Archbishop’s quest to right wrongs

2018-06-10 11:46
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at his official residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town. PHOTO: Jaco Marais

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba at his official residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town. PHOTO: Jaco Marais

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For Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, his ancestral land in Limpopo is a place of great joy and a place of great pain.

“It’s as if God had time when Makgoba’s Kloof was created,” he says.

It is a fertile land of mountains, valleys and rivers, where avocados, lychees and bananas grow in abundance, but where people go hungry. There are thick indigenous forests, mists often clad the mountains and if you stop at one of the hotels, you’ll see a bust of Kgoši Mamphoku Makgoba.

Kgoši Makgoba, the chief of the archbishop’s clan, was living in these mountains and valleys when white settlers arrived as woodcutters and prospectors for gold in the 19th century.

Makgoba knows his great-grandfather only from oral history and research.

“A handsome, tall man, he was courageous and wise. He studied the valley and the bush and could move about easily,” he told City Press on Thursday.

The king was a menace to the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek after it applied forced removals in the 1890s. He outmanoeuvred Paul Kruger and Commandant-General Piet Joubert, who had expelled the British in 1881.

“Kgoši Makgoba fought and pushed back people with guns. It shows that he was, as they say, a Warrior of the North, a man with natural endowment in the art of war,” Makgoba says.

After years of resistance, the Warrior of the North was beheaded by Swazi troops, who were ordered into the thick forests where he was hiding on June 9 1895.

This week, to mark the 123rd anniversary of the king’s death, the archbishop has proposed to the Geographical Names Council that Magoebaskloof be renamed from the settlers’ corrupted version to Makgoba’s Kloof.

In 1998, after a successful land claim, the Makgoba clan took ownership of 54 farms in the area and Makgoba’s Kloof now belongs to its rightful owners.

“The ownership is cathartic,” the archbishop says, but ownership alone is not enough. The farms were put into a royal trust and many were leased back to the people who had owned them before.

“Those are the farms that are doing really well. The ones that aren’t leased lie fallow.”

When the family saw how some farms were doing well, “we all wanted a hand in there. Now we are in court with one another,” he says.

“Let’s come together and make the land productive"

In his book Faith and Courage, Makgoba writes: “Driving through the district now, the white-owned land with its citrus farms, its avocado pear trees and its commercial pine plantations smells to me of wealth, while the barren places to which baTlou were banished radiate the stench of poverty and dispossession. This is really painful for me.”

Avocados fall to the ground to rot and the unemployment rate is more than 40%.

“The land is rich, but poverty of the unemployed is so high. We thought we could do farming, but we were never given the skills. The whole issue of land restitution needs to be reviewed,” he says. “We have learnt that, without skills, land ownership is useless. People go hungry even in that fertile land.”

Makgoba says we should deracialise the land. In this case, it doesn’t help to say: “You’ve beheaded our king, go away.”

“We have to be able to say to each other that we’ve hurt each other around the issue of land and around the issue of the economy.”

Makgoba sees the land as an opportunity for healing. “We need to work together and pass on the skills that were perhaps acquired illegally to the rightful owner.”

Makgoba says enabling policy and changing the Constitution will not make the land productive, but what will make us prosper is if “South Africans talk to one another for economic prosperity”.

Makgoba remembers that his elders would cry when they spoke of his great-grandfather. He wondered “why these old people would still be crying for an old skull”.

Now he hopes “we can find the head before I die”. Without it, Makgoba says, his clan is like a dismembered body. “We fight over land. It’s as if we’ve been decapitated. We’ve lost our sense of identity.”

When President Cyril Ramaphosa visited kings and chiefs earlier this year, he failed to visit the Makgobas.

“It is as if he is not righting the wrongs of the past. He acknowledges the current chiefs who were plonked there by the English and apartheid,” Makgoba says. “I would have thought that, as part of social cohesion, he would have asked about the other important kings.”

There were chiefs, such as Kgoši Makgoba, who were “wiped out because they resisted. Since then, new chiefs and kings were plonked in to obliterate that history.”

Makgoba believes that, “with the head, we’ll find our identity and the clan will again have a symbolic head and it will have a chance to thrive”.

“Now, we are like a body without a head. We can’t just say our great-grandfather warrior is dead; let’s come together and make the land productive; let’s rebuild these farms; let’s build schools, let’s create the economy,” he says.

During his research, Makgoba discovered that the skull might have been used by the German family who built a nearby hotel to serve whisky in. At the Tsaung museum, Makgoba was shown some bones and there is a good chance that the skull is there. Those odds, however, were not high enough to satisfy the family that this was the head of their ancestor.

After further research, Makgoba found a German newspaper article advertising a sale of war artefacts and the skull of an African warrior.

“After all this, it might be in Germany,” he says.

Makgoba asks in his book whether finding his great-grandfather’s missing skull – “a metaphor for the suffering that not only our family and clan but our nation has endured” – would bring the closure they so desperately need.

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