Landisa: My grandfather died shortly after his land was taken from him. What justice would mean to me today

2019-11-08 09:25
Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson

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My family had a fairly large piece of land, roughly 4 000 square metres, in the Steenberg area of Cape Town. This was my great grandfather's farm which was handed down through the generations. 

This was the place my family and I were born on, and grew up on. 

Our house was one of only two houses that had electricity and one of four that had running water, and just down the road I attended primary school.

Life was unsophisticated and we were deeply entrenched in the community. We lived as a mixed black and coloured community. "Your mother was my mother," was our belief. 

On our land, about seven families stayed. We farmed with pigs and chickens, and we had our own vegetable garden to feed the family and neighbours. 

As children, we played together in the dusty, dirty sand paths and yards. We swam – butt bare – in the nearby Zandvlei. Occasionally, we went to steal tomatoes on the nearby farm, to irritate the white farmer but also for the adrenaline rush it gave. 

But in about 1973, as children, we noticed the white men with brown files in their hands started visiting our home and area. We didn't understand what the Group Areas Act meant. All we knew was that a certain sadness and uncertainty descended onto our house, our family and onto the community.

We were told that the area has been declared a white area and we had to move. Needless to say, the "white sharks" moved in to wrestle everything of value from our families at the cheapest price possible, or for free because they knew we had to move. 

The "white sharks" were those who rejoiced that the community was being uprooted. The "white sharks" were also those policemen men who came to traumatise the black people for their stupid "passbooks".

Sometimes it felt like that the trauma they caused was the best fun they had. 

I still remember how a mother had to drop her baby from her back while running away from the policemen chasing her. 

As children, we did not understand what was happening. I recall how my grandfather said, "nou kan ek maar vrek" ("now I can die"). It wasn't long afterwards that he passed on.  

The new owners soon laid claim to the property, and our beloved generational family home was demolished and the community broken up – scattered across the Cape Flats and southern suburbs.

Not long afterwards the area started being developed into a housing scheme. Soon after it was sold to the white guys – it was re-declared a "coloured" area. We now had to move back to our "property" which wasn't really ours anymore at a huge cost as we now had to buy the houses on land that was stolen from us.

The most painful part of having lost your family land and the community you once loved is that land claims have been unable to bring closure to our family. 

We started with this process in 1995 and today we are no closer to resolution in terms of compensation and settlement. To think that our land rights were removed by a stroke of a pen and it is taking nearly 25 years to fix it. 

Today my feeling is that I know what we had – and we were robbed. The present restitution system is sustaining and perpetuating the robbery of those times. 

Justice to me would be the restoration of our land or fair compensation, but we know that is not going to happen. So yes, we must just live with it and live on.

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Read more on:    cape town  |  land reform

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