Slim hope of homes for San group

2001-01-29 14:56

Sshmidtsdrift, Northern Cape - After 11 years of braving the harsh Northern Cape climate in a makeshift town of army tents, many among the San of Schmidtsdrift have lost all faith in the promise of a better life in proper homes.

"We live our lives one day at a time," said Rosa Thomas, who moved to South Africa with her soldier husband after Namibia's independence in 1990.

"We see a lot of talk, and very little action. We are starting to wonder if we will ever get our promised homes, and many among us no longer believe it will become a reality."

Sitting on the gravel floor of a friend's army-issue tent, Thomas complains of the incessant heat in summer and intolerable cold during the winter months.

"The old people really suffer in winter and our children get sick," she said through an interpreter in the quick clicking language of the !Xu San - her face and clothes equally ravaged by the past years.

"When the wind blows, everything is covered in sand, and when it rains all our tents are under water."

Employed as trackers in the Namibian battle for independence by the former SA Defence Force, !Xu and Khwe soldiers were given the option of moving to Schmidtsdrift with their families when the war ended.

Promised new homes

They say they were promised new homes on the army base with running water, electricity and toilets within three to six months.

These plans were thwarted when the Tswana Batlhaphing community and a Griqua grouping known as the Klein Fonteintjie people, lodged a successful claim on Schmidtsdrift as their ancestral land.

In May 1999, then-president Nelson Mandela presented the San community with the title deeds to the farm Platfontein, about 22km from Kimberley. The farm was bought for R7.5-million with government housing subsidies, but as yet little construction has been done on the property.

Now, partly as a result of idleness and partly due to an increasing sense of hopelessness, alcohol abuse and domestic violence have become a part of this San community, previously renowned for its strong cultural heritage and artistic skills.

"If I had known what was waiting for us here, I would not have come, and I would certainly have discouraged the others," says Reverend Mario Mahongo, chairman of the !Xu and Khwe Communal Property Association (CPA).

ÆNo hope leftÆ

"Our people are struggling, and perhaps the saddest of all, they have no hope left."

The 4 500-strong community, comprising about 3 500 !Xu and 1 000 Khwe, partly blame political misperceptions for the dragged-out resettlement process.

"Our people became involved in the war not because of political beliefs, but because of our empty stomachs," Mahongo said.

"It was a bread and butter decision."

The African National Congress government should not blame the San for their choice, he added. "If we refused to join the SADF, we would have been regarded as the enemy. We fought against Swapo, we never shot at the ANC."

According to Hennie Swart, chief executive of the !Xu and Khwe CPA, plans were underway to move the entire community to Platfontein by the end of 2002.

Asked if this was feasible, he responded: "I honestly don't know, but I certainly hope so."

About 60 members of the community already live at Platfontein where they are involved in the administration of the CPA as well as in a number of community upliftment programmes.

The town plans for Platfontein were approved in September last year, and by next month 40 more !Xu and Khwe would be moved to the farm to start with the construction of water pipes and the main road to run through the town.

"Many of the !Xu and Khwe refuse to believe that they will eventually come to Platfontein," Swart said.

"They have heard so many broken promises that they have fallen into a terrible depression and melancholy. I think this will change only once we actually turn the first sod."

Department denies delays in relocation

Approached for comment, the Northern Cape department of agriculture, nature conservation, environment and land reform said there had been no delays in resettling the !Xu and Khwe to Platfontein.

"It is not as if nothing has happened," said spokesperson Blessing Plaatjie.

"This is merely a perceived delay because of all the processes that have to take place."

He stressed that this was a "phased" process which involved co-ordination between different government departments, extensive negotiations, a lot of paperwork, and a range of feasibility studies.

Project managers would be appointed soon in a bid to speed up the process, Plaatjie added. - Sapa