Land claims: Chief vs Subjects

2014-09-07 15:00

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Property association members, the rightful owners of the land, have been forced to flee as inkosi Thandazani Zulu declares free-for-all

Tensions between land claimants and traditional leaders in Ethukuleni near Melmoth, KwaZulu- Natal, have exploded into violence, with four members of the local Communal Property Association forced to flee after their homes were torched by an angry mob, who demanded they leave the area.

Now Ethukuleni Communal Property Association chairperson William Mnyandu (81), his brother Walter and two other association members say their lives will be in danger if they return to the village.

The Communal Property Association won its land claim more than a decade ago. But the inkosi, Thandazani Zulu of the Ethembeni Tribal Authority – under which Ethukuleni falls – publicly accused the claimants of stealing his land and has allowed newcomers to build there.

The newcomers are blaming the association for delays in development and are making it clear they are no longer welcome in the community.

The Communal Property Association members were among several groups of claimants who recently attended a workshop called by the Centre for Law and Society to ensure that existing claimants’ rights were not undermined by the new land restitution process recently re-opened by President Jacob Zuma.

The provincial government this week sent negotiators to the area to try to stop the attacks.

In a statement to land rights advocacy group the Association for Rural Advancement, Mnyandu said relations between the Communal Property Association and the local inkosi had been strained for more than a year.

He said two weeks ago at a meeting the inkosi chaired at Ethembeni High School,

he allegedly called for the Communal Property Association members to leave the area.

After the meeting, Mnyandu’s home was attacked by a group of about 100 people who broke the windows and tried to burn his tractor. He was not at home, but his wife and son were rescued by his brother, Walter, who arrived and fired shots into the air. The group then burned Walter Mnyandu’s shop and looted it and blocked the roads in and out of the area.

After attempts by the local police and community policing forum to solve the tensions, William Mnyandu and other Communal Property Association members attended a residents’ meeting about four days later under police guard.

The meeting turned ugly and police took the four to Melmoth for their safety.

William Mnyandu said he tried to go home last Sunday.

“On my way, my wife phoned me and said that things are very bad at home since she had heard rumours that there was a crowd roaming around that was chanting that I should be killed,” he said. He did not go home.

On Monday, after another meeting at Ethembeni, the homes of both Mnyandu brothers were torched, along with those of other Communal Property Association members.

“It was after this meeting that the crowd came to my house and burnt it down, thereby destroying it completely. They also set fire to my tractor. As a result, I have lost all my possessions, including chain saws, crops and cattle,” he said, adding that he couldn’t think of any reason for the attack other than that some people were opposed to the Communal Property Association.

After the attacks, police arrested several community members, sparking a wave of protests. Residents blocked the R66 and stoned cars on Monday and Tuesday.

On Thursday, William Mnyandu’s home was eerily quiet, the buildings roofless and scorched, charred possessions scattered on the ground. A partially burnt bakkie stood next to one of the houses.

Mnyandu’s neighbours refused to speak, saying City Press should leave the area.

“Nobody from the Communal Property Association can go home. We need to solve this problem because we as the Communal Property Association won the restitution case,” said Mnyandu.

Messages requesting comment from inkosi Thandazani Zulu went unanswered.

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