Durban - President Cyril Ramaphosa has told community members in KwaMkhwanazi in KwaZulu-Natal that their successful land claim is the first in a pilot programme as government addresses “the land issue” with renewed vigour.
“Right now, government is fully empowered to deal with the land question and now we are moving forward with speed,” he said at the University of Zululand’s KwaDlangezwa campus where he officially handed over 4 586 hectares of land and title deeds to the community on Sunday.
“As we do this we admit that over a number of years we have been rather slow and tardy and the process has been slowed down by a number of reasons. What we did today [Sunday] should have been done a number of years ago, but as they say, better late than never,” he said.
The KwaMkhwanazi community was forcibly removed from their land following the enactment of the 1913 Land Act to make way for returning World War I soldiers. During the 1940s the community was again moved to make way for commercial timber and sugarcane farms.
The land claim was lodged in 1997 and the Phalane Community Trust was established by the claimant community in 2005 to manage the land. Some of the land had previously been owned by the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries department, while a portion was used for student residence blocks for the university.
The commercial forests are currently being leased by Siyaqhubeka Forests Limited, a partnership between Mondi, its black empowerment partners, the government, and local communities.
“We are making history, celebrating today the land of our people in this area. As we make history we are also commencing rolling mass land distribution in our country – we are going to be returning land in a massive way. The KwaMkhwanazi land is the first,” said Ramaphosa.
“There have been many others in the past, but now in this phase, [KwaMkhwanazi land] is number one. There are 25 or 27 others that we are going to return land to, this is the restitution process, one of the categories in our land reform programme,” he said.
Until December 2017 the trust had been locked in a 13-year legal battle in the Land Claims Court over the legitimacy of certain community members and their right to be trustees and their right to disbursements.
“As government, we are intensifying implementation of land reform programmes. It is our firm belief that communities must take great interest in the land restitution process and about everything taking place on their land,” Ramaphosa said.
It was also important for communities to know how their money was being spent. “When we return land to our people through a trust, the trust will be used to empower individual beneficiary households, but must also lead to the development of the whole community.
“We think this celebration today will bring hope to communities across the country [that have suffered the same fate]. To those communities we say we will soon be celebrating with you as well. Today we are giving life to our constitution and our freedom charter,” said Ramaphosa.
African News Agency/ANA