Nothing for us, about us, without us

2018-04-29 06:05
MMusi Maimane (Beeld)

MMusi Maimane (Beeld)

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I arrived in Gwatyu, Eastern Cape, at the crack of dawn this time last weekend. The first thing that struck me when veering off the dirt road and through a hazy cloud of dust towards the sheep-shearing shed was the slogan that captioned most of the Gwatyu Communal Property Association banners: Akukhonto engenziwa, isenzelwa thina, ngaphandle kwethu (Nothing for us, about us, without us).

The tragic irony I experienced when this powerfully assertive expression sunk in and I contemplated the over 1 500 people who have called Gwatyu their home, hundreds of whom passionately chanted this principle in the shed with me, is that those were the very same words used by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his maiden state of the nation address almost 100 days ago. Listening to what this community has been through, the president’s words replay themselves over and over again in my mind, every repetition a reminder of another empty promise.

The 88 farms that comprise the 42 000 hectares of Gwatyu have lain largely fallow for nearly half a century. These plucky people have lived on this land and worked on it to eke out a living for decades, but have never had the help they expected from the post-democracy government to make it their own.

Ownership and cultivation of these farms was never for the people of Gwatyu, it was never about the people of Gwatyu, and it was always without the people of Gwatyu. Whether exploited as forced labour, or having to resist forced evictions as lessees under Kaiser Matanzima’s Transkei Bantustan Authority, or treated as lifelong tenants by a disinterested ANC government, the Gwatyu people have always come stone last.

It is a tragedy of lost potential, but with a very human face. It is nothing short of a crime that thousands of people who have been hungry to own and work the land that they have lived on for generations have been denied the right to do so by a government that has long forgotten about them. I was moved by the people of Gwatyu’s decision, after being failed for 20 years, to take charge of their own future and form an association four years ago to represent the people of Gwatyu in their fight for land ownership.

I had the honour of meeting 92-year-old Nowezile Tom. Umakhulu was born in Gwatyu and has lived there ever since. Umakhulu worked as a domestic worker for the previous white farmers who were there until the Gwatyu farms were bought over by the apartheid government for the Transkei Bantustan Authority. Since then, she has lived on subsistence farming and social grants. Umakhulu has been struggling since the ANC government came into power in 1994 to have the small piece of land she lives on transferred into her name.

Sdodo Matsheke is an 88-year-old whose story is as poignant. Utatomkhulu was born in the Gwatyu farms in 1930 and has been living in the area throughout his life. As a young man, he worked as a miner in Johannesburg and later came back home, after he survived a mine accident, to join his father working as a labourer on a farm. As with Mrs Tom, he has been struggling for 24 years for the people of Gwatyu to have security of tenure.

Born in 1940, 78-year-old Zamile Dyonase was born on the Gwatyu farms. He worked in Cape Town in a construction company in his earlier years and returned to join his father as a farm labourer on the Gwatyu farms.

Nowezile, Sdodo and Zamile have never backed down and even resisted and survived farm evictions by the “Matanzima bullies”. They have all sacrificed their social grants to fund their travels to courts and land meetings as far away as Grahamstown. And they continue to slog away through their association to push their agenda in the indifferent offices of government land reform bureaucrats from East London to Pretoria. The response is almost always a tin ear.

But while their stories left me feeling sad, their commitment to keep up the fight inspired me. These are not shrinking violet pensioners who have given up the fight. They are as devoted as ever to leaving Gwatyu in the hands of their children and grandchildren in private title, not as tenants.

We are going to do all we can to help the residents of Gwatyu. I’ve written to the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to get an explanation as to why the commitments made to this community in 2016 were never honoured. And I submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act request for the land audit that the local and provincial government promised to the Gwatyu residents three years ago, but which was also never delivered.

There are a thousand technical hoops to jump through, all clearly intended as obstacles to slow the community down. We will help them tick every box and jump every hoop and, hopefully, before this original Gwatyu generation passes on, we will see this land owned by them in their own right.

But for this to happen, the ANC government’s mad plan to expropriate land without compensation must remain stowed away in the Mugabe mental asylum. Because it has never been section 25 of the Constitution that is to blame. The fault has always fallen squarely on the shoulders of the state.

- Maimane is leader of the DA


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Read more on:    da  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  land

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