Court ends phoney chief’s land grab

A land grab near Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal went horribly wrong last week when the Pietermaritzburg High Court restrained Jabulani Mdlalose, a pretender to the chieftancy of the Othaka Tribal Authority, from encouraging a land invasion.

Mdlalose also faces three charges of fraud for allegedly selling plots on privately owned farms.

Four families of new homeowners in his housing scheme were evicted from a farm recently. They had been allocated sites on a local farmer’s land and two said they had paid Mdlalose for their properties.

One of the families has moved in with relatives, but the other three were dumped by the roadside.

All complained of being victims of the chiefs’ dispute. Seven Zwane, one of the frustrated homeowners, had no idea where he would live or find grazing for his herd of 31 cattle.

“I am a grade 11 pupil,” said his son, Linda. “I wanted to do computer science in two years’ time. I would have become the first black computer scientist in these farms. But my dreams will be shattered if my father asks us to look after his cattle.”

While the drama of the evictions unfolded, proud new homeowners on the adjacent farm, Wanbestuur, continued laying bricks and roofing their new houses. The farmer had tossed in the towel and the property was repossessed by Landbou Krediet.

Jabulani Mdlalose is the eldest son of the late chief Dalwayini Mdlalose, but his younger brother Johannes Bibi Mdlalose, the family’s fourth-born son, was officially appointed chief in 1995 after his father died.

Jabulani Mdlalose objected and declared his candidature for the top job. By April last year, according to court papers, he was representing himself as the chief and had allegedly sold off prime plots on local farms.

He announced his intentions with a bang in February by firing off a letter to Premier Lionel Mtshali to advise him that the Othaka Tribal Authority would take possession of 18 of 200 farms that had been “given back to us by the former government in 1986/7”.

He was slapped with a restraining order for his efforts, but prior to this his aspirations had grown. Scores of the 200 threatened farmers had joined the court action to prevent Jabulani Mdlalose selling off plots on their properties.

At least 18 families with a few thousand rands and a dream lined up for their share of the pie as the landowners panicked. The owners went to the police, launched court actions and implored the authorities to help. To little avail.

“This whole crisis, and the plight of these families now evicted, could have been averted if police had acted on the original charges of trespassing that were laid by farmers,” said Hans Jurie Moolman, who represented the farmers applying for the high court interdict and recent evictions orders.

Moolman said that though he was encouraged by the recent cooperation from police, he was disturbed that the authorities had not acted sooner.

The authorities only launched their investigations after a meeting on April 1 between concerned farmers and Nkosi Nyanga Ngubane, the provincial minister for local government, traditional affairs, and safety and security, and Narend Singh, then provincial minister of agriculture and environmental affairs.

Bibi Mdlalose told the Pietermaritzburg High Court that his eldest brother’s plan was exposing his people to criminal action for invading land and was devastating their relationships with landowners.

The farmers complained that the government had taken no action to prevent the land invasions, which had begun early last year.

Three farmers had sent letters to the premier. Lawyers for the farmers had also sent letters to the Vryheid senior prosecutor and the director of public prosecutions, advising them that a dangerous situation was developing. Properties were being invaded, they said, by people who had “the impression that authorities will not step in to … protect the rights of owners”.

A police team was set up to investigate the farmers’ complaints. Their inquiry led to the charges of fraud against Jabulani Mdlalose.

His trial was due to begin on recently, but he reported that he had fallen ill. He did attend proceedings at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday to consent to a final order restraining him from encouraging people to invade up to 57 farms in the district.

More than 25 Vryheid farmers had applied for an interdict to prevent the occupation and had asked for an order to prohibit him from claiming to be the chief. In supporting their application, Bibi Mdlalose provided the high court with certification of his appointment.

Jabulani Mdlalose countered with a testament from his dead father and supporting affidavits from his brothers. The intricacies of succession were so involved that the parties agreed to preclude the matter from the final order.

“It’s really not an argument for the high court to preside over,” conceded Moolman.

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