Mxolisa Ngesi, one of the Double Drift community members. Picture: I'solezwe lesiXhosa / ANA Pictures
East London - “Whenever I think about that inhumane decision of dispossessing us of our ancestral land, I always think of my mother. My mother died a few months after that dispossession, because she was emotionally affected by that decision of the apartheid regime.”

This was the response of Mxolisi Ngesi to a question about how he felt when he got back part of the land his family was dispossessed of in Double Drift near Alice in the Eastern Cape in 1991.

“You want me to cry,” he added.

Ngesi is chairperson of the Likhayalethu Communal Property Association (CPA). He has been instrumental in leading the Double Drift community to reclaim its land. They started the process in 1995 and a settlement of 1400 hectares from their 23500 hectares was reached in 2012.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa visited the Double Drift community to preside over the handing over of the 1400 hectare game farm back to the community last week.

As part of the initiative, Molewa’s department donated 10 zebras and 20 hartebeest for the community to start their own game farm.

The Double Drift community was dispossessed of residential and grazing rights as a result of 1913 Land Act to make way for the establishment of the Double Drift Nature Reserve, which forms part of the Great Fish Nature Reserve.

Edna Molewa at the Double Drift game reserve. Picture: I'solezwe lesiXhosa / ANA Pictures

The Likhayalethu CPA, consisting of 1500 Double Drift community members, has been funded with R6million by Molewa’s department to develop a wildlife economy business venture on the farm, which has been bought for them as part of a R11m settlement by the state through the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Ngesi said they were happy with the government’s assistance, but that they still wanted their land in its entirety.

“We were dispossessed in a very inhumane manner. We had to forcibly leave our ancestral land, which included leaving with our belongings and our livestock. It was painful, because we had nowhere to go.

“Some of us lost valuable livestock in the form of cattle and goats, because we had no land for them to graze. Leaving the graves of our loved ones was like a thorn in the flesh,” said Ngesi.

Molewa was also emotional at the handing over ceremony, saying it was “bringing dignity back to the community”.

“We are here to celebrate with the people who were dispossessed of their land.

"They fought hard to get it back," she said.

“The launch of this Double Drift Project marks a new dawn in community-led wildlife management, which unlocks wildlife ranching that includes a focus on game breeding and live sales to transform the sector,” said Molewa.

The activities undertaken with the Environmental Affairs’ funding to Double Drift include erecting a game fence and entrance gate, construction of accommodation for rangers and hunters, a boma (livestock enclosure), as well as the training and development of community members.

Ngesi said he had no doubt that the community would manage the game farm effectively.

“It’s in our hands now. If we fail to manage it, we will be failing ourselves not the government.”

I'solezwe lesiXhosa