Land rights under spotlight at Pan African Parliament

19 August 2013 - 10:05 By POPPY LOUW

The plight of thousands of people from across Africa, dispossessed of their land to make way for commercial activity, is to be discussed in the Pan African Parliament.

The issue first came up at a two-day hearing at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, during the continent's first ever land grab rights hearings on Thursday and Friday.

Highlighting the plight of hundreds of Limpopo people, Brand Nthapo - a member of Mining Affected Communities United in Action - spoke about the dangers Mokopane residents face daily.

The villagers claim that the land that they share with a platinum mining company has been degraded by the contamination of its underground water.

The mining company has a long lease on the land.

"Our old people were manipulated into believing that mining would be beneficial to them," Nthapo said. "But the contaminated water has taken that away."

Devastation is the recurring theme of the stories told by many villagers in the platinum belt of Limpopo.

"A cloud of devastation looms over the heads of people in Mapela [in the Mokopane area]."

Nthapo said that when mining in Mokopane started 20 years ago traditional leaders would lease the land out for R5000 a year. This, he said, had now been raised to R15000 a year.

The story of the Mokopane people was one of nine told during the hearings at Constitution Hill.

Co-hosted by Oxfam, Action Aid, the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, and the Future Agricultures Consortium, the hearings offer people affected by land dispossession an opportunity to share their experiences with a panel linked to the Pan African Parliament.

Raulina Valoyi, of Mozambique, said she and other villagers felt betrayed by the company that took their land.

"We gave them a portion of the land but they went beyond that and took even the land we used for produce.

"Now we do not have enough land for crops," she said.

Panel chairman and director of the African Institute for Economic Development Olokushi Adebayo said the hearings gave an insight into how land grabs affected people's daily lives.

"What is both sad and annoying is that we seem to be allowing history to repeat itself. Colonialism was directly linked to land grabs disguised as partnerships."

Adebayo and his six co-panellists, and representatives of villagers affected by land transfers, agreed that they would call on all organisations and administrations dealing with land dispossession to audit land use to determine who were the true beneficiaries.

Adebayo said the solution to making Africa's food resources secure lay not in large-scale commercial farming but in small-scale farming.

"We will be meeting at the Pan African Parliament where the findings from the studies we have conducted will be presented."