Land dispute goes back nearly a century

2008-03-28 00:00

A top-level delegation of provincial officials swooped into a remote part of the Berg this week to resolve a

dispute which resulted in the recent deaths of seven people and the destruction of numerous homes. A statement released after the visit declared that “the fighting is over in Bergville”, but that remains to be seen.

The Dikweni area of Bergville is deceptively peaceful, a place of green valleys, children playing in homesteads and young men drinking beer on the verandas of local stores, but a dispute over land dating back to 1918 has made it a place of simmering

tensions.

The Mhlwazini village is in dispute with neighbouring Magangangozi

village.

On Tuesday, 19 men appeared in Bergville Magistrate’s Court in connection with the most recent violence and a delegation of provincial officials, including three KwaZulu-Natal MECs, visited the area to resolve the conflict between the two communities. They met with two rival communities and declared afterwards that a resolution had been reached.

“Both communities have committed themselves to restoring peace,” KwaZulu-Natal Local Government and Housing spokesman Lennox Mabaso said afterwards. “The

community is now on its way to healing.”

A visit to the area last weekend suggested that a path to healing will not be easy.

“I’m telling you there is a war

taking place here. Those who say we have reached a peace settlement are not telling the truth. The police

presence is the only thing that prevents people from attacking each other openly. People are sneaking into their enemies’ homesteads to open fire and burn down houses,” said Mxege Zondo, who is the headman of Mhlwazini village.

Mthandani Zondo, who is the headman of the opposing Magangangozi village also confirmed the fact that there was no peace in the area. In Zulu culture people treat each other with respect and as brothers if they share a surname, but that is not the case with here. They are sworn

enemies.

The fact that they are both

indunas of one inkosi, Menzi Hlongwane, does not ease their relationship.

Mxege said Magangangozi

warriors were looking for his head. On the other side Mthandani reported that he was spending nights in forests and caves up in the mountains after enemies attacked and set his house alight on the morning of March 15.

After talking to both sides it was apparent that there were three contributing factors in the recent

dispute: the snail’s pace of land restitution, the occupation of Magangangozi land by Mhlwazini members and the large number of weapons — including AK47s and R5s — available in the area.

The Magangangozi land issue is said to date back to 1918. There are 47 Mhlwazini families who are occupying the land and Magangangozi warriors want them out, because they want to use it to feed their cattle.

Sharing the history with The Witness, Mxege said their inkosi, Mambazi Hlongwane, who ruled in those years, gave Mhlwazini people the land after the then colonial government evicted them from another area, which is now owned by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

The government gave the land to three stock farmers. Later the same government bought it from the farmers and handed it to the then Natal Parks Board before it became Ezemvelo.

“If Magangangozi people do not want our people to continue occupying their land, we will move. But first Land Affairs must respond to our claim for our land which we made two years ago. Our people must move from Magangangozi land to somewhere where they will settle in peace,” said Mxege.

The land which Mxege is referring to has two well-known holiday resorts — Cathedral Peak and Indumo resort — on it.

“We are not saying that Cathedral Peak and Indumo should move. We love these places because they bring us these white people [tourists], who also buy from our Impumelelo Craft Centre. Our children are mostly employed by those places.

“Ezemvelo has too much land which it does not use. They must give back to us a big enough portion for our people to build their homes, plough their fields and feed their animals,” said Mxege.

However, Mthandani said that what irritates his Magangangozi people is that the number of Mhlwazini families on the disputed land is multiplying.

“They are now occupying the land which it was agreed should be left for livestock. We negotiated this last year but they do not want to stop. We have decided that they had better vacate all our land and leave us in peace. They occupied our land and they are the ones who are attacking and killing our people,” said Mthandani.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife biodiversity director, Bheki Khoza, who is handling the claims, confirmed that there is a claim by the Mhlwazini community. But he said if the settlement is reached, the community will only receive a collective title deed for the land which will continue operating as a game reserve.

“People have this mentality that if their claim to the game reserves is successful they will then move in and build their homes. But that is not the case, because if we allow that, the people who work at the reserves will lose their jobs.

“So the idea is that we give the community title deeds so that they become co-owners of the reserve. But the [Mhlwazini] claim is still with the Land Claims Commission, which keeps updating us about the progress,” said Khoza.

The Department of Land Affairs confirmed this, saying that while there is a valid claim from the Mhlwazini community, and they are soon going to get their land back, they will not be allowed to move on to the land because it is a conservation area.

During a mass meeting held in the area on Tuesday, acting premier Mike Mabuyakhulu promised to repair 15 burned down homesteads. At the same time MEC for Community Safety and Liaison Bheki Cele promised to enforce law and order. He also promised to confiscate all

illegal weapons in the area.

Mabuyakulu also announced that a peace committee will be set up in the area to “ensure that violence never returns”. The committee will be made up of government officials, the police and community members.

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