Cape Town - Her father walked and hiked to the city to single-handedly set in motion a land claim which yesterday saw a multimillion-rand payout to compensate families of the Rooikamp tenants in Ceres, who were forcibly removed under the Group Areas Act.

For Audrey Esterhuizen, finally seeing the claim lodged in 1996 by her father Petrus George Esterhuizen come to fruition – with a settlement totalling R7 million – was to see his dream realised.

“He never owned a car and did not have any help back then. There was even a stage when his life was in danger because he received threats from apartheid authorities. So today I believe having one of his children finish what he started is what he would have wanted,” an emotional Esterhuizen said at an event to mark the settlement, tears welling in her eyes.

Four years ago, she took over the reins from her father, who died after falling ill when his leg was amputated. With a group of willing helpers, she formed the Rooikamp Land Claims Committee.

Seated in a large white marquee on Saturday, set up on the same grounds where after a century of owning the land, Rooikamp residents saw their homes dismantled and bulldozed, Esterhuizen said the compensation was a “huge moment”.

She explained that the land, dubbed “Koning’s grond”, was given to the Rooikamp tenants by Queen Victoria. But the apartheid government ignored their ownership rights and grabbed the land.

Provincial Land Claims chief director of restitution Michael Worsnip said the ceremony was to say “sorry” for what happened to the Rooikamp community, but also to apologise to the millions of others who were wronged under oppressive apartheid laws.

“We are also building a new today and a new tomorrow and this is just one tiny brick in that wall, so it’s important the land claims process has been reopened in order to ensure millions of other people, who never knew about it, also dispossessed of their land, can come forward and make a claim,”

Worsnip said.

Some 465 beneficiaries were recipients of financial vouchers handed to them by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti.

Each household, consisting of generations of claimants whose parents had “tenancy rights”, received R84 000.

Nkwinti described the event, saying “days like these are too heavy”.

“I’m here to appreciate what happened here, and to say in a small way thank you, as it can never make up for what happened in the past. Thank you that you hung on and were patient.”

Land reform, he said, was a “very emotional thing” which required time to be properly managed.

Referring to three Khoisan chiefs in attendance, he said they would aid the department with the next phase, which would look at claimants under the exceptions category, referring to people who had been dispossessed of their land before the Native Lands Act of 1913 was passed.

“The exceptions are going to be more difficult, so we had to give it to a group of leaders to codify. The Khoisan lost their land way before 1913, so it’s going to be a long slog, but the Western Cape is where it all began and we need the people to help us get the history and tell us their stories,” Nkwinti said.

He would return to the province with a national reference group to get the process under way.

“We were torn apart for too long, and we don’t want it to take another 360 years to bring us together. We want it to happen faster, but we must work together,” he said.

As claimants were handed their vouchers, an atmosphere of jubilation erupted, many unable to contain their joy and gratitude.

Lifting his walking stick in the air, 84-year-old Barend Johannes van der Merwe hugged the minster after getting the document.

But his elation was short-lived as he told of a painful memory he would never forget.

“When my father told the housing inspector (under the apartheid regime) he won’t move, then he told him if you don’t get out then we will bulldoze your house with you in it,” said a shaken Van der Merwe.

So his father left with Van der Merwe and his eight siblings.

As the only survivor, he is the sole beneficiary of the R84 000 voucher, which he plans to share with his own three children.

Maybe he’d even buy himself a small car, he laughed, adding that he could still drive even though he could no longer walk without his stick.

“Thank you dad!” he exclaimed, saying the compensation was a blessing to him from his father.

Weekend Argus