Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “blackspot removals”

Land expropriation without compensation

Oh the irony!

President Cyril Ramaphosa is handing out title deeds to land which he wants to empower the government to expropriate without compensation. Ramaphosa hands out title deeds in Tembisa during Thuma Mina campaign – The Citizen:

He said through handing over title deeds, the government was giving people their dignity back, giving them a store of wealth and empowering them economically.

“A house is the most important asset that one can own,” Ramaphosa said.

He urged title deed holders to treat their certificates as valuable assets, adding that title deeds would be handed out throughout the country.

How can he do this with a straight face — tell people that these certificates are “valuable assets”, when his own government is planning to remove all value from them? The government giving with one hand while it takes with the other.

President Cyril Ramaphosa handing out title deeds (The Citizen)

President Ramaphosa chaired the commission which drew up the Constitution, including the restrictions on expropriating land without compensation. He, of all people, ought to have known what that clause was there for — because previous governments of the National Party had expropriated land without compensation, or with derisory compensation, to be able to move people around in its ethnic cleansing programme.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president he said “Never again”, but it seems that those who have followed him thought he meant again and again. And removing that clause in the constitution will open the way to all kinds of abuses — abuses that we thought we would never have to suffer again.

The relevant section of the Bill of Rights reads:

2. Property may be expropriated only in terms of law of general application ­

a. for a public purpose or in the public interest; and

b. subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.

I believe a great deal of thought was given to that, and I was aware of many instances of abuse under the previous National Party government that had led to that clause being inserted into the Bill of Rights.

Among those abuses were the removal of people from Khumaloville to Hobsland. There was a black farming community at Khumaloville, where people had title to the land, and had two acre plots. The National Party government expropriated the land and offered the people half-acre plots at Hobsland in exchange. They were offered compensation of R42 for their two acres, and were given the opportunity of buying a further half acre at Hobsland for R55. At Hobsland they would also be subject to restrictions on their farming activities.

That was in the 1960s, under the programme of “Blackspot Removals”, and such things occurred all over the country.

Another instance, not concerned specifically with compensation, but rather with the abuses of expropriation, happened in the 1970s, not, this time, in the name of Blackspot Removals, but rather in the name of “Homeland Consolidation”.

A number of sugar farms between Eshowe and Empangeni in Zululand were expropriated from white farmers to be added to the KwaZulu “homeland”. One of the farmers, Guy Chennells, proposed that he stay on his farm for a couple of years, and share his skills and experience with the incoming black farmers, to enable them to make a go of running the farm. This was rejected by the National Party government, and a few years later the reason for the rejection became apparent — there were no black farmers. The farm, now owned by the government, was occupied and profitably farmed by a National Party functionary at a purely nominal rental, who was in no hurry to move out and thus consolidate the “Homeland”.

We are familiar with such corruption in our own day, as we see similar activities in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom. But they were less well known in the old days, not because they didn’t happen, but because back then we didn’t have a free press that could report them. If journalists knew of such things they were too scared to report them, and in the case of the few bolder exceptions, their stories were often spiked, because the shareholders in the newspaper firms were afraid.

Cyril Ramaphosa gives assurances that “land expropriation without compensation” will take place in an orderly and responsible manner, and of course when he is handing out title deeds to people he isn’t planning to immediately take them away again. But what he is planning to do is to remove the protection that would prevent anyone else from taking them away, as Julius Malema of the EFF is already promising (or threatening) to do if his party comes to power.

So Cyril Ramaphosa reminds me of B.J. Vorster who, whenever he proposed legislation that would grant him and his police extraordinary powers, would always reassure the public that these powers would not be abused and would be used responsibly, and that “the innocent had nothing to fear.” And in a way Cyril Ramaphosa is doing the same thing, saying, in effect, “don’t trust the constitution, trust me.”. .

And I’m reminded of this every Sunday in church when we sing

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men,
in whom there is no salvation.
when his breath departs he returns to his earth;
on that very day his plans perish

 

Easy Rider through Western Transvaal dorps

Hat tip to spookyrach for the link. Unlike spookyrach, I rather liked the movie:

But as with the previous post, it brings back memories.

From 1969-1972 I lived in a kind of commune in Windhoek, which we called the Community of St Simon the Zealot. We sent an occasional newsletter, called The Pink Press to friends and well-wishers, and in one of them described an international tour (to South Africa, which at that time was trying to claim South West Africa/Namibia as its own, so we described it as “international” to emphasise Namibia’s separateness).

An Anglican priest friend, Tom Comber, then living in Oxford, England, wrote saying that he had enjoyed the description of doing an “Easy Rider” through the Western Transvaal dorps. I hadn’t seen the film (perhaps it was banned in those days), but after hearing of it from him, I always wanted to see it. But I only got to see the film many years later, when it was shown on TV quite recently.

Those were the days of ethnic cleansing in South Africa, and we went to a place called Morsgat (Messhole), subsequently renamed Madikwe because Cosmas Desmond, who was then a Franciscan priest, reported that the people who had been moved there lacked basic necessities like food and blankets. Cosmas Desmond wrote a book, The discarded people, which drew the ethnic cleansing then taking place to the attention of a wider public. The picture shows some of us on the road to Morsgat.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my diary entry for Saturday 15 November 1969, our “Easy Rider” through the Western Transvaal:

We set out early in the morning for Morsgat, in three vehicles. Ted Goodyer, now deacon at St Martin’s in the Veld, was driving the Christian Institute’s combi, and Mary Davies and Richard Schaerer went with him. Shirley and John and Mark Davies went in their own car. Elizabeth Davies came with me in an Opel station wagon belonging to a woman called Amanda, but nobody knew her surname. We drove out through Blackheath, Tarlton and Magaliesberg, and at Koster stopped for tea and biscuits at the side of the road. Just beyond Swartruggens we turned off to the right along a dirt road, and about 25 miles further on we came to Morsgat.

Our plan was that the clergy in the group – being Ted, John and me, would go in to
distribute the food, while the rest waited outside. But there were a lot of houses in the process of being built, and a bloke came out of the building yard and gave every impression of expecting us. He said we were expected at the school, because that was where the doctor had gone last time. Earlier on the journey I had seen a police van go on ahead, and I suspected a trap, but the bit about the doctor sounded all right, so we went. The school building was in the shape of a U, and sure enough, the police-van was there, waiting. So I didn’t go into the school, but parked under a tree outside. The policeman came up and introduced himself as Sergeant van den Berg, so we all said good morning, and John asked him in a polite conversational way where would be the best place to distribute the food. This clearly embarrassed him, as he had obviously come to be professional and nasty, and he said in his best professional and nasty voice “Have you got permits to be here?”, and John said “We don’t need permits, we are clergy.” The sergeant was a bit taken aback by this, and took down John’s name and address, and went off somewhere, and a few minutes later returned with a Plymouth Barracuda with an SB man in it.

The SB man, Loots, was a real thug type. No flies on him, he couldn’t smile or be friendly if he tried. He went round demanding permits, names and addresses, and took all names and addresses, including the children’s. Then he insisted that Shirley and Richard and the children must leave and go to the Swartruggens police station, so they went off with the Fuzz, while we stayed and distributed the food after consulting with a bloke who claimed to be a headman. He and a few henchmen kept order, but eventually started using whips on the crowd. When it got too chaotic, we moved into the school, and distributed from classroom windows. The distribution of the food went off all right, but the clothes were an altogether different animal. Here, the majority of the henchmen tried to keep the best for themselves, and when we went outside the combi was almost mobbed. One or two of them were concerned to see that the old people got some, but the rest just grabbed for themselves. The combi was surrounded by about fifty shouting gesticulating people, and later John said he had seen nothing to equal it for sheer greed and grabbing, except perhaps in photos he had once seen of a scramble to buy shares on the Stock Exchange.

When the combi drove off I followed it a bit later, but it had disappeared, so I drove back to Swartruggens and found Shirley and Richard and the children. We stopped at a garage to buy some cold drinks, and then went back towards Morsgat to find John and Ted. Loots passed us going in the opposite direction, and looked puzzled. We drove about 100 yards up the dirt road, and stopped for lunch under some trees, and almost as soon as we got there John and Ted arrived in the combi. We had lunch there, and on the tar road I saw Loot’s car turn around. We thought he would come up to keep an eye on us, but he didn’t appear. On the way back, Mary rode in the car with me. We passed the place where Loots had parked, and Shirley saw him sitting in a tree, watching us from there. It seems almost as good as the story of Sergeant Ndlovu hiding in the butcher shop at Pevensey. In the evening Jill Chisholm, a reporter from the Daily Mail, came round to hear the full story of the day’s doings.

The following day we burned a lot of posters showing B.J. Vorster. It was part of an antiremovals campaign the previous year, and showed Vorster and a quote from him, saying “You must not try to take a man’s home away from him.” The picture shows Cos Desmond and Liz Davies throwing some of the 20000 surplus Vorsters on the fire.

When I saw the film Easy Rider I could see why Tom Comber was reminded of it. Some of the communities in the Western Transvaal are a bit like those depicted in the film. But those were not the people we encountered on our journey. Ethnic cleansing created its own peculiar society, and some of those effects linger to the present, part of the legacy of apartheid that we are still struggling to cope with.

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