Commercial interests in South Africa continue to view rural people as problems to be removed to the peripheries while their plight remains invisible in the public eye.
Near the South African borders with Swaziland and Mozambique rests gorgeous, pristine land. Communities here often find themselves residing inside of nature reserves – with or without consent and consultation. The plethora of nature reserves in the region is testament to the environmental stewardship of local communities.
One community organiser relayed to me that, while growing up, “we would swim in the rivers and grandmothers would warn us that if we killed snails, frogs or snakes, we would switch genders”. Such fables continue to be passed along to instil an ethic of connectivity and respect for the environment; to damage the environment is to permanently alter one’s self.
In this context of natural beauty, cultural and economic devastation is ever-present – continued attempts are being made to dispossess rural people of their ancestral lands and livelihoods. Here I spoke to two men, one 44, the other 35. Both recall growing up and coming of age in vibrant, autonomous communities. Living on lands formally administered by Ingonyama Trust – an institutional vestige of apartheid – these men were told by the local traditional leadership that they could do what they pleased with their homes. However, as these leaders became entrenched in dealings of local reserves-- some even sit on their boards – this changed.
In 2010 between these two men, 11 homes as well as an external shower and toilet facility were burned and bulldozed. Accordingly, these two suspect that this was out of fear of competition by the local tourism industry; one of them hosted an American couple annually for a few weeks at a time. Moreover, the local reserve took them to the local magistrate, and while the traditional leadership was present at the hearing, they remained neutral rather than explaining that individuals had been permitted to do what they pleased with allocated land. One of these men was fined R2,000 for “refusing” to state who built those homes but the judge refused to believe his capabilities in this regard.
Following this, local rangers arrived, supplied an English language document (which neither could read) and proceeded to burn and bulldoze their homes. They did not even have time to gather their belongings. Presently, the home of one of them is rotting and he fears retribution if he were to build a new one.
These two men were also told that the homes they had built were on a hill too close to the ocean; meanwhile a luxury lodge sits metres from the shore that the hill overlooks. After demolition of the homes, these two men have very few economic prospects. The reserve has offered them sporadic work cleaning beaches. Evidently, attempts are being made to transform self-sufficient communities into becoming capital-dependent. The outcome of this inevitably would be migrancy and departure from ancestral lands, leading to dispossession. These folks are clearly viewed as a blot on the canvass of commercial tourism development.
This phenomenon is not unique to deep, remote rural areas. Recently a widow in her 60s was evicted from her home resting on Ingonyama Trust Land a stone’s throw north of Durban. Without anywhere to go, this woman has lost her right to a home as suburban development encroaches further and further north. Once again, the process in which she, like many others, came to live on land under this legal structure must be reiterated; lands presently administered by Ingonyama Trust constitute part of the former KwaZulu homeland; the Bill initiating the Trust was passed days before the 1994 election. This continued the colonial capture of traditional governance and land allocation. We must ask, what is the constitutionality of this institutionalised apartheid-era structure?
Such questions need to be investigated as the government incessantly continues to promote and attempt to push through the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill – a piece of legislation that not only infringes on the right of freedom of association, while reifying apartheid borders, but perhaps most important, strengthens an often unproductive and corrupted governance system. Last, this legislation fits into a narrative of further marginalisation insofar as both media and national government are concerned; concerns over human and constitutional rights are decentred and reduced to simply static, rural, traditional matters.
*Please note this piece was first published by Daily Maverick