Boschhoek farm 1312, known locally as KwaHlathikhulu, is situated in the uMzinyathi District in KwaZulu-Natal. The 1515 hectares once belonged to the Sigweje tribe. The state now owns it and the South African National Defence Force use it to train Fifty South African Battalion (5 SAI) and have done so since 1971. Leader of the tribe, INKOSI KUNENE, reflects on the history of his people’s attempt to find land security and the ironies of a post 1994 state that supports its army’s claim to land over the claim of people that the apartheid army forcibly removed from the same land.
The Kunene people are originally from Swaziland. They left Swaziland because of wars in the 18th century against Sigweje, who was their leader. They settled initially in Paulpietersberg. Some Kunene people remained in Paulpietersberg when Sigweje moved on downwards to Pietermaritzburg next to the Umsunduzi River to a place called EmaSwazini. They had not yet secured land of their own. While in Pietermaritzburg, Inkosi Sigweje met Reverend Nelson, a methodist priest who encouraged him to buy land, the Boschhoek farm in Wasbank, which was on sale.
At that time, people had no money to buy land. Reverend Nelson made this plan: he took Sigweje and hid him. He then announced that the police had arrested the inkosi for failing to pay tax (ukhanda mpondo) and that each man must therefore contribute something to bail the inkosi out. People responded positively. They contributed cattle, goats and sheep and all these were sold to secure cash. All the contributions were recorded. Reverend Nelson then took the cash and bought the land. Boschhoek farm was bought in 1870. People were told of their contribution and achievement and they were delighted. The people moved to the farm to occupy their territory and this is how they became landowners.
The community formed a trust, which consisted of the inkosi as their head and seven trustee members. Unfortunately, just at this time, Sigweje passed away. He was buried in Pietermaritzburg and his son, Lubelo, took over.
The Kunene settled in Boschhoek close to 100 years ago. But the history of the Kunene people changed when the apartheid government passed the abominable land act of black and white spots. The Sigweje tribe was removed after the state expropriated their land on 22 November 1966. The inkosi at the time was Inkosi Didumndeni Kunene, who was installed as inkosi in September 1967. He tried to revisit this removal but his efforts were in vain.
The actual removal took place between August 20, 1968 and October 25, 1968. This was the most traumatising experience in the history of the Kunene people. The Kunene tribe had first hand bitter experience of the apartheid regime. The inkosi’s kraal was the first one to be bulldozed. This was terrible, and people had to follow their leader and watch the government destroy their houses too.
Trucks transported people to their newfound land, called Vergelegen. They were housed in tents. Inkosi was dumped in an old farmhouse, which was dilapidated. It was a shame. People died of various sicknesses. The livestock died, everything was miserable and unbearable. People who were working and living in big cities like Johannesburg and Durban had problems in relocating and then finding their families in the new set-up. Life became hell.
We could not do anything because the government of the day was oppressive. Inkosi ID Kunene passed away in September 1970 and left the area undeveloped. The Boschhoek trustees tried to fight for the restoration of their land rights, but again it was in vain. The landowners were not even compensated in that while they were provided with land to live on, the title deed to that land was not transferred to them. At this time we learned that many people in various places around the country were removed from their land to other areas much against their will. The government of the day did not care about people but about their policies. The Kunene tribe did not give up their fight to restore Boschhoek although in Vergelegen the trustees had no power.
For 18 years the Kunene tribe did not have a rightful heir to ubukhosi because the inkosi eligible to the position was still a minor. Two members of the royal family acted on his behalf successively until 1989, when the present inkosi was installed. It was then that the trustees began to pursue this matter of land restoration further. Inkosi SS Kunene together with the trustees began to tackle the matter through lawyers. The issues at stake were:
To get a title deed for the new land (Vergelegen)
To get recognition of the trustees and their powers to run the affairs of the area
In the event of failure to achieve the above, then fighting our way back to Boschhoek.
This seemed like an insurmountable task, and it needed sound financial backing. The trustees and inkosi were able to find out through a lawyer, Mr Ngubo that Boschhoek had been sold to the state for a price of R250 000 but no one knows who received that payment. It was frustrating. We could move no further.
In 1993, August 9, the Kunene tribe approached the AFRA to assist them in lodging a restitution claim to their land. Mdu Shabane (currently director of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial office of the Department of Land Affairs) and Sanele Shabalala assisted us. The claim was lodged with the Advisory Committee on Land Allocation (ACLA). ACLA rejected the claim on 12 September 1994 on the grounds that the tribe was not subjected to prejudicial practices during the removal and compensatory land was provided after the removal.
We were disappointed. ACLA, we felt, had not given this matter a fair consideration. But then ACLA recommended that the land tenure rights of the Sigweje tribe in respect of Sigweje 15409 be upgraded as requested. That is, they approved our aim of recognising the trustees and that the trustees should run the land. But this recommendation did not materialise.
After the democratic elections of 1994 and the formation of the new South Africa under black leadership, our hopes were rekindled. The Restitution of Land Rights Act (no 22 of 1994, as amended) resulted in Inkosi SS Kunene re-lodging the claim for the restoration of the Sigweje tribes’ land rights to Boschhoek on 16 April 1995. The restitution commission accepted our claim as valid on 28 June 1996 and on 2 July 1996, it was gazetted in notice no 706 of 1996.
While waiting for the processing of our claim, we dreamt how we were going to use our restored land. We wanted to use a portion of the land for settlement, another portion for farming livestock, particularly cattle and sheep, cultivating mealies, peanuts and groundnuts, fruit trees like peaches, apricots and oranges. We dreamed of using a piece of the land for tourism because there are rare trees and birds found in the forests of Boschhoek. We wanted to strike it big with that land.
Our dreams were shattered on June 29, 1999. In a meeting between the restitution commission, the Department of Defence (DOD), the National Department of Public Works (NDPW) in whom the land vests, the Boschhoek claimants committee and AFRA, the DOD stated that it was not prepared to give away Boschhoek because it is now a military base and of strategic importance to them.
In our disappointment, we questioned government policies on restitution. We had thought our own black government would be more sympathetic and understanding. But now, the Kunene tribe has been told it must opt for alternative land, which government is still looking for.
The restitution process is a long, hard and testing process. We are envious each and every time there is a hand-over of land to a claiming community. It seems many people have received their lands but there also remain so many communities still on the waiting list, which is very sad.
The restitution process is long and tedious. I believe there are too few workers to cope with the workload in the commission. There is little follow- up with claimants, who are left not knowing what is happening, and no consistency in working out the process. For example, we have seen the exchange of various officials from the land claims commission. Each time you have to explain again and again where the claim started and what has happened with it and this frustrates one.
We are not satisfied with the option of alternative land the state is offering us. We knew from the beginning what the restitution process would entail but we were optimistic that Boschhoek would be restored to us since there were no other contenders for the farm, except for the state so we thought the claim would be hassle-free. But our hopes were in vain. Land reform policy is good. But it needs some further breaking down of the working structures. If I were the president, I would appoint more than one commissioner in each province, depending on the number of applications, for a speedy processing.
After 10 years of democracy, unfortunately the Abekunene cannot celebrate the restoration of land back to them. Nonetheless, we cannot be oblivious of the painful past and ignore government achievements in this regard. We congratulate all those claimants who have succeeded in having their land restored to them and we have not yet stopped hoping and believing that this chapter will come to a sweeter ending for ourselves.