Nearly thirty years after Nelson Mandela’s release, the Dwesa-Cwebe communities – the first to benefit from the land restitution process in the Eastern Cape – are still waiting for title to the land signed over to them in 2001.
The fate of this project is cast into sharp relief by the ANC NEC’s land summit at the weekend, and the ruling party’s stated determination to press for expropriation without compensation.
For the Dwesa-Cwebe communities of the Eastern Cape, the big party attended by then Deputy President Jacob Zuma is long forgotten; on the ground, little has happened in 17 years.
The intended beneficiaries still have no access to the natural resources they fought to obtain, the R3 000 per household compensation is long since spent, the remainder of the settlement agreement monies is still held by the Amathole District Municipality, and the land ownership and its management is a mirage.
So what went wrong? Let’s look at the sad and pathetic story of government insensitivity, paternalism, incompetence, lack of political will and community infighting.
The atmosphere of liberation stimulated by Mandela’s release in 1990, coupled with long-held resentment over the deprivation of access to natural resources, and a drought-induced grazing shortage, sparked 10 years of mass protest and intense negotiation over land straddling the Mbashe River in the Eastern Cape, which culminated in June 2001 with the signing of South Africa’s first major rural restitution settlement agreement.
The agreement was complex. It incorporated seven village Community Property Associations (CPAs), five from the Amafengu-dominated Dwesa side of the Mbashe River, and two from the more traditional Cwebe communities of Bomvana people, on the north side.
This resulted in the establishment of the Dwesa-Cwebe Land Trust, representing the CPAs, to own and co-manage the Dwesa and Cwebe Nature Reserves, and own and lease The Haven Hotel and coastal cottages, for the benefit of the 2 381 rural households of the so-called Dwesa-Cwebe Community.
Restitution grants of R14 million were to be administered by the fledgling Amathole District Municipality, presumably because the Trust was deemed not to be trusted by government paternalists. This paltry amount was based on a laughable valuation of the reserves – by contrast, consider the MalaMala valuation of R1 billion.
Nearly 30 years later, what has actually happened?
No land restitution has taken place. Title has not been registered to the CPAs for their land, nor to the Trust for the Reserves or The Haven Hotel, which is still registered to the Transkei Development Corporation.
In 2013, the government registered a new combined Dwesa-Cwebe CPA – to replace the seven village associations and the Trust – but, five years later, a proper committee has still not been elected.
The Trust never had capital, operating funds or land ownership, and, as a consequence, it lost the support of the beneficiaries, and was bypassed, and was seen as a threat by the Mbashe local municipality and by traditional leaders.
A portion of the settlement grant was used to produce a Development Plan in 2003 in consultation with the communities, but little was implemented. This failure is symbolized by a pontoon intended to link the reserves across the Mbashe River, but which was washed away before it could be put to any use.
The obvious infrastructure development meant for the benefit of all parties was the upgrade and maintenance of access roads. But neglect has reduced these to routes that are a challenge even for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Physical development is further hampered by the absence of any planning law for rural Transkei, under which such development could be authorized.
Co-management of the reserves by the Trust and East Cape Nature Conservation/EC Parks and Tourism happened fitfully, but always dominated by “Nature”, with ever decreasing community access to the spiritual and economic resources of shore and forest.
The newly created Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) issued draconian rules from Cape Town – with no local consultation, but arrests and fines. A fishing ban drastically affected occupancy at The Haven.
Despite the lack of title, and initial difficulties with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, the Trust/CPA continues to receive rental and levies from The Haven Hotel and the white-occupied cottages under long-term leases. Tensions result from these Cwebe-sourced benefits in a Dwesa-majority Trust.
These problems are set to intensify as the time for renewal of the communities’ 21-year lease of the reserves draws near.
It is time for the government – and, in particular, the Restitution Commission of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform – to do its job.
The situation needs a driver, a leader, an agency with authority. What may also be needed is Expropriation without Compensation of State land to ensure the community is given what was signed for in 2001.
* Mike Coleman is a Land, Rural Development and Agricultural Planning consultant based in the Eastern Cape. This article was commissioned by the SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR).