Land debate unearths generations of hurt

Heated scenes mark parliament's public hearings on land

22 July 2018 - 00:00 By BONGANI MTHETHWA

An angry Esau Mthethwa pushed his way to the front of the line of those waiting to speak at the public land hearings and complained he had been displaced by people who had been given numbers so they could jump the queue.
He was quickly allowed to be the next to speak. Outside the venue there was jostling, pushing and heated exchanges. A confrontation brewed between the police and a large crowd of people who had been barred from the hearings as the Cecil Emmet Hall was already packed to capacity.
Emotions ran high on Wednesday at the public hearings in Vryheid, northern KwaZulu-Natal, on whether section 25 of the constitution should be amended to allow the state to expropriate land without compensation.
Some came on crutches and mothers came with babies strapped to their backs.Others invoked God, the Bible or the ANC's Freedom Charter in support of their views on the issue that has polarised South Africa along racial lines.
White farmers from the small conservative KwaZulu-Natal town and surrounding areas came out in force to oppose the proposed amendment.
When Mthethwa, 81, from Gobeni in Louwsburg, outside Vryheid, got his chance to speak, he did not mince his words.
He told the constitutional review committee how he had suffered at the hands of the white farmer on whose land he lives.
He said he was forced to leave school in 1952 to work on the farm because if he resisted he risked his family being forced off the property.
"I am happy that parliament is here so that we can speak what is in our hearts," he said.
"This committee is asking about something for which they already know the answer. They know that the land is ours and should be returned.
"Even now I live on the farm. Up until now the farmowner does not allow me to till the land and when I try to do that he says why am I doing that on his land," said Mthethwa.
He described how he was forced to sit on the back of the farmer's bakkie even when it was raining and how the farmer would buy brown bread and give it to him through the little window of his bakkie."I was earning 70c a month but even today, as ageing as I am, I am still living on his land."
Struggling to stand on crutches, Jabulani Buthelezi from Vryheid criticised parliament for having taken a long time to begin discussing the issue of land "that was taken from us without compensation".
"There is one thing I want to say, that God gave us the land to work it and benefit from it. Our land was taken from us without compensation," he said.
Speaking Zulu, Paulpietersburg farmer Arno Engelbrecht told the committee he was against amending section 25 but suggested that people be given individual title deeds to land now owned by the state.
"We must make sure that everybody has a piece of land and a title deed and is able to build a house they can leave for their children. We all want our kraals to be full of livestock, to plant maize and reap and be happy," Engelbrecht said.In support of his case, he quoted one of the Bible's 10 commandments: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's servants, animals, or anything else."
Mdititi Ntombela from KwaMnyathi in Vryheid told the committee he believed the government, in holding public hearings on land, "is what God himself would have done".
"The land is people's birthright and this is what God would have wanted. If you read Genesis, God created heaven and Earth and said we must multiply, which means that no one can own the land alone. All the land belongs to the people."
Quoting the Freedom Charter, which says South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Nico Harris - representing the Melmoth Farmers Association - said the group was strongly opposed to the proposed amendment because expropriation of land without compensation would destroy the lives of millions of South Africans."Apart from the injustices that it will cause to millions of loyal citizens of this country who have for generations worked the land and have built it up to become viable commercial farming enterprises, such an amendment of the constitution will also destroy one of the most important cornerstones upon which our democracy is built," he said.
Raymond Trollip, chairman of the Uthukela district land reform committee which represents farmers from Ladysmith, Estcourt, Weenen and Bergville, said the organisation also opposed expropriation.
"Approximately 60% of the district is already owned by emerging farmers or the Ingonyama Trust. We're proposing a solution for the failures of the past and our approach involves the mobilisation and empowerment of competent and dynamic individuals that live in rural areas to drive rural development themselves," Trollip said.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
FOR
• There is one thing I want to say, that God gave us the land to work it and benefit from it. Our land was taken from us without compensation. — Jabulani Buthelezi
• I was forced to leave school in 1952 to work on the farm and even now I live on the farm. Up until now the farmowner does not allow me to till the land and when I try to do that he asks Why am I doing that on his land. — Esau Mthethwa
AGAINST
• Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s servants, animals,or anything else. - Paulpietersburg farmer Arno Engelbrecht, who is opposed to changing the constitution but wants affected families tobe given title deeds.
“We must make sure that everybody has a piece of land and a title deed and is able to build a house they can leave for their children. We all want our kraals to be full of livestock, to plant maize and reap and be happy - Arno Engelbrecht
● Approximately 60% of the district is already owned by emerging farmers or the Ingonyama Trust. We’re proposing a solution for the failures of the past and our approach involves the mobilisation and empowerment of competent and dynamic individuals that live in rural areas to drive rural development. — Raymond Trollip
● Apart from the injustices that it will cause to millions of loyal citizens of this country who have for generations worked the land and have built it up to become viable commercial farming enterprises, such an amendment of the constitution will also destroy one of the most important cornerstones upon which our democracy is built. — Nico Harris —representing the Melmoth Farmers Association.

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