Land disputes in KZN

June 13, 2008

In the news, Land

An article in the Mercury this morning reports that land claimants have dismantled the 11km eastern boundary fence of the Ndumo game reserve and begun clearing land preparing farming plots. According to the report, the claim was officially settled earlier this year when community ownership was officially recognised on condition that no physical occupation of the land. Current developments again raise issues about what constitutes an equitable basis for land restitution. More significantly, recent events at Ndumo and elsewhere emphasise anew that land claims and restitution is an imperative government, civil society and local communities are not fully engaging. Comments are welcome and dedicated blog entries are encouraged. If you are not already a blogger with History Matters, please contact me at the address given below.

One Response to “Land disputes in KZN”

  1. Lauren Rosenberg Says:

    Thanks for alerting us to this article Thomas as the concept of land restitution needs to spoken about more openly, not just at the level of government or at dinner parties of current landowners distressed about South Africa becoming ‘the next Zimbabwe’.

    The opening line in any piece of journalism is extremely important as it is meant to capture the attention of readers and entice them to continue reading. The Ndumo article opens as follows:

    “Fears for the future of one of KwaZulu-Natal’s best-known game reserves have intensified with more than 2 000 people marching into the reserve to clear farming plots after having smashed down the park’s entire eastern boundary fence.”

    It doesn’t require much to figure out the ‘us versus them’ rhetoric that the writer is invoking, in fact it doesn’t take much to recognise that this rhetoric is ALWAYS invoked in discussions about land reform and restitution. And this is the biggest problem when it comes to issues of land in South Africa as these issues are not viewed outside of the paradigmatic dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’ resulting in a crisis of defining equitable land restitution.

    What is needed is an accurate sense of history, not legal title deeds. The article states that “The 10 000ha Ndumo reserve was proclaimed in 1924 and has been subjected to a protracted series of land claim negotiations for the past decade” when what we really need to know is who proclaimed the land and from whom? What was the history of the space of the current Ndumo game reserve prior to 1924? Precise and patient attention needs to be paid to the history of land usage and ‘ownership’ because it is ignorant to assume that these can be waved off with a property deed or a ceremony (earlier this year a ceremony was held to officially recognise community ownership of the land BUT subject to the condition that it would remain a game reserve and no physical occupation of the land would occur).

    The issue at Ndumo is further complicated because it is a game reserve and a protected wetland, resulting in a 3-way debate between ‘us’, ‘them’ and the custodians of ‘the animals’. What needs to be considered is not simply issues of re-occupation or financial compensation to communities who were forcibly removed during the 1930s and 1960s, but rather the value that individuals and communities attach to the land. This is the source of current frustration, dissatisfaction and fear associated with land reform in South Africa and this is what needs to discussed dialectically and practically in an ongoing conversation between government, landowners, displaced communities and society at large.

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