This beautiful land is your land

Sobering sight: Claimants, traditional leaders and residents patiently wait their turn to be heard at the land reform hearings in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, this week. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Sobering sight: Claimants, traditional leaders and residents patiently wait their turn to be heard at the land reform hearings in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, this week. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Tuesday. Day Two of the public hearings hosted by Parliament’s land reform portfolio committee on the Bill to reopen land claims for people who were dispossessed between 1913 and 1994 is done.

Day One took place in Port Shepstone, with existing claimants, traditional leaders and communities wanting to lodge new claims when the five-year period kicks in turning up to hear about the new legislation.

About 20 people got to address the committee about their problems, their concerns and their hopes for restitution once the new Bill is passed into law later this year. It was kinda cute, all of them seated in a queue in the middle of a hall behind the microphone, waiting to speak.

What they had to say wasn’t so cute though — sad, depressing tales of attempts to restore them to their land gone wrong, hopes for the restoration of their families’ livelihoods and dignity shattered on a wall of bureaucratic failure. Lost paperwork, failed claims, political infighting and greed have ensured that their dreams haven’t been realised.

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These people, who have turned out in their overalls and boots, formal suits and ties, dresses and doeks to listen and to plead their case, are desperate — but they’re driven, refusing to give up. It’s a sobering sight, particularly for somebody like me with no connection to the land.

As far back as anybody on either side of my family can remember, there’s been no relationship with land. Lots of ships and shipyards, factories and concrete, council houses, but no land. No land.

The apartheid regime’s propaganda brochures that tempted my dad, Gerald, to immigrate here in 1976 and drag me along promised sunny skies and beaches for good white Protestants with skills needed to stave off sanctions. There were lots of glossy farms full of white people with suntans, safari suits, small kids and smiles full of even whiter teeth. I didn’t get a farm though. Not even a smallholding. Or white teeth. Maybe I should sue FW de Klerk.

The hearing in Ulundi was much of the same. More people packed into a smaller hall in Unit C, close to the old KwaZulu-Natal Legislative Assembly building. More sad stories of forced removals.

I know the assembly building well. It’s where the Ingonyama Trust Act was signed into law in 1994. The irony of a law that helped to continue their dispossession being signed a stone’s throw away from where they are pleading for the return of their land appears to be lost on the crowd.

I lived in Ulundi and covered the legislature back in the day when Mangosuthu Buthelezi was the feared chief minister of the KwaZulu Bantustan, not just Toya Delazy’s grandfather.

I left Ulundi after some of Toya’s granddad’s heavies — including a former MK cat called Siegfried Bhengu, who was captured and turned — paid me a visit to complain about some nasty things I had written about the president of Inkatha, as it was then known. This was in 1986 or 1987, so things were a little tense. I ignored the first visit. The second came while I was grooving to Ray Phiri and Stimela at a rare concert in the Ulundi Stadium. I got out of Dodge the next morning, taking Bhengu’s promise to kill me and “your friend Khumalo from Denny Dalton with the big mouth” to heart.

READ MORE: Emotions run high at Northern Cape’s first hearing on land expropriation

On to Ndundulu. Photographer Delwyn Verasamy is shooting the Nkwalini valley from above. It’s a beautiful sight. Huge citrus orchards. Sprawling cabbage fields.

An old-timer rolls down the hill. He has one eye missing and, from the way he’s reeling, he’s had a good couple. Clutching a black plastic bag of avocados, the old man makes a beeline for Verasamy, hitches up his pants and demands to know what he’s doing, shooting pictures on land belonging to the Mngomezulu clan.

“Who are you? Who said you can shoot on my land? Give me R20 for beer or voetsek. This is my land.’’

We jump in the car and head for Durban.

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