Call for peace in the valley

It was monumental tactlessness or spite: the triumphant signing of the settlement agreement last weekend that brought an end to the controversial Mangethe land claim was held next door to the burnt-out remains of the landowner’s community hall.

The hall, built in 1974 with funds donated by the Mangethe farmers, was torched last year, allegedly by illegal land invaders.

The Land Claims Commission appears to believe that the settlement will end the arson and violence that has characterised the Mangethe area for a decade.

But the landowners say the settlement has brought new problems.

The furore started around 1996, when the landowners—most claiming descendance from the legendary “white chief of Zululand”, Scottish trader John Dunn—applied to the courts to have scores of illegal settlers evicted from their sugar farms.

The local tribal chief, Khayalihle Mathaba—a long-standing Inkatha Freedom Party hawk with powerful connections—immediately lodged a land claim. This brought a halt to the evictions but began a protracted land claim characterised by violence and acrimony between the landowners and the claimants.

KwaZulu-Natal land claims commissioner Thabi Shange says the settlement is a landmark in that it marks the end of the bitter row.

The commission has acknowledged the validity of the claim and has agreed to purchase at least 1 100ha with R14-million of state funds. It has already purchased four farms for R7-million and has made an additional R500 000 available as a discretionary grant to assist families in settling on their land. Of the 736ha already acquired, 445ha will be used solely for commercial agriculture.

The function last Saturday was a heavyweight affair, presided over by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Lionel Mtshali, MEC for Welfare Prince Gideon Zulu, MEC for Agriculture Narend Singh, local mayor Makho- sonke Ntuli and Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Dirk du Toit.

Speakers welcomed the end of the battle. Singh was particularly upbeat.

“I have committed my department to assist the community,” he said, “so that the land can be used for upliftment. Where land can be used for agriculture, it should not be settled. Buying the land is just one part of it—the land also needs to be worked.”

The call from all the speakers was for peace in the valley and for the farmers and the successful land claimants to work together for prosperity for all.

But amid the joy there was disquiet.

No representative of the land- owners’ association or the Dunn family attended the ceremony. Matriarch Pat Dunn held a separate press conference at her home after the settlement celebration, in which she gave the reasons why the Mangethe farmers saw no reason to celebrate.

“We do not feel that this settlement has achieved anything—in fact, we are afraid that this is going to be used as an excuse to force us off our land,” she said.

Dunn’s fears run deep. The initial land claim specifically stated that the claimants wanted the Dunn farms. She has not received notification from the commission that this claim has been withdrawn. While a land claim hangs over their heads, the Mangethe farmers cannot raise loans on their properties or make improvements. Also, no squatters may be evicted.

“Thabi Shange makes reference to an ‘open-ended claim’,” she said.

“Does this mean that the land claim against our farms still stands? And what are we supposed to do about the land invaders? It costs an enormous amount of money to evict them. There are huge court costs. And the commission has been unable to tell us which of these invaders belong to the 199 families of claimants and which belong to the 405 illegal squatters.

“The commission doesn’t even seem to know themselves because the numbers are changing all the time. Our hands are tied—we cannot act against the squatters until we get this information.”

A further grievance is that the commission has purchased land for settlement between working farms.

“This land [that the commission has bought] is already fully settled with illegal squatters,” said Dunn.

“Is the government going to evict these people in order to make way for the legal claimants? Or are they just going to let the claimants move on to this land as well? Then we will have a system where a patchwork of farms is interspersed with squatter camps. The agenda of the farmers is different to the agenda of the settlers. They will undertake subsistence farming. This will undermine the integrity of our farming and lead to a reduction in the value of our crops.”

Dunn alleges that chief Mathaba has threatened to use his political power to remove the Dunn families from the land, ostensibly because they do not pay tribal allegiance to him.

“He has told his followers that he did not want the ‘coloureds’ on ‘his’ land and he would make sure that we are chased away,” said Dunn.

There are many elements to the settlement that make the Dunn families think the intimidation and victimisation will now begin in earnest.

Singh said the Dunns should put aside their fears and “come aboard”.

“I make a plea to the landowners to become part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said.

But the bitterness and fear run deep.

“How are we going to be able to farm and make lives for ourselves and our children, when we live surrounded by people who think differently about farming from us?” asked Dunn.

“And when the local leader has told his followers that he wants to chase us out and ‘be chief of Mangethe’? And when he has been given the authority to do just that? What kind of future do the Dunns have to look forward to?”

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