Former San soldiers still waiting for houses

Published Apr 18, 2003

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By Marleen Smith

Four years after receiving their own land from the government, about four thousand destitute San people in the Northern Cape are still waiting to move there.

Their hopes for release from the harsh makeshift town of army tents at Schmidtsdrift are now pinned on the latest promise - by Premier Manne Dipico.

Dipico recently gave his word that all were to be moved into new houses on their farm Platfontein near Kimberley by the end of 2003.

That however seemed unlikely, Rennie Mishe from the communal property association (CPA) said this week.

"Apart from the school being built, there is not much else going on there yet," he said of the site where the Platfontein township was to be developed.

Not one of more than a thousand promised government-funded houses have been built yet.

A developer said government had up till now availed enough money only for the installation of basic services.

However, Bronwyn Thomas, spokesperson of the Northern Cape department of housing, said at least 500 houses financed by her department were to be built on Platfontein by November.

The Schmidtsdrift San are members of the !Xun and !Khwe tribes who were employed by the former SA Defence Force in its war against the South West African People's Organisation (Swapo) during the eighties. When Namibia gained independence in 1990, the San soldiers were given the option to move to Schmidtsdrift with their families.

However, the Tswana Bathlaping people and a Griqua group then successfully claimed the Northern Cape army base as their ancestral land.

In May 1999, then-president Nelson Mandela handed the Schmidtsdrift San almost 13 000 hectares of farmland, including Platfontein, near Kimberley.

The majority of the around 400 !Xun and !Khwe who had since moved to Platfontein, lived in former workers' houses.

A few had put up shacks, but this was not a solution for the rest because "our people are not used to living in shanties", Mishe said.

To simply shift their tents from Schmidtsdrift to Platfontein was also not an option because they were now too tattered to survive such a move, Mishe said.

Northern Cape land reform MEC Dawid Rooi this week also gave a reassurance that Dipico's promise to the Schmidtsdrift San "was still standing".

Rooi is opening what he called the new "Platfontein communal wildlife ranch", announcing that the big farmhouse currently used as offices by the communal property association on Platfontein, would soon be transformed into a luxury hunters' lodge.

Rooi's department was to help the !Xun and !Khwe in setting themselves up in the lucrative hunting and ecotourism industry.

It was hoped that they would eventually earn large amounts of foreign revenue by receiving overseas trophy hunters.

However, the donated game Platfontein's inhabitants were expecting to receive to stock their new "ranch" this week, did not arrive with Rooi.

The animals, from provincial reserves, would only be delivered later on, officials said.

Platfontein farm manager Clifford Shaw, employed by the communal property association, said inhabitants had earlier asked that some of the donated game be delivered now.

"There have been so many setbacks and delays (with the Platfontein resettlement) in the past, if a deal like this comes up, we try to see it carried through as soon as possible," Shaw explained.

He said a shortage of working capital was crippling the resettlement.

"We receive scores of donations, but not sufficient funds to run the (job-creating) projects in the long term."

Mishe, financial manager of the communal property association, had a more pressing worry: the association had only enough administration funds left for the next two months.

It had experienced financial trouble in the past, but never as serious as this time.

Due to various disagreements they recently cancelled a contract with a local farmer who rented their land for grazing his cattle.

Their income from diamond digging on another part of the land was also shrinking. Diggers' yields were fast decreasing, Mishe said.

Art and craft projects on the farm were not providing any significant income either.

They now wanted to start farming cattle on a part of Platfontein themselves, but were not yet able to secure an affordable loan to purchase cows.

Mishe was 15 years old when he and his family were moved from Namibia to Schmidtsdrift in 1990.

While he is working hard towards resettlement of his people, the majority of them are in their thirteenth year of braving the dusty desert climate in their tents at Schmidtsdrift.

The !Xun and !Khwe were the first San to receive land as part of South Africa's land reform programme.

When they received Platfontein, they were promised that the building of proper homes there was to start within a few months.

Four years down the line they are still waiting.

- Sapa

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