Please treat us better than this

2009-11-07 14:11

THE victims of forced removal are very old now. Their faces are wrinkled, their legs unsteady. They shuffle slowly in the streets of the townships where they were dumped during the hundreds of routine forced removals of the apartheid decades.

They were forcibly taken from places that the National Party governments of Hendrik Verwoerd and John Vorster regarded as exclusive white ­areas in South Africa’s cities and towns in the late 1950s and 1960s.

They were children, teenagers and young adults when the removal lorries arrived. They await death now. They need kieries and frail care and soft food.

And above all, they need fast justice.

The old folks have been pleading for restitution since the turn of the millennium, says Paul Mohokare (61), spokesperson for the organisation Gauteng Land Restitution Claims Committee (GLRCC), which represents forced removal victims in 29 regions in three provinces: Gauteng, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

The average number of forced ­removal victims that fell through the cracks when the government started its restitution programme in the late 1990s, says Mohokare, is about 700 a region. “And that is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The old folk established the GLRCC in 2002 to represent them in negotiations with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR) and the government.

What they want, says Mohokare, is the reopening of the 1998 cut-off date for restitution claims. Members of his organisation, he explains, were not aware of the cut-off date and therefore did not put in claims. Only when they saw friends and neighbours receive money or land did they realise that they too were entitled to restitution.

Mohokare gave City Press a thick box file containing correspondence ­between the GLRCC and the Gauteng/ North West regional office of the CRLC, the president’s office as well as the Land Affairs Portfolio Committee in Parliament.

The correspondence, two sessions with the portfolio committee, one in 2005 and the other in 2007, as well as a rally at the Union Buildings earlier this year “got us nowhere,” he says. “It is painful that the government that we elected in 1994 is treating us this way.”

Gauteng and North West land claims commissioner Tumi Seboka, who dealt with the organisation’s claims, ­explains that she would be breaking the law if she entertained late restitution claims.

Unless Parliament amended the date, contained in the Restitution Act, she could not help the GLRCC. “The cut-off date stands,” says the commissioner.

But Mohokare ­insists that the old folks have a constitutionally enshrined right to restitution, which he says his ­organisation will now seek to enforce through the courts.

The majority of forced removal ­victims are illiterate, he explains. They simply “did not get the information” in the six months before the cut-off date when the Land Claims Commission made a “limited effort” to advertise its restitution logistics.

Only 70?000 people submitted claims, says Mohokare. “The majority are still out there. And the injustice is worse now that they know that others have received some kind of payment.”

And what makes it even worse, ­Mohokare says, is that the organisation is ignored instead of being ­respected. The average age of its members is 70. Many members are 80 or 90 years old.

“We deserve respect,” says Mohokare. He adds: “The old people are very reluctant to take the government they elected to court.” Their plea to the government was: “Please treat us as your children.”

There was no blazing anger, no fierce sense of entitlement and no ­bitterness in the words of the octogenarians who this week shared with City Press their memories of being forcefully removed from the places they called home.

They are shy, dignified folk with wrinkled cheeks, grey hair and ancient eyes, clad in suits and long dresses.

All they want, say most of them, is what they saw acquaintances receive – not land, no, they don’t want to move from the townships they were dumped in many years ago. “If only the government can give a little money. . . ”

In their ranks were:

Moses Mathombo (74), forcefully ­removed from Lady Selbourne to Saulsville in the late 1950s.
“They gave us no houses, we were just dumped here in the veld. After we were dumped my parents had to build a shack for us. I would appreciate it if the government could give me some money.”

Joseph Mangane (81), removed from Garsfontein to Atteridgeville. “I was angry because they removed me from a house I had built myself. I was dumped on an empty plot. After years the council built me a house. I did not know I could claim, I heard about it when the rumours spread.”

Hilda Maluleka (82), forcefully ­removed from Lady Selbourne to Saulsville. “They gave us three rooms with holes in them. I had to fill the holes with stones. I had four children. I had to kill the tears; there was no one to help us. I would be satisfied with whatever the government can do to help us.”

Lydia Ndlovu (70), ­removed from Lady Selbourne to Atteridgeville. “I was so fond of Lady Selbourne, it had schools and shops and everything was cheap. No, no, no, I can’t go back, I am old now. If they can give me something the others got I would be glad.”

Selina Baloyi (80), forcibly removed from Newclare to Atteridgeville. “I am just looking for money, that’s all.”

Miriam Lebopa (72), removed from Newclare to Mamelodi. “We were ­removed by government trucks. It was very painful to be uprooted from the place you grew up in. Yes, people cried. Media, please explain to the government that we want money. Even if we don’t rebuild our old houses we will be able to do something for ourselves.”

Piet Mabusa (71), forcibly removed from Newclare to Atteridgeville. “We were given a house. I remember only one room was plastered. We had to live with the rubble. Our toilet was the veld. Please give us some money so that we can look out for ourselves.”

John Mufamadi (83), forcefully ­removed from Wallmansthal (then Mooiplaats) to Atteridgeville. “When they removed us there was no ­negotiation. They just said ‘hamb’ekhaya’. If the government gives me what they give others, I will be glad.”

Meyahabo Mohale (75) was ­forcefully removed from Lady ­Selbourne to Atteridgeville.
“My husband had a ­bakery in Lady Selbourne. When there were weddings, people placed orders. We were among the last people to be removed.

“The business closed. We were not compensated. My husband started selling clothes. He is blind now.
“My plea to the government is, give us a little money so that we can do things, such as seeing to the tombstones of our parents who have departed.”

Many of the claimants who did meet the cut-off date, Mohokare explains, ­received financial compensation, the easiest way to deal with claims. “Please,” he said, “do the same for us.”

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