Land claimants enlist top lawyer

2013-02-08 00:00

THE tiny Nhlanhleni community has a big gun in its corner to help it reclaim land in Wartburg.

Senior counsel Dumisa Ntsebeza, with instructing attorney Njabulo Maseko, are representing 65 families who were allegedly dispossessed of their land in the 1950s.

Ntsebeza is also involved in the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, as counsel for the families of some of the slain miners.

His younger brother, Lungisile, a professor and director of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town, will give expert testimony on behalf of the land claimants.

The community has lodged a claim on portions of Fountainhill Estate, which includes a game reserve, guest lodge and sugar plantation.

Part of the land was previously called Kort Kranskloof; the claimants call it Nhlanhleni.

The matter is before the Land Claims Court and yesterday the presiding judge, Shanaaz Meer, the opposing parties and their lawyers, inspected the farm.

The land owners, through their attorney, Tony Tatham, declined to comment, saying the matter was sub-judice.

Claimants said the owners were apparently offered R15 million for the land, but turned it down.

One of the community leaders, Wilfred Mngadi, said they had lodged their claim in November 1998.

Their families had lived in the area since the 1800s and many of them were forced to move in the 1950s when the area was turned into a farm.

The land was previously under missionaries who had found them there, Mngadi said

“The people were told they would have to work at the farm for six months and another six months they would have to work wherever they choose.

“They did not like being turned into farm labourers and some moved.

“This was forced removals,” said Mngadi.

The land owners have challenged the claim, saying Nhlanhleni was never a community, but its members were in effect labour tenants.

Moreover, their claim had been filed after December 31, 1998, the closing date for land claims.

It is also contended that the land they are claiming is smaller than what was gazetted by the government.

However, Lungisile Ntsebenza disputed these claims.

“We visited the area today. We saw where the people lived, their church, their schools.

“These people were living together and were a community bound together by common beliefs.”

There were emotional moments when a graveyard was visited. The land claimants spontaneously broke into a song, acknowledging the presence of their ancestors.

They thanked the land owners for not tampering with the graves.

• thamsanqam@witness.co.za

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