European sends a stinging diplomatic rebuke over Mogopa

Twelve European governments yesterday delivered a joint démarche – one of the sternest forms of diplomatic protest – to the foreign ministry in a bid to stall government plans to evict black villagers forcibly from the Western Transvaal community of Mogopa. The unusual protest by European Community members was presented to Foreign Minister Pik Botha’s office in Cape Town late yesterday afternoon by the Spanish ambassador, Federico Garayalde. 

This follows a Supreme Court decision last week to grant the government an order to evict between 60 and 70 people who have been living on the Mogopa farm and restoring their ancestral graveyard. It was feared the court’s ruling would open the way for a repeat of the forced removal of February 1984 in which some 4 000 Mogopa residents were trucked out of their farm. This week a numberof embassy officials and human rights activists visited Mogopa to express their solidarity with the threatened group. 

Peter Ruthman, first secretary at the German Embassy in Pretoria, said: ”The destruction of the Mogopa village in a clandestine night raid showed clearly how the South African government treats peace-loving people who had lived on their land for more than 70 years. It’s cynical and inhuman. It’s an eradication of human rights.” Yesterday’s démarche  was initiated by the West German government. Meanwhile lawyers for the Mogopa community, who have appealed against ‘the court ruling, this week failed to obtain an assurance from the government that they would not evict the grave cleaners until the appeal was heard. 

“Instead of trying to redress the harm done to the Mogopa people by their unlawful action (in 1984), the government seems determined to head into another conflict situation,” the Black Sash’s Transvaal Rural Action Committee said last night. “Mogopa as a symbol of forced removal is again becoming a symbol of international outrage. A simple undertaking by the government not to interfere with the people until the legal process has taken its course would have taken the heat out of the present crisis.”

In court papers to support its application for an eviction order, the government claimed the grave-cleaners had abused official permission for a small group of villagers to live on the land and restore the cemetery. Development Aid Minister Gerrit Viljoen said the agreement had been used by the community to stage a “methodical reoccupation” of the farm. Community leader Daniel Molefe asked the court not to grant the eviction order because the original expropriation of the Mogopa people’s farms in 1984 was invalid. 

Molefe claimed that: Viljoen was also the trustee for the community and by removing the people from their land he had breached his legal responsibility for their welfare. The removal was so unreasonable and carried out in such an arbitrary manner that it suggested the minister was acting in bad faith or with ulterior motives.  “Over the years the Bakwena baMogopa developed into a stable self supporting community. Members of the tribe built homes, schools and churches on the two farms … 

During the Second World War, the tribe raised £600 which it donated to the Union government to assist in the -purchase of an aircraft and members of the tribe served in the South African armed forces,” said Molefe. “It is cold comfort that the second applicant (Viljoen) professes that he has suspended the policy of forced removals and that he has allowed other tribes to reside on their land in otherwise white areas.”

Since their removal Mogopa’s people have been dispersed throughout the western Transvaal. Segments of the community now live at Pachsdraai near Zeerust, Bethanie near Brits and Onderstepoort near Rustenburg. Mogopa community leaders have offered to buy back the farm with money they raised since the removal. This has been refused by the government, which wants the villagers to accept an alternative piece of land.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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Eddie Koch
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