Landless threaten boycotts, invasions

Angry residents in the Northern Province are threatening to take action over delays in land claim settlements, reports Jaspreet Kindra

Land claimants in the Northern Province are threatening to boycott the local government elections, and have joined other claimants across the country in threatening “Zimbabwe-style” invasions.

The disgruntled claimants have found an unlikely ally in the outgoing land claims commissioner for the Northern Province and Mpumalanga, Durkje Gilfillan, who this week criticised the Department of Land Affairs for not prioritising land restitution.

In an emotionally charged meeting of the Land Access Movement of South Africa (Lamosa) held in Jane Furse, a rural town in the Northern Province, last weekend, the community leaders said that, unlike their Zimbabwean counterparts, they had been “too patient”.

The Northern Province claimants have reason to sound unhappy. About 5 500 land claims have been lodged in the province since 1994 but only two have been settled so far. The threats to invade land follow similar warnings by community groups in the eastern and southern Cape who are disgruntled at the state’s indifference to their land claims.

Gilfillan said that while still land claims commissioner she had grappled with a tremendous workload and shortage of staff.
She had been handling more than 6E000 rural land claims in both Mpumalanga and the Northern Province.

“At an average, buying back land in each of the claims will cost three to four million rand - the total cost will run into billions.”

Othniel Phasha, a member of Lamosa’s national board, said in the keynote address at the claimants’ meeting: “It has been more than five years since the country became free but we are still not liberated - as the land is still not ours. About 87% of land is still in white hands.

“They tell us they don’t have money to buy our farms - how does Thabo Mbeki have the money to buy a jet ?” He added that the community in the African National Congress stronghold would boycott the forthcoming local government elections if their claims remained unheard.

Phasha’s is not the lone critical voice.

Patrick Mojapelo (59), representative for the Mojapelo tribe (now settled in Mabooi, outside Pietersburg), has also given up on the government. He has been battling to reclaim the 30 farms taken away from them in the 1930s. “We have no confidence in the government - we don’t want it like that - but nothing has materialised.”

In 1995 white farmers who had settled on two of the farms formerly the property of the Mojapelo - Kalkfontein and Machieskraal, outside Pieterburg - agreed to sell them.

The department, he said, told them it did not have the funds to buy the land. The community, comprising 900 families with 1E000 head of cattle, live off land that can sustain 800 head of cattle.

Their patience is wearing thin. Unemployment is rife. Income from farming land seems to be their only option to supplement any pittance that they make.

According to Mojapelo, the former apartheid government was more sympathetic - the piece of land that they now occupy was returned to them by the former Lebowa government in 1985.

Marc Wegerif, director of Nkuzi Development Association, a land reform support organisation working with the claimants in the province since 1997, said: “Land reform is an issue [the] government has to decide to use as an opportunity or let it remain as a potential threat to their stability.”

Gilfillan said the department should have set aside money for land restitution every year, which it had failed to do. “They should also appoint separate commissioners for the two provinces and a staff of at least 40 to do the fieldwork. One is dealing with largely rural claims in both the provinces - processing these requires a tremendous amount of fieldwork.”

n Gilfillan this week criticised the

department of land affairs for failing to appoint her successor. She said nominations for the position had closed on November 30 last year. Despite having received 14 nominations, she was not called to the interviews which were held on March 24 this year. Her successor has not been announced, and chief land claims commissioner Wallace Mqoqi is likely to run the Northern Province and Mpumalanga offices until an appointment is made. A Ministry of Land Affairs and Agriculture representative said that as far as the position was concerned, Gilfillan has not been shortlisted and the normal selection process was being followed.

Zim crisis: Our wake-up call, PAGE 28

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