‘Platinum kings forcing us out’

2011-01-22 17:34

There is fear in the land of Boshoek. There is fear in the hearts and minds of residents like Rosina Motsamai.

Together with at least 100 other owners of plots in this rural farming community, Motsamai (53) lives in constant anxiety of ­being evicted from the land where she was born and lived all her life.

According to residents, the trouble started when the platinum-rich Royal Bafokeng Nation began ­purchasing the plots of land from farmers in 2002.

The plots are situated on land falling under the jurisdiction of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, but for many years before the democratic changes of 1994 the plots were owned by white farmers.

Motsamai comes from generations of black farm workers who were born to farm workers on the farms around Boshoek.
She was born on Plot 99, one of the plots whose occupants are ­under threat of eviction.

Already in 2002 some families were forced to leave their homes ­after officials from the Bafokeng demolished their houses.

Residents say the Royal Bafokeng Nation wants them to move to Phatsima, a desolate RDP settlement about 20km to the north.

But residents like Wilhemina Mosome (53) refuse to leave.

She, too, was born on Plot 99 and both her parents are buried in a cemetery on an adjacent farm.

Mosome’s two unemployed children, Tshepo (27) and Dipuo (26), were also born on the property.

A few years ago the cemetery was fenced off and residents no longer have access to the graves of their ­relatives.

Life in Boshoek is hard. Families like Wilhemina’s have to share a dark, windowless, two-metre by three-metre room.

She shares with her two adult children and husband, Tshweu (57), also unemployed. There is only enough room for a sunken double bed and a crumbling wooden table.

Clothes are piled up in a dark corner.

Cooking is done on a paraffin stove in a makeshift kitchen outside. When it rains, the room also serves as kitchen.

The residents once had a communal tap, but last year Bafokeng officials disconnected it and the electricity to the few houses that were connected, without informing the residents.

Many of the elderly residents cannot get access to social and disability grants because they have no birth certificates, which means they cannot apply for IDs.

The row of rooms which were once painted white but are now an earthy brown is hidden behind tall, thick bush and overgrown grass; perhaps a sign of the despair that has set in among the people.

There are no signs of luxury. Old and young mill about aimlessly during the day with very little to do.

Young and old compete for the odd “piece job” which pays anything from R200 to R350 a week on surrounding farms.
Others, like mother of four ­Basetsana Motsamai (33), survive on social child grants.

Her children, who range in age from seven to 15, attend the local ­Vuka Primary School.

“At least there the children are subsidised by the government.

“They get free books and uniforms and the school fees are low – R20 a month. If we move from here our children will also be in trouble,” Motsamai says.

To an outsider, the conditions here are depressing and somewhat worse than in most RDP settlements. But despite this, it is home to the people of Boshoek – the only home they know and one they are not prepared to part with.

They would, however, also love to see improvement in their living conditions.

They say instead of ­being moved, they should be built RDP houses on the same property or at least somewhere in Boshoek.

“But the Bafokeng do not want to discuss anything with us.

They just want us out of here. What they are doing is no different to what the whites were doing in the past, only they are not using force against us,” says Mosome.

Jankie Monkwe (34), his wife Phatisiwe Grootboom (34), his sister Palesa (22) and her four-year-old son live in a two-bedroomed house built for his mother, Johanna, by her employers.

For as long as they can remember, Johanna worked as a domestic servant in the farmhouse.

Monkwe came to live on the farm with his mother as a four-year-old back in 1980.

Palesa was born there eight years later.

“If they say we must move, then where must we go, because this is our home?

We don’t know any other life except Boshoek.

To move us from here would be like killing us,” says a defiant Palesa.

Monkwe is one of the fortunate few who hold down full-time jobs. He works as a labourer at a platinum smelter opposite the plot.

It is just a 10-minute walk to his work.

He says that were he to relocate to Phatsima RDP location, he would struggle with transport.

Like many other residents, Palesa says a move from Boshoek will also jeopardise whatever chances they have of employment.

Besides the seasonal farming jobs, there is development going on around the main road from Boshoek to Phokeng.

A new road was built just before the 2010 Soccer World Cup, there is a new hotel, a shopping centre and there is word of a new smelter going up soon.

“If we go to Phatsima, then we will be moving away from development. Development is here, not in Phatsima,” says Palesa.

Johanna died in 2007 and her son says she was distressed about the threat of eviction.

“Our people are buried here. In our culture we cannot leave the graves of our people behind.

On some farms the new owners just demolished the gravestones and ploughed over the graves of our people,” says Monkwe.

Community leader Daphney Semakome says the community has been isolated for many years and thus never lodged land claims.

“This is a deprived community. What is happening now cannot go unchallenged. We are prepared to fight this,” she says.

Indeed, most residents here ­never went further than primary school and many others have never been to school at all.

Johanna Tebang (55) remembers a time when, as kids, they were forced to steal oranges and cabbages from the lands on their way to school, which was “very far”.

“We were hungry. In time we just gave up schooling and came to work on the farms. It was a different time because the white farmers used the whip a lot.

I saw a lot of people getting whipped. Now what the Bafokeng are doing to us is like whipping us again,” says Tebang, who shares a room with her two daughters, Dorcas and Mapula, and her grandson, Tshepo.

“I know no other life. At my age, to move will just destroy me. All I know is Boshoek. Even when I walk alone at night, I feel safe because we know each other here.

“We have been together all our lives. Why do they want to break us apart now?”

Basetsana Motsamai sums up the feeling of the residents of Boshoek: “This is our only home and our only hope.”

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