Families removed from land almost a century ago share their joy at successfully reclaim

2018-04-02 10:53
PHOTO: Zama Chutshela

PHOTO: Zama Chutshela

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WATCH: Are farm owners doing enough to help with land restitution?

2018-03-29 12:44

ZZ2 CEO Tommie van Zyl says government and farm owners need to work towards a common goal when it comes to land distribution. Watch.WATCH

They never thought this day would come. But finally they’ll be able to return to the land where their ancestors lived – land from which they were forcibly removed.

Nearly a century ago Thomas Mndeni Dhlamini and many others had to sell their livestock and move elsewhere, going from prosperous landowners and providers to people with next to nothing. White settlers forced them to move from their farmland in the Ixopo District, in what is now Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

That was in 1935, even before the formal establishment of apartheid and the Group Areas Act of 1950, which saw millions of South Africans forced out of their homes – many into poverty. But Thomas’ descendants are now able to return to the land he once toiled on in Mchobololo near Richmond, with the formal handover of 849 hectares of land to eight families who were scattered across the province.

The families had the option to choose money or land. Many chose financial compensation – about R25 million for 114 households – and eight chose land, worth about R10,5 million. Nhlanhleni Dlamini (46) was elated to be given back the land, he tells DRUM.

“Our great-grandfathers had been the owners of this land. But that changed when the settlers came and forcefully removed them. “The dispossession of land affected them badly and many ended up in poverty because they were forced to stop farming and to reduce their livestock. Eventually they were forced to relocate.

“We know this history because the information was passed down from generation to generation and the family looked after documents such as their title deeds, which date back to 1910.” He becomes emotional.

“We’ve always known they’d wanted their land back and it was up to us to get it back. Now that we have achieved that goal our next step is to sustain the land.”

The office of the chief land claims commissioner did the formal handover last year although the claim by 114 households had been approved in 2011 by the commission on restitution and land rights.

Zwelihle Mbhele (51) and his two siblings chose financial compensation. It wasn’t an easy decision, they say, but they needed the money more than the land.

“Our forefathers were forcefully removed from Chobololo to KwaMagoda, which is where I live with my siblings,” Zwelihle says.

 “We’ve received the money and we’ll be sharing it amongst ourselves. We’ll use some of it to build a house for ourselves. We live in our parents’ old house at the moment.” Zwelihle’s brother, Bhekisisa Mbhele (56), would have preferred taking the land if it were a practical option.

“We would have loved to get our land back, but we needed the money more. I can say justice has been done.” Elliot Dlamini (65), who also received money, says he will be helping his brother pay lobola and build a house. “I will be sharing the money with my brother. He has no wife or house of his own,” Elliot says.

“I chose financial compensation so I could help him get a wife and build him a house.”

Nhlanhleni shows DRUM the title deed to Thomas Mndeni Dhlamini’s land. Dated 25 February 1935, it states “Thomas Mndeni Dhlamini is a native farmer under Chief Umfohlo, residing on the farm Umnyesa, Umkomaas Valley, in the district of Ixopo”.

 Nhlanhleni says when the land was handed back to the families there was already a business on part of it, a wildlife sanctuary and eco-adventure holiday destination, which the previous owners agreed to sell to them.

“They agreed to sell us their business, so today we’re not just land owners we’re also businessmen. We own a game reserve, known as Highover Wildlife Sanctuary, near Richmond. “The place hosts conferences, team-building events, camping and other activities. “We also have wild animals such as springbok, kudu, impala, nyala and others,” Nhlanhleni says proudly. The business has grown in recent years, he says, and more employees have been hired to keep up with the demand from tourists, who visit the reserve throughout the year. They intend to continue this successful streak.

“Our clients come from all over the world and we are happy to receive their support.” Mnyamezeli Dlamini (51), another of the new landowners, has no interest in selling the land. “Our intention is to keep it and get wealth out of it,” he says.

“We are not in a hurry to make a profit as we are still growing the business. We’ve decided to run the game reserve collectively and invest all the monies.

“We have a board of directors which oversees everything. We are doing this for our kids and their generation.”

Farmer and land recipient Zwelihle Dlamini (35) intends to use his portion of the land to expand his farm. “I’m already using it for agricultural purposes. I’m also proud to say that this has created job opportunities for the youth. My wish is to get more support from the government so that I can sustain my land.”

Sandile Dlamini (28), another land recipients, says this marks a new beginning for his family, and future generations.

“Here, in Mchobololo, the land is bigger than what we have right now and we what we have right now and we can continue with farming and agriculture just like our forefathers did. This land marks new beginnings for us and the next generation.” The ancestors always knew their descendants would return to the land, says Funizwe Dlamini.

“That is why they named me Funizwe (seek the land) and my clansman Zwelihle (beautiful land),” he told said.

Funizwe hopes the land-claim victory will encourage his nine children to take up farming, as “there are no jobs these days. There is no use studying to be a teacher or a nurse if you aren’t going to get work. Now that we have this farming land they can study something in agriculture and come back home and work‚” he says.

Funizwe and Zwelihle say they would like government assistance to help them sustain the land, and keep it productive. Bheki Mbili, the KwaZulu-Natal head of the land claims commission, says that although the commission is willing to help successful land claimants it was “everyone’s responsibility to make sure the land is sustained”.

Linda Page of the department of rural development and land reform explains that communities do get government support from programmes to help those who choose land over money.

“We don’t just give them the land and leave it there. We put land recipients on a post-settlement support program, and if a land recipient is interested in farming, we come in and provide the necessary support.

“All they need to do is to tell us what they want to do with the land and we support them until their businesses are viable.”

*This article previously appeared in DRUM magazine

Read more on:    land claims  |  land expropriation

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