Broken dreams: Tractors at Songimvelo Nature Reserve in Mooiplaas, Mpumalanga, illustrate the stalled dreams of a community that hoped to benefit from restitution. Locals warn others that their hopes too will be dashed by inaction and obstruction. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Broken dreams: Tractors at Songimvelo Nature Reserve in Mooiplaas, Mpumalanga, illustrate the stalled dreams of a community that hoped to benefit from restitution. Locals warn others that their hopes too will be dashed by inaction and obstruction. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

There is a disturbing common thread found in the sad tales of many scarred beneficiaries of land reform across the country. They claim that self-serving politicians and officials working in entities involved in the restitution process have turned their dreams into nightmares.

Land claimants have traced the root of their woes. They say it is not the fault of the constitution, which the ANC and EFF want to unnecessarily amend to accommodate the expropriation of land without compensation.

The process communities that were removed from their land during apartheid have to follow to get it restored is near impossible, communities in Limpopo, the North West and Mpumalanga complain.

They say this is not due to painstaking administrative processes or poorly drafted legislation, but the actions of the "powerful" to protect "their own interests" and deny others a better quality of life.

Land claim beneficiaries in Songimvelo, Mpumalanga, whose land has not been returned to them after knocking on the government’s door since the early 2000s, say they are being "taken for idiots" by officials. They have meticulously recorded the "malicious" behaviour of the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency and the province’s land claims commission while handling their case.

"They are treating us like idiots," says one of the claimants, Shobane Msibi. He says that besides their being shunted from pillar to post by officials, other employees who seemed determined to resolve their case were victimised.

"Employees who seem to be moving closer to solving our problem get removed from their position," Msibi says.

In the North West, beneficiaries of restored land that includes a sizeable part of the Madikwe Game Reserve, have also been stalled by the department of rural development & land reform.

They say that the official who allegedly "seemed determined to delay" the process was promoted to the national Land Claims Commission office where he has continued to obstruct their successful claim.

"Some of them [government officials] have business interests [in the game reserve]. We are aware that they are trying to keep us out for their own narrow interests," claims Amos Setou of the Barokologadi community.

The fanfare at the posh ceremonies where their successful restitution applications were announced is still engrained in their minds as they engage in a new struggle centred on wresting from government officials the paperwork required to allow them to benefit from their land.

The community is still awaiting the delivery of those and many other promises. Today they are not only forced to relive the horror of their forced removal under apartheid, but also the fresh trauma as their battle against the current government takes shape.

When the Madikwe land was handed back to claimants in 2007, then minister of agriculture & land affairs Lulu Xingwana spelled out the plans the government had for the community. "We are bringing to your local economy a sum total of R23.9m in direct investment. We are expecting the multiplier effect, which will come as a result of the implementation of your integrated development plan for this area, the provincial growth development plan for this area," she said.

"We are encouraging you to implement swiftly your local economic development plans for this area. We have adopted an integrated approach to development planning."

The community is still awaiting the delivery of those and many other promises. Today they are not only forced to relive the horror of their forced removal under apartheid, but also the fresh trauma as their battle against the current government takes shape.

Tsatsi Letsoalo, 74, a member of the Mamahlola community in Limpopo, which waited 17 years to cultivate on the returned farm, says: "I did not understand what was going on when we got evicted from our land then, just as I do not understand the land reform process now."

Letsoalo was 14 years old when the apartheid government soldiers arrived in his community and forced them at gunpoint onto the back of trucks along with whatever possessions they could quickly grab. He thought their removal was temporary. "We thought we would relocate and get back home," Letsoalo says.

However, after nearly two decades of delays his community experienced before their land was returned — albeit without the title deeds the government promised — Letsoalo says it became clear that resettling on their land would be impossible.

The communities Business Day visited to examine the success and failures of land reform in the past two decades emphatically stated their distaste for the government’s push for land to be expropriated without compensation, warning that even more South Africans will be "duped" into a sham scheme devised by politicians to enrich themselves.

MahlakoanaT@businesslive.co.za