The roots of pain and injustice
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Cape Town -
When her parents lodged their land claim in 1998, they were excited. It was a chance to recover the land they had lost 20 years earlier - a sprawling plot of fertile soil in the heart of Franschhoek. But the pair never lived to see the resolution of their claim as the department dragged its heels.
And their daughter, Dionne September, is not sure they would have wanted to.
In her hand she’s holding a piece of paper. The 48-year-old is working out how to divide a payout of R25 000 between her siblings. The number is what her family has received in restitution for a 3 400m2 farm that was taken from them by the apartheid government in 1975.
In an area where property prices sit in the millions, September said the payout was an insult.
“If I could have the land, I would take it. But that is no longer an option,” she said, sitting in the lounge of her Franschhoek home. “I’m thinking I should tell them to come back with a better offer.”
The amount is not set in stone, and this is not the first time September has been promised a payout. As early as 2001, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform told her parents they had won their case and some money was on its way.
It was a story they would get used to hearing frequently until her mother and father died in the mid-2000s.
September’s claim is one of 1 439 in the Western Cape that have not yet been settled since the process first began in 1994. Experts, social justice groups and academics have argued over what the reason for these delays is, but the department says there are many.
“We encounter problems when community conflicts arise,” spokesman Vuyani Nkasayi offered as an example.
“And there was a time when the department was experiencing a shortage of funds to settle land claims.
“The other problem which caused delays was the fact that some land owners disputed the validity of the claims on their land.”
But with the land claim process opening again - for those who missed out during the previous window - Nkasayi said funding would not be a problem this time.
It’s a statement that frustrates September because the claim has always been a problem.
“It was injustice that took that farm away from us and now I am seeing the same injustice again.”
In 1975, the apartheid government had seized her family’s land, giving them R8 000 before chasing them to state-owned flats on the other side of the neighbourhood.
It had rocked their comfortable lives.
Before, they had managed to live off the land, planting vegetables to put into curries and stews and growing fruit in orchards to be used in jam.
Her father had worked on construction sites in the area while her mother made dresses to sell. Her new life was confined to a small flat, and her father was forced to go to the then Transvaal to find work.
They worked their way back out of poverty. The large home September now lives in on Park Street - nestled between wine farms and restaurants - is the result of hours and hours of labour.
“But even now, when I drive around I see these huge farms. It reminds me of what I lost, what we lost,” she said.
“My sister was working on the land claim, but it made her tired and she passed it on to me. I just want to make sure now that my parents get what they deserve.”
She isn’t certain whether it will happen, but she is certain of one thing - R25 000 isn’t enough.
“I don’t know what other people will face when they make their claims, but this is what happened to us.”
A 2012 study into land restitution, “Choosing money over land”, found, through interviews, that most claimants elected to receive a modest payment as opposed to locking themselves into lengthy negotiations over land.
The author, Professor Bernadette Atuahene, assistant professor of law at Chicago-Kent Law School, said: “Many claimants who received a payout complained that the amount they received was too little to do anything significant.”
Many had received as little as R30 000 for their claim.