in his mother’s family for “as far back as anybody can remember”, now houses a community hall and several families from outside the KwaDlovinga area, which falls under Inkosi MaNgcobo Cele. A church has also been given permission to build on the site.
“It’s so painful to see this happening,” Dwayisa told the Mail & Guardian. “This was my grandfather’s land. I grew up knowing that. This was meant to be a treasure that I could pass on to my grandchildren. It is their heritage.
“This was land that was given to my great-grandfather for ploughing and grazing. It has been used by the community, first for ceremonies and later for football, from way back. This new regulation was introduced and that was it: my grandfather’s land was now the property of the traditional authority,” he said.
Dwayisa said the family was not given any formal notification that the land was being given to a third party.
“It’s just the way it is. The municipality moved in and built the hall. People came and built their houses. There’s a church building there now. Just like that,” he said.
Dwayisa and other KwaDlovinga residents attended the public hearings held by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee on the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill in Port Shepstone.
Although the hearings were held to address issues about the reopening of the land claims process, Dwayisa addressed the meeting about people’s lack of security of tenure, asking the government to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Dwayisa told the meeting, chaired by the parliamentary committee’s deputy chairperson, Pumzile Mnguni, that, even though he supported development, steps had to be taken to secure the land tenure rights of people living on tribal land.
If this did not happen, he said, history would repeat itself and the children of rural people would again be forced to migrate to the cities because they had nowhere to live.
“We understand that this forum is about land restitution,” Dwayisa told the M&G, “but we are desperate that we raise this issue around security of tenure. We have to.”
“It’s ironic,” he said. “People are talking about expropriation without compensation in theory. Those of us living in rural areas, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, know all about expropriation without compensation. It is already happening to us all over. Our land is being taken away and sold to other people and we are not given even a cent.”
KwaDlovinga, like the nearly three million hectares of rural KwaZulu-Natal administered by traditional authorities, falls under the Ingonyama Trust, of which King Goodwill Zwelithini is the sole trustee.
The trust, set up in 1994, is run by the Ingonyama Trust Board, which issues permission-to-occupy certificates and leases. People who live on this land do not have security of tenure, an issue highlighted by the report of Parliament’s high-level panel on accelerating transformation, which recommended amending current legislation to allow the individual right of tenure.
“We are not fighting with isilo [the king] or the Ingonyama Trust,” Dwayisa said. “We respect them. We respect the amakhosi and all our traditional institutions. We were born and bred here and grew up here, but something has to be done to protect our rights to land and to give us security of tenure.
“In my case, if we had a title deed, nobody could have taken the land away, fenced or not. If we had a title deed, the municipality would have compensated us for our land if they needed it,” he said.
“It’s very hurtful to think that this is happening to me and other people in this community and elsewhere, more than 20 years after we achieved democracy. It’s so ironic that this is happening under our own government that we voted for. It’s sad,” Dwayisa said.
The demand for land had increased in KwaDlovinga and other parts of Izingolweni because of the improved water and electricity supply and the opening of a regional shopping mall a few years ago. “There’s a lot of development that has taken place at Izingolweni since the plaza opened. There are big stores here now, so people are moving here from other areas for jobs and want to build houses. There is more and more pressure on this land. If it continues in this way, there will be nothing left for us to leave to our children,” he said.
“We don’t have any problem with the area being developed. We support this. But it can’t be happening in the way it is because we will end up with nothing.”
After following an imbizo in January, Inkosi Cele had increased the fee per plot for local residents from R650 to R1 050. Residents from outside the area wanting land on which to build are charged R1 550, Dwayisa said. Despite this, nobody had any form of security over their land.
“We are seeing people building expensive houses here. Others are making very serious extensions and additions but nobody has any security of tenure. You can never sell a property at market value because there is no title deed,” he said.
The lack of a title deed has made it impossible for him to use his remaining hectare and a half of land and houses as collateral for a bank loan to start up a business after he was retrenched.
“It is a big frustration. One has property, but the banks are not interested unless you have a title deed.” he said. After the January imbizo, he and other residents had approached the Ingonyama Trust Board and the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs to intervene.
“We believe that what is happening here is not right. We have approached the traditional affairs department and were told this week that there will be a meeting to address these issues within two weeks,” he said.
“I can’t believe that we are facing this so many years into democracy,” Dwayisa said. “This was meant to be one of the first priority issues, if not the first, that our new government should have dealt with.”
If the Ingonyama Trust Board were to mount a court challenge to Parliament’s attempts to reform tenure rights on land the trust controls in KwaZulu-Natal, it might be a “blessing in disguise”, as it would put the matter before the Constitutional Court for a definitive ruling.
This is according to ANC MP Pumzile Mnguni, the deputy chair of Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee, who told the Mail & Guardian that a court-ordered solution might be “all the better”.
“If there were to be an unfortunate situation where any of the key parties — the department [of land reform and rural development], the presidency, the ITB [Ingonyama Trust Board] — were to take the other to court, it could be a blessing in disguise,” Mnguni said.
“The Constitutional Court would be much more objective than any of the parties concerned and it would make a landmark ruling now as to what are the rights of people, in particular in terms of the Bill of Rights,” Mnguni said.
“The court would be the final arbiter… it is a very mindful custodian of the Constitution in terms of people’s rights in our secular state.”
The ITB and King Goodwill Zwelithini have threatened to go to court to stop the recommendations of Parliament’s high-level panel from being implemented. The panel, in a bid to remove legislative obstacles to improving people’s quality of life, said that the ITB should be phased out to give security of land tenure to rural dwellers. Parliament is now acting on the recommendations of the panel, chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, which has sparked a fierce backlash from the ITB, the king and the province’s traditional leaders. The monarch has called an imbizo for July 4 to discuss the way forward and has previously called on residents of tribal land to contribute R5 each to a fund for legal fees for a court challenge.
Mnguni was in KwaZulu-Natal for public hearings in Ulundi and Port Shepstone on the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, a private members’ Bill that he brought before Parliament. The Bill would reopen the land claims process, allow for the creation of a full-time Land Claims Court and make submitting a fraudulent land claim a criminal offence.
Mnguni said the high-level panel’s recommendations had been referred to a series of portfolio committees to consider, including social development, land and education.
Although the recommendations “need not be the final position”, they gave guidance and options to Parliament about what needed to be done, he said. The committees were in the process of considering them.
Mnguni said certain aspects of the ITB might prove in court to be inconsistent with the Constitution or, because of the passage of time, might be “outmoded”.
“People are wanting to be emotional about it, but we need to say that it has to be consistent with all other statutes of finance and rural development. It needs to adjust and adapt,” she said.
“I find nothing about taking away the king’s customary and traditional leadership role [in the panel’s recommendations], but insofar as the issues of land, education and health [are concerned], that is the duty of a secular state.’’
Mnguni said that, although the committee had expected a hostile response given the tensions over the ITB, it was “excited” about people’s positive reactions to the reopening of the land claims process.
“I am aware that, on the land question as a whole, the meeting was addressing the specific issue of restitution. I am not so sure as to what the responses will be as to the rest of the land redistribution and governance matters,” she said.
Regarding land tenure for tenant farmers and people living on farms, public hearings had been held in the province as part of the process of passing amendments to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1998, which had “a lot of glaring weaknesses and loopholes”.
The Act had been passed in the National Assembly and would be considered by the National Council of Provinces this semester, he said.
Tenure on communal land, including land under the ITB, remained a “thorny issue” that “needs to be visited”.
“The issue needs a high level of leadership and a high level of wisdom. It cannot be that one kind of leadership should impose itself on the other. There must be a rapport between the traditional leadership and the democratic dispensation so as to ensure that the traditional leadership has the backing of communities in the decisions they take,” he said.
“This is not an issue of contention. Tempers need to quiet down. This is an issue for mutual co-operation and for collaboration,” Mnguni said.
Parliament’s constitutional review committee would also visit the province next month to take in the public’s views on the process of expropriating land without compensation.
He said the governing party largely believed that this could be achieved without amending the Constitution but by creating a law of general application to allow for acts of expropriation.
“We need to pass this and then expropriate according to this Act,” he said.
“We need to expedite access to land but in a manner that does not compromise economic activity and the gross domestic product of the country. Expropriation should be one of the tools being considered for undertaking land distribution… to ensure that people have access to land should continue to unfold.”
Songstress Letta Mbulu’s 1990s hit Not Yet Uhuru playing softly on the PA system during lunch at the Marble Hall Town Hall summed up the views expressed by many people during public hearings into proposed changes to Section 25 of the Constitution.
The Limpopo leg of the hearings got under way in the farming town on Wednesday. A huge crowd of mainly young and old people packed the hall. Others had to be accommodated in a tent in the grounds.
If anything, the hearings brought to the fore the deep-seated anger and desperation felt by black people, many of whom expressed resentment about their privileged white compatriots’ continued hold on most of the land.
On the other hand, white people used the platform to express their fear and uncertainty about what they believe will lead to loss of individual property rights and threaten food and job security in the agricultural sector.
“If you take away my farm, I lose my work, my house, my pension,” said a man, expressing the fears of his fellow white farmers.
One farmer, who introduced himself only as Malan, blamed the government for failing to implement the constitutional requirements to speed up land reform, arguing that Section 25 should not be changed because it did not impede land restitution and reform.
Michiel Pretorius, dressed in the traditional farmer’s uniform of khaki shirts, shorts and woollen socks stood nervously outside the hall flanked by his family. He works on a farm in Marble Hall, which employs more than 500 people, the majority of whom are black. He farms 360 hectares of citrus fruit, 120 hectares of cotton and 60 hectares of grapes. He also fears losing his farm and blames the government and political parties for trying to win votes by stirring up emotions about the land issue.
Pretorius says that, although there is fear among his colleagues, he has heard no talk of bloodshed and he is not thinking of leaving the country, regardless of the outcome of the land debate. “This is South Africa. I was born here. I have lived here all my life. I am not going to leave.”
Elias Makofane, who introduced himself as “a military veteran without a piece of land”, said Parliament should try to address the fears of white people, arguing that they were not necessarily opposed to the proposed amendment but were afraid because there were no guarantees that their land will not be expropriated without compensation.
“Let us share [the land],” he said.
In the main, the hearings exposed the deep racial divide that continues to simmer on the ground, especially around farming towns such as Marble Hall.
It also exposed the indifferent attitudes of white people to acknowledge what President Cyril Ramaphosa defined as “the original sin” of land dispossession.
“Parliament must tell us, when are you arresting them [white people] or when are they leaving?” Johannes Tshego said in his submission to roars of approval from the crowd made up mainly of black people.
But it appeared that many did not understand the purpose of the hearings. Some people vented their feelings about a wide range of issues, including unemployment, employers who locked up workers in factories, a son fired from his job at a furniture shop, and a settlement whose streets are flowing with raw sewage.
Committee chairperson Vincent Smith had a difficult task to maintain order, reprimanding those who booed at mention of the proposed changes and used inflammatory language. But more than that, he was pushed to keep reminding the audience that their submissions should answer the question on whether section 25 needed to be changed.
Seemingly frustrated by some of the submissions, Smith told the Mail & Guardian that the committee had made efforts to educate people about the purpose of the hearings. He said they had sent advance teams to explain the submission process.
The town boasts a thriving agricultural sector. Cotton, citrus and tobacco are the main crops. The vast majority of farmers and owners of commercial land are white people, and the majority of black people are crammed into informal settlements and tribal trust land surrounding the town.
Echoing Mbulu’s lyrics that nothing has changed materially for black people, most of the participants explained that they lived in shacks and had no access to land. People and nongovernmental organisation representatives drew attention to the skewed patterns of land ownership.
Vasco Mabunda, of the Nkuzi Development Association, warned that there would be no peace in the country if the land issue was not addressed.
In Mokopane, on Thursday, thousands of people packed the Ayob Toob Hall to express their feelings. Long queues formed as early as 8am for people to register and enter the hall. Proceedings were slightly delayed when the hall was full and those left outside tried to force their way in.
The racial economic divide was clearly apparent, with scores of black people arriving in buses and minibuses, whereas the dozens of white farmers turned up in their 4x4s.
Speaking in Afrikaans, Valerie Byleveldt threatened “the biggest revolution South Africa would ever see” if Parliament went ahead with the constitutional changes. And Morné Mostert of minority rights groupAfriForum laid the blame at government’s door, saying it owned a great deal of land but was unable to distribute it adequately.
“There is nobody who owns land. Not even the king,” Tsietsi Motsoane’s declaration booms over the crowd in Ferdie Meyer Hall.
The 62-year-old — whose giant hands shake as he speaks — is one of the first to address the parliamentary committee during the public hearings into land expropriation without compensation in Welkom on Tuesday. He has lived in the ‘city of traffic circles’ for 30 years.
The hearing forms part of national hearings on a review of section 25 of the Constitution — which deals with property rights — to make it possible for the state to expropriate land “in the public interest without compensation”.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces resolved to mandate the joint constitutional review committee to review this section of the Constitution. More than 700 000 written submissions forms from the public were made.
“The land belongs to the people. Not any individual owns the land. People own property, not land,” Motsoane continues.
The packed hall applauds in agreement.
Despite its high ceilings — which are adorned with nine old-fashioned chandeliers — the hall overflows with sound.
The faint echoes of struggle songs creep into the drafty room from outside as three representatives from the Khoisan royal house sit steely-eyed, facing the committee.
The crowd is overwhelmingly on the side of amending Section 25, so much so that when a speaker opposes it, the room clamours to quiet them.
Representatives from AfriForum and AgriSA are among those who disagreed with the general sentiment in the room. They customarily raise the issue of “Eskom” — the state-owned energy supplier — as an example of the state’s failure.
“You cannot borrow money without the collateral,” says Free State farmer Johan Van Der Walt enigmatically.
“People here will speak things that you like and things that you don’t like,” the hearing’s chair advises a jeering crowd.
Many who address the hall first salute the Economic Freedom Fighters — represented in Welkom by the party’s chief whip Floyd Shivambu — for advancing the land issue in Parliament.
At one point, a large cohort of burly white men stand up, pushing their plastic chairs out of the way begin to stream out.
One, who asked not to be named, says he has heard enough. “This is taking too long.”
Mpumalanga — A pylon towers over the grave of Langwane Jandluma Makhanya on a sugarcane farm in Ten Bosch.
His son, 93-year-old Mthakathi Simon Makhanya, wanted to tell the parliamentary joint constitutional review committee in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) about how the loss of land led to the heartbreak that eventually caused the deaths of both his parents.
He also wanted to say how his family was plunged into a life of poverty, misery and deprivation after they were forcefully removed from their land in 1954.
But Makhanya was too sick to travel to Mbombela for the public hearings on July 2. Instead, he went to hospital and sent his son, Musa, to present his case to the committee, which was conducting public hearings into proposed amendments to section 25 of the Constitution in Mpumalanga and Free State this week.
On Tuesday, a day after Musa delivered his father’s message to the hearings, Makhanya stood teary-eyed over the grave of his father.
His eyes wandered around the landscape of Lilly Pond farm, where sugar cane stretches as far as the eye can see, covering the land in a blanket of green.
He recalled an incident back in the late 1990s, when the family visited the farm after lodging a claim to the 400 hectare property with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.
They were driving around in search of Langwane’s grave when one of his sons banged on the top of the bakkie, signalling the driver to stop. He had seen what appeared to be an apparition dressed in a white robe floating near the pylon. It later transpired that this was the exact spot where Langwane lies buried.
“I am really sad. But, when I’m here, I feel very strong,” said Makhanya.
He casts his cataract-glazed eyes into the distance, looking into the past, a blissful time when more than 100 head of his family’s cattle and goats grazed on the fertile land. He smiled to himself. Sweet memories of a yesterday long gone have not left him.
“My father’s cattle grazed all over this place. They were so many he employed three grown men to look after them,” he said with pride.
But memories of the injustice have ruined the sweetness. In 1954, earth-moving equipment and government trucks violently ended the peace on the Makhanya farm. They were forcibly removed and dumped in the bush 50km away to the south, near the border with Swaziland.
They ended up on tiny plots in a new area called Masibekela and were not allocated farming land. This forced many of them to work for a pittance as labourers on farms that once belonged to them but were now owned by whites.
The intense sadness he feels is expressed in the deep frown on his dark ebony face that is lined with a neatly cropped, snowy moustache.
“They just dumped us in the bush. We had nothing. It was just a bush with wild animals and snakes. We could not plough because they just cut up this land into small pieces and said we must build our own houses,” he said.
As a result of the loss of his family land, he found work herding cattle on different farms. His mother, Mevase Sibuyi, who had never been sickly, did not stop crying after the loss of their land and died in a hospital in Pretoria in 1962. The family never got to bury her.
Musa has recently discovered she was given a pauper’s burial in Mamelodi West.
This has also weighed heavily on Makhanya over the years.
But it was not the first tragedy. In 1938, all the family’s livestock was killed by government officials when there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Devastated by the turn of events, Langwane spent most of his days sitting in the shade staring at the spot where his wealth lay buried in a mass grave. His health deteriorated until his death in 1945.
Makhanya said that, although Parliament enacted the Restitution of Land Rights Act in 1994, it has not helped his family to recover their land or have their dignity restored. He hopes that, if section 25 is amended, it could help him to get his land back before he joins his ancestors in their eternal sleep.
“The whites never bought this land. After 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.
The hearings in Mpumalanga this week and Limpopo last week exposed the deep pain of rural people who suffer human rights abuses as tenants on white-owned farms or under the yoke of traditional leaders who are battling with municipalities for control of land.
The committee heard harrowing accounts of white farmers who refused farm tenants and people who were forcibly removed from land under apartheid access to ancestral graves, many of which have been desecrated by the farmers.
It also heard how coal-mining companies in the Mpumalanga Highveld are waging a war of terror, demolishing homesteads, polluting water sources and violating tenure rights.
In the real world, the inequality between white and black people remains a glaring reality but in the hearings the battle for land forced wealthy white farmers to sit next to and line up alongside poor, landless farmworkers and people who live in shacks. Skin colour and social status had no bearing on the proceedings.
Limpopo — Vincent de Agrella was among the few white people who participated in the hearings. On Saturday, he sat nervously among a crowd of mainly black people, who expressed their anger and resentment against whites and their hatred of Jan van Riebeeck and the three ships that landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.
He said it was the first time he had attended such a public forum and, although it was nerve-racking, it was an eye-opener and made him aware of the anger brewing among landless black people.
De Agrella and his family bought the Adam’s Apple hotel near Makhado (Louis Trichardt) in 1998. In 2005, the farm became the subject of a land claim. De Agrella and the claimants entered into negotiations and agreed that he could lease the land on which the hotel is built. Part of the deal is that he trains local youths. He wishes to expand the operation but he has not been able to make any progress because the land claim remains unresolved.
De Agrella told the committee that he agrees that all the country’s citizens have a right to land but argued that amending the Constitution would not address the issue of land hunger because the government is already sitting on land that it has failed to distribute.
He blamed corruption, the lack of urgency by the Commission on Restitution for Land Rights and lack of political will for the slow pace of land restitution and reform.
Mpumalanga farmer Johan Holtzhauzen said his family is in the process of transferring 111 hectares of land to the six black families who live on his farm. He said that, although he recognises the importance of restitution, he is opposed to expropriation without compensation because it would make it impossible for existing and startup farmers to get financial support if individual property rights are not protected.
The hearings have also brought to the fore the uneasy tension that exists between residents and traditional leaders. In both Limpopo and Mpumalanga, traditional leaders said that, although they support the motion, they wanted land transferred to them rather than to the state or individuals.
Sililo Mahlangu, a senior representative of the AmaNdebele nation under King Mabhoko III, told the committee in Mhluzi in Mpumalanga on Wednesday that the government has failed to fulfil promises made by Nelson Mandela that land would be restored to traditional leaders. It was the amakhosi’s view that the people who were dispossessed of land were under the leadership of traditional leaders and therefore the land should be restored to them.
But many people, especially youths, said individual families should be given the title deeds and not the amakhosi.
A participant in the hearings in Thohoyandou summed up the growing opposition to traditional leaders and their role in land ownership by questioning why they were continuing to sell tribal land.
He said commoners are caught in the crossfire between the amakhosi, politicians and the government. He also questioned why chiefs are charging people who want land for business exorbitant amounts and why there is no accountability for the money raised by selling land.
Resentment about this has been brewing for years. Maskanda music legend Phuzekhemisi captured this collective ire of rural folk in his 1992 hit Imbizo. In it he questions why traditional leaders are forcing people to pay annual tribal levies.
The hearings also provided insight into how izinyanga, sangomas and herbalists, who rely on plants to cure people, are affected. Studies have shown that the majority of black South Africans rely on traditional medicine.
Sangoma Fikile Kunene said she supports expropriation and hopes it will help to resolve the difficulties faced by many of her colleagues who want access to sacred sites, which are on privately owned land. Owning land would also afford traditional healers the opportunity to grow the plants, she said.
The hearings are also serving as a barometer for political parties to gauge their support. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which appears to have done more groundwork than the other parties to prepare its supporters for the hearings, resonated with many of those who attended, with both young and old pledging their loyalty to party leader Julius Malema, who is a member of the parliamentary committee. Some of the elders became emotional, telling the committee they never thought they would ever get to see Malema in the flesh.
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota, who clashed with Malema in Limpopo, has had a torrid time, and many people have accused him of selling out his principles and black people by joining ranks with white-aligned political parties and farmers’ organisations that oppose expropriation without compensation.
The ANC, which didn’t have much of a presence in the Limpopo leg of the hearings, enjoyed huge support in Mpumalanga.
The Democratic Alliance also had a presence among black youths, who appeared to be more interested in the free blue T-shirts and the party’s sponsored meals at lunchtime than in the deliberations.
But if the sentiments expressed during the hearings are anything to go by, it appears the EFF and Malema, who was even compared with the biblical leader Moses by one speaker, have won the hearts of many land-hungry black people, who hope they can deliver on the promise of restoring land to them.
Lefa Moshouyane would not leave the Ferdie Meyer Hall until the very end of Tuesday’s proceedings. He says he wanted to hear what every person had to say because “this is very important. This is a burning issue.”
Moshouyane was among the first to address the constitutional review committee at the Welkom leg of the land hearings in the Free State — his slight figure appearing shrunken under the hall’s high ceiling, incongruously adorned as it was with nine crystal chandeliers.
The 62-year-old, like many others in the seemingly endless line of people eager to have their say, expressed his support for the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. Moshouyane’s plea before the committee was forthright: “I want my land back.”
This was the overwhelming sentiment in the packed Ferdie Meyer Hall, which, despite its staggering size, overflowed with the sounds of approval — applause, whistling, ululations.
Inevitably, dissent expressed by a relatively small cohort of white farmers caused the room to at times collectively rise from plastic chairs in protest. But a second rift in the hall was exposed by the floor’s preoccupation with local political squabbles.
The divisive character of Matjhabeng municipality mayor Nkosinjani Speelman, decked out in an ANC blazer, quickly became a target of the region’s waning confidence in the governing party.
Braving the ire, he declared to the committee: “The dignity of the black people will not be restored until the land is given back.”
But over his submission hung the Economic Freedom Fighters’ recent motion of no confidence in Speelman and the municipality’s R2-billion debt to Eskom and Sedibeng Water.
Igor Scheurkogel, the founder of community organisation the Power of One, lambasted the mayor’s “failures”, to a chorus of incredulous heckling and laughter.
Unmoved by the waves of agreement and dissent sweeping through the crowd, Moshouyane sat listening, his greying beard slightly tilted towards the sky.
Despite occupying a small room in his cousin’s house on the edge of Thabong township, Moshouyane, a musician, regularly refers to himself as homeless — as the memory of lost familial land has frustrated his sense of belonging. “They say a rolling stone gathers no moss,” he jokes after the hearing.
A member of the Barolong clan, Lefa’s grandfather Petros Moshouyane came to own a piece of land between Excelsior and Thaba ’Nchu — a small town east of Free State’s capital, Bloemfontein.
His family, Moshouyane says, were driven off their land by white farmers. “If you go there now, the farm is still named after us. All the people there, they will tell you, they still call it after the name of our ancestors,” he says. “When the grandchildren pass by the land, they point and say to their friends, ‘This used to be our ancestors’ land.’ ”
He recalls stories of how his father, Mere Piet Moshouyane, became politicised through his friendship with Dr James Sebe Moroka, a descendant of the Moroka chieftains in Thaba ’Nchu.
Officially established in 1873, the population of Thaba ’Nchu grew following the 1913 Natives’ Land Act, which confined chiefdoms to small reserves.
Moroka was involved in the resistance against the 1936 Natives Trust and Land Bill, which sought to limit black ownership of land outside the reserves.
Mere Piet Moshouyane’s participation in local resistance to the laws, his son says, saw him forced by the authorities to Paarl in the Western Cape, where Lefa and his siblings were born.
Moshouyane senior joined the Azanian People’s Liberation Army, then known as Poqo, the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress. In 1962 Poqo was implicated in an armed uprising in Paarl, though Lefa Moshouyane doesn’t mention this. The family, he says, moved to Kuruman in the Northern Cape in 1964.
A favourite of his father and his last living son, Lefa Moshouyane insists Mere Piet was poisoned and killed two years later for fighting to regain his land.
“He fought for freedom, but that freedom was never found… I’m not free, because I don’t have anything; I don’t have land, I don’t have a house,” Moshouyane says, motioning to the cramped room he sleeps in. “What freedom can I claim if my situation is like this?”
Of the new guard advancing the call for land, Moshouyane is sceptical. “You cannot say the EFF can do this because they have never been in power. But I will give credit to them for fighting for what is right.”
Many who addressed the committee during the land hearings in Welkom started by saluting the EFF — represented in the city by the party’s chief whip Floyd Shivambu — for calling for the amendment to section 25 in Parliament.
Though this renewed action has given Moshouyane hope, he seems resigned to an understanding that he will never live on his family’s land.
“It’s not all about me, because I can die tomorrow,” Moshouyane says. “I just want things to happen for the coming ones.”