‘Stubborn old lady’ misses land claim ceremony

The ”stubborn old lady” would have enjoyed sitting in the imposing presence of the grey mountain at the weekend, witnessing her extensive family regain their forebears’ land.

Unfortunately matriarch Blanche Tsimatsima died in 1998 aged 98. She had fought hard in the 1970s to retain her family land at the foot of Thaba Patchoa (grey mountain in Sesotho), near Tweespruit in the eastern Free State.

In the 90s she started the second big battle of her life — to regain the land she was forced to sell in 1974 at a nominal price to a white man. ”She was a stubborn old lady,” school principal Leepile Mompati said of his grandmother Blanche at the weekend.

Mompati was attending a ceremony at which Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Thoko Didiza handed back three Thaba Patchoa farms to the family. It formed part of government’s land reform restitution program.

Mompati, headmaster of a school in neighbouring Thaba Nchu, said he still remembered clearly how Blanche fought in the early 70s to retain their land. He was a young boy. They were well-known commercial farmers who ploughed, and kept cattle.

However, in the end she was forced to sell it in terms of the then apartheid government policy of clearing so-called ”black spots.”

Then, for 20 years, Blanche kept all the necessary records to prove how they had lost the land. In the 90s, after the family had lodged their restitution claim, these records were vital in proving its validity.

Since registering the claim, it took almost 10 years — during which time Blanche passed away — before the land was returned at the weekend. Filling her as position as family head at the ceremony was her daughter, 89-year-old Ellen Khuzwayo.

Didiza hailed Khuzwayo for inspiring her and fellow young political activists in the 80s with her book Call me Woman.

In this book Khuzwayo had told the story of their Thaba Patchoa farms and what it had meant to them. She also wrote that springtime at Thaba Patchoa always gave her hope for a better tomorrow, Didiza said.

The minister called on the two women’s children and grandchildren to ”confirm again the belief that there were commercial farmers among black South Africans.”

Their elders had used their farming income to provide a proper education for their children. They must now likewise use the land’s resources to push away the frontiers of poverty, Didiza said.

Blanche financed with her farming income a proper education for each of her grandchildren, Mompati said, crediting this for his own achievements in life. He pointed to a solid old sandstone building, now being used as fodder store, a few metres from where the handing-over ceremony took place.

”That was the first church and the first school in this area.”

Mompati, his parents, and most of their siblings started their schooling in that former Methodist church building on the farm Tshiamelo. A few metres up the rocky slope is the old sandstone family home, still standing fast after being built by Mompati’s great-grandparents. This was probably around a century ago.

”I cannot say when the house was built,” said Mmutsi Mabokela (70) sister of Ellen Khuzwayo, on Friday.

”What I can tell you, is that our grandparents were born in this house.”

These grandparents were the children of Blanche’s father, Jeremiah Copolang Makghothi and his wife, Segogoane Magdeline.

According to Mmutsi’s memory Jeremiah was given the land by government after the Anglo Boer War for his services during the war. Mmutsi remembered on Friday how her father had exchanged newspapers with a white neighbouring farmer.

”We used to go halfway. Then they (people from the white farm) would meet us there, so that we could exchange papers.”

They exchanged the newspapers the Rand Daily Mail, The Friend and Bantu World, as well as the Farmer’s Weekly magazine. After losing the farms, she and other family members often returned to walk around and show the place to their children and grandchildren.

Now is the first time they can call it their own again. – Sapa

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