Ray of hope for rural community

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Their ancestral land was important to them; it was fertile - helping them grow much needed crops, but between 1963 and 1967 they were evicted from their land, their homes bulldozed, not giving them enough time to pack their belongings.

Today, the surviving direct descendants of the Ribungwane people, who had been dispossessed of their land those many years ago, finally have something to smile about writes Nthambeleni Gabara

Descendents of the Ribungwane tribe recently received monetary vouchers from the South African government. A total of 182 land claimants received vouchers, while a further 77 will receive what is due to them before the end of the year. The majority of beneficiaries, who are illiterate, will each pocket over R54 000.

The land under claim is Portion 1 and 2 of the farm Koedespoort 402 LS, Grootplaats 399 LS, Portion 1 and 2 of the farm Buffelshoek 403 LS and Groenkloof 86 LT in the Vhembe District under the Makhado Municipality.

Currently, the piece of land under claim is used for grazing, ploughing and residential purposes by the neighbouring Tshivenda speaking Nthabalala community.

The Shangaan speaking land claimants used to live together with the Vhavenda until the apartheid government introduced the Bantu Authority Act in 1951 aimed at separating indigenous tribes.

It is estimated that about 3.5 million black South Africans were forcibly driven from their ancestral land between the period 1913 and 1989.

When the African National Congress (ANC) took over government in 1994, people who were dispossessed of their land under the draconian legislation, were given the right to claim restoration against the state. Residents of Ribungwane then lodged land claims as indivuals.

Willie Mafabaza Baloyi lodged his land claim on behalf of the Ribungwane tribe in February 1996; John Mavavaza Khoza on behalf of the Groenkloof community in 1998 and in the same year another land claim was lodged by a man known as RS Baloyi.

However, in 2008, the claimants decided to speak in one voice. They agreed to consolidate their claims into a single claim and renamed it the Ribungwane Community Land Claim.

The Limpopo regional land Claims Commission started the process of verifying the claimants' households and beneficiaries and the verified list of all households was adopted on May 2009 by the surviving direct descendants of the dispossessed Ribungwane claimants.

Limpopo Regional Land Claims Commissioner, Tele Maphoto told BuaNews that it was not an easy process for his office to verify the rightful claimants since most of them were old and illiterate.

"I must however, admit that holding meetings with this community was not a challenge because they are organised.

"Remember these are elderly people who don't understand that it is difficult to prove that one's cattle grazed at a particular portion of land. Again, since indigenous people were not allowed to hold title deeds or register ownership, it becomes difficult to prove that people were forcibly removed.

"However, while they may not be educated, they have other things like graves to prove that indeed they are the rightful land claimants," Maphoto explains.

On their land claim, the 259 claimants explained that they do not want to be restored to the piece of land where the generations before them were brutally removed, but instead, prefer financial compensation to improve their lives.

Chairperson of the Ribungwane Community Land Claim, Ringeta Shilaluke, explains that they had opted for financial compensation as they no longer wanted to return to their ancestral land. He said there were people, the Vhavenda, living there now.

"We all agreed that we don't need restoration because currently there are people living in that piece of land, we also realised that we don't want development because the government has brought a lot of changes in our village. The issue of an alternative land it was not going to work out because most of the claimants are old, so we then decided to opt for financial compensation," he says.

It has been a long wait for the Ribungwane land claimants, but Rural Development and Land Affairs Deputy Minister, Thulas Nxesi, gave the residents of the rural community a ray of hope.

An excited Gogo Mihlaba Nkuna exclaims: "I have never had this money in my lifetime and I am grateful. I will use some of this money to drill a bore hole and invest the remaining amount."

84-year-old Greeners Maluleke explains that since his family members who directly experienced the bitter force removals are no longer alive, he will use the money to erect tombstones on their graves.

"I am not going to splash this money, no, I will mainly use it for the education of my grandchildren since all my four children are no longer schooling," says Maluleke.

The total amount of the claim is R14 263 650. Nxesi urged residents to use their money on furthering their childrens' education and other productive projects.

"It is therefore incumbent on the Ribungwane claimants to make the best use of their compensation monies to craft a sustainable business plan that will secure future economic benefits for their families and their posterity," he says.

Chairperson of the land claims committee at Makhado Municipality, Cllr Albert Muvhumbe urged the regional land claims commissioner to speed up the process of land restoration in the Vhembe district.

"We still have more than 70 percent of unresolved land claims in the Vhembe district, so we are urging the regional land claims commission to speed up the process of restoring the land back to its rightful owners," says Muvhumbe.

A target has been set by the department to redistribute 82 million hectares- 30 percent- of all agricultural land to black people by 2014.