They are tourists in their land

2017-11-19 05:58

WATCH: Who owns the land? See province by province here...

2017-11-02 11:05

AgriSA national land audit, released on Wednesday, shows a significant change in land ownership. Watch. WATCH

The whistle came from deep in the bush. We ignored it. Some of us thought it was a bird warning the flock about our intrusion.

“Hwee-hwoo! Hwee-hoo!” The whistle persisted.

“It’s a soldier,” said one of the four men.

We are entering Madimbo Corridor, a piece of land in Limpopo on which City Press and four members of the Vhembe Communal Property Association (VCPA) are apparently trespassing.

The men are part of 99 families who laid a claim on the 27 000 hectares of this land, which was occupied and is still used by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) as a base.

We stop the car, peer through the bush and notice a man ducking branches, running towards us.

On closer inspection, we see two camping tents perched on clear ground in the bush – pots and dishes strewn around – prompting one of the men to comment: “These soldiers live like prisoners.”

Madimbo is about 90 kilometres from Thohoyandou. It borders the Kruger National Park in the northeast and Zimbabwe in the north, and has been used as a military buffer zone for about 80 years.

The apartheid government removed the Gumbu, Sigonde, Bend Mutale, Tshenzhelani, Masisi, Tshikuyu and Mutele communities to create the military base as well as frustrate movements of liberation fighters.

The communities lodged a land claim in 1994, but ever since the Commission of Restitution on Land Rights approved it and gave them a certificate in 2004 to confirm that the land belonged to their ancestors, their ownership has only been on a laminated piece of paper.

“We are checking our land. We are the members of the Madimbo claimants,” Mahwasane Mudzweda, the chairperson of the association, tells the soldier who is politely interrogating us to find out what our business is here.

Mudzweda insists that we drive through, and the soldier contacts his commander on radio to secure us permission. The commander agrees.

“I was protecting you from getting shot inside there,” says the soldier as a parting shot, and we carry on.

Members of the Vhembe Communal Property Association who have been fighting with the South African National Defence Force to get back their land, Madimbo Corridor, on the Zimbabwean border. From left to right: Mahaswane Mudzweda (chairperson), Gerson Takalani, David Mpondo and Vhulahani Munzhelele.

Presidents and land portfolio ministers have come and gone, and the claimants still cannot access their land. It is now 13 years ago that the then land affairs minister, Thoko Didiza, symbolically handed over the land to these communities in the form of the certificate.

The communities live kilometres outside the camp and they dream of accessing grazing land and fertile soil near the Limpopo River. They want to pursue agricultural and mining projects.

There is also gold and coal in the bowels of their land, according to the Madimbo Diamond Corporation’s prospecting permit.

The biggest employer in the area was Exxaro’s Tshikondeni Coal Mine, but it closed shop in 2014 after laying off many locals.

Most people sell wood to passing motorists or survive on subsistence farming.

“The brick houses you see here were built because of the mine. Otherwise, we have nothing,” says Mudzweda, sitting under a tree with his committee.

Negotiations between the community, the defence ministry, public works and the provincial land commission have reached a stalemate. The SANDF wants a 99-year lease, while the communities want a shorter lease of between 20 to 30 years.

The SANDF also wants to continue using 16 000 hectares of their land once the lease agreement is signed – and leave them with only 11 000 hectares.

“They [the SANDF] are not paying a cent as we speak,” Mudzweda said.

“They want a long lease so that we’ll die and they mine the minerals. This is our place. We must dictate the terms.”

In a letter to the community dated August 10 2016, the land commission in Limpopo argued that if the lease agreement was finalised, the communities would be paid a fee (which is, as yet, undetermined). Their access to the land would still be restricted and special permission would be granted for the performance of rituals.

Mudzweda says if the communities agree to the lease, they should be paid a fee befitting the value of the land as a military buffer zone. He imagines that it should be higher than that for any ordinary land.

“You see,” interjects committee member Vhulahani Munzhelele, “we travel more than 80km to Thohoyandou just to get to an ATM.”

“We are close to Zimbabwe villages and we could build a shopping mall and grow our local economy.”

The departments of defence and of rural development and land reform did not respond to written questions about the Madimbo Corridor claim.

As we drive along the craggy road, adjacent to a falling border fence, we are stopped again by a no-nonsense female soldier. After a commander reconfirms knowledge of our presence on the radio, we are given the go-ahead with instructions to report to camp soon. We oblige and soon exit Madimbo.

Read more on:    sandf  |  land

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