R1bn land claim could eat town

04 September 2011 - 03:13 By BONGANI MTHETHWA
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A chief in KwaZulu-Natal has taken on the government and several international companies to reclaim over a million hectares of land taken from his clan nearly 100 years ago.

Chief Veleshowe Alpheus Zulu's claim for 91 properties on the province's north coast includes prime forestry land, sugar cane farms, nature reserves, mining land and the entire coastal town of Mtunzini.

The tourist town, about 130km north of Durban, is home to over 450000 people.

The claim was lodged on May 6, 1998 and, after a 13-year investigation by the Land Claims Commission, was found to be legitimate. The next step was to publish the claim in the government gazette, which was done on July 15 this year.

Now it has to be decided what will happen to the land.

The land claimed by the clan includes residential plots; property owned by parastatal Transnet; international paper and packaging group Mondi; and mining company Exxaro Sands.

Provincial Land Claims Commission spokesman Nokuthokoza Ndlela said the claim had been gazetted because the claimants had "met the requirements under restitution laws".

Now, all property sales, leasing, rezoning and development have been put on hold pending the next step in the claim process.

While some homes and farms in and around the town are valued at between R450000 and R5-million, a 3864ha game farm is on the market for R120-million.

But some of the companies and landowners say they will challenge the award.

Chief Zulu, 69, a close relative of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, said he had lodged the claim on behalf of the Obanjeni clan, which was forcibly removed from the land between 1913 and 1914.

"My father was still a young boy herding livestock when we were removed."

Zulu said the ruins of many of his community's homesteads and ancestral graves were buried beneath new developments in Mtunzini.

"My grandfather, Prince Magwedu KaMpande, had built his homestead where the town now stands," - and a hotel was built on the grave of one of his relatives, Zulu said.

"I don't even go to that hotel. I even advised King Goodwill not to sleep at that hotel when he came to see me."

Thelumoya Zulu, the mayor of the Umlalazi municipality under which Mtunzini falls, declined to comment, saying he had not yet been properly briefed.

Several estate agents, who faced the possibility of pending sales in the town being halted, described the claim as "disturbing" and "disgusting".

Mtunzini Residents Association chairman Wendy Forse said a number of farms had already been abandoned.

As a result, she said, "You lose productivity, income generation and jobs. What this land claim can do is create rural poverty."

Forse said the Land Claims Commission had several ways of resolving such claims, which included financial compensation.

"The important factor is that agricultural production and jobs are not lost ... locally and provincially there has been much loss of productive agricultural land due to land claims with subsequent abandoning of farms," she said.

Mondi Group spokesman Kerry Crandon said the company had only recently engaged with the Land Claims Commission.

Zulu said some of the companies on the land he claimed had already started negotiating with him to continue their operations - and he'd given Exxaro KZN Sands permission to continue mining on 2 800ha of forestry and farming land.

"We agreed to this on condition that only local people will be employed," said Zulu.

Exxaro spokesman Hilton Atkinson said: "We are fully supportive of the regulated process that now needs to be followed. Although this may impact on the surface rights holders primarily, we are willing to engage with all the affected stakeholders.

"Exxaro believes that, should this claim prove to be successful, there could be a win-win solution for all stakeholders."

Zulu said his community would not settle for financial compensation.

"We would prefer to be given our dispossessed ancestral land back."

Under restitution laws, victims of forced removals are entitled to reclaim their ancestral land; take alternative land; or be financially compensated.

Since its establishment in 1994, South Africa's Commission on Restitution of Land Rights has settled over 74800 land claims.

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