Thrown in the deep end: Gongolo people's land use aspirations in the midst of the proposed game farm
By Ndabe Ziqubu. January 2011
Talk about throwing people into the deep end and letting them swim their way out. This could be described as the experience that people from Gongolo had to endure in the process of the struggle to have their rights in land formalised. Not only in terms of drafting plans outlining what they want to do with the land as soon as it is officially transferred to them, but also in a number of other ways, like engaging in negotiations with different stakeholders and role-players with interest in the claim who are directly or indirectly involved in the process, establishing local committees and the legal entity, and many others. This article will focus on the former. One wonders what the defined role of government is in producing not only settlement plans for farm dweller communities acquiring land through the land reform process but also integrated development plans (IDPs) for such communities as well. It has become common knowledge that farm dweller communities do not feature anywhere in municipal IDPs.
The Gongolo land claim is a very complex one, compounded by a number of factors. There are overlapping rights over the same piece of land where labour tenants have lodged a claim in terms of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, No. 3 of 1996, restitution claimants have lodged a claim in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, No. 22 of 1994, the farmers have formal rights as legal owners of the land, the traditional authorities have some claim over land emanating from how far traditional boundaries stretch marking the extent of their jurisdiction. To complicate the picture even further some farmers constituted themselves into the Gongolo Wildlife Reserve (GWR) Company and drafted a proposal for establishing a game farm on the same piece of land claimed in terms of restitution and labour tenancy. As if that is not enough, the land in question stretches across Estcourt, Weenen and Mooi River in the midlands, and also spreads across two District Municipalities, uThukela and uMgungundlovu District Municipalities; as well as two local Municipalities, uMtshezi and Msunduzi Municipalities. This results into a lot of stakeholders with diverse interests in the Gongolo land issue, making it difficult to coordinate. With the district office of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform responsible for labour tenant claims and the Regional Land Claims commissions responsible for restitution claimants, and the confusion between the two in terms of who should lead the whole process, it is even worse.
The game farm proposal by the GWR Company is very enticing when reading it and has attracted a lot of support from different quarters, including government. However, it falls short of a social aspect. One would expect that with government emphasising active participation of black people in the main stream economy such proposals would talk of partnerships between farmers as current land owners and black people as land claimants, especially since the farmers themselves support the idea that people should take transfer of land and then lease it to them for the purposes of establishing the game farm. On the contrary, the proposal suggests that people should be relocated to give way to the game farm and only participate in the venture as employees. This could be seen as a ploy to entice people with job opportunities whereas the intention is to have them completely out of the picture, just like the case was with initiatives like Hluhluwe, Ndumo, Kruger National Park, and many others.
The process of resolving this claim is also characterised by unlegislated practices, practices that are also not precedented. Since the GWR Company compiled what was regarded as a brilliant plan community people had also to be subjected to the pressure of drafting their own document outlining what they want to do with the land. People had no resources and expertise to undertake such a huge responsibility, and government did not provide any support whatsoever. A David and Goliath kind of a situation when considering how gigantic, well resourced, and well connected the GWR Company is in relation to the Gongolo people. However, with the enthusiasm, the determination, the commitment, the faith that people had they managed to mobilise the resources and support they required and pulled through. They stood the test of time under very difficult conditions and produced the document People have given all they have got to make certain that they produce a quality document.
This also serves to indicate how serious people are if they say they want their land back and want to use it to bring about positive change in their lives and living conditions. It remains to be seen how the powers that be would make productive use of this document such that Gongolo people benefit from it and enjoy the fruits of their hard labour.