'We believe that we can now prosper'
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By Chris Makhaye
Alfred Mbuyazi was only four years old when his family were forcibly removed from their lush, green land about 30km from the fast-growing North Coast town of Richards Bay.
The reasons were purely economic. The area in question was needed to make way for timber forests, Richards Bay Minerals and its titanium mining enterprise.
Last week, the Minister of Land Affairs and Agriculture, Lulu Xingwana, came to KwaMbonambi in person to announce the handing back deal, one of the biggest in South Africa.
The deal will see 534 KwaMbonambi families awarded the 7 293 hectares of land that was once theirs and an amount of nearly R66 million in compensation handed to the affected families.
The area includes 3 825 hectares of prime commercial forestry, which was until recently owned by the Department of Public Works and has been leased to a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBEE) company to plant commercial forestry for timber.
The remainder, which constitutes rich titanium mining land, has been under lease to Richards Bay Mining (RBM) company for the past 30 years. It has been been paying a nominal rental to the state.
Now 63, Mbuyazi is seeing history come full circle. After half a century of poverty, he says that it makes his heart sing to have the coveted land back.
The memories, he says, are still "like yesterday". He recalls his father talking about how his people were pushed from "pillar to post" first in 1928 and again in 1950.
"My father never forgot any of this. He spoke about it until his death."
The explanation then was that the government was forcing people out of areas along the sea because it was conducting experiments that could harm them but would be beneficial in the long run.
"My father told me that the government would let us return to our ancestral land once the experiments were over. But this never happened - until now."
Inkosi Sibusiso Mbuyazi, who lodged the land claim more than 10 years ago, said the handover was the most memorable day in his clan's history.
He believed it would go a long way towards bringing economic development and prosperity to his people.
But the history still lies deep in the veins. The only structure that was left intact after the families left was the 152-year-old Lutheran Church, which is in the middle of the commercial forestry region.
"We still come to this church for services and to bury our loved ones," said Alfred Mbuyazi.
However, the younger generation, he says, is more interested in the future and hope that the recovery of the land will bring about visible changes to their lives and ease the high rate of unemployment.
Young local resident Phumi Mabaso said that he hoped leaders would use this opportunity to benefit everyone.
"Now that the land is back, we believe that we can now prosper."
Local businesses and municipalities are equating this deal to that of the fabulously wealthy Royal Bafokeng tribe in North West.
The 300 000-strong Royal Bafokeng's wealth is founded on its platinum-rich land in the province.
The Bafokeng, or "people of the dew", earn royalties from miners Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum, who extract the white metal used in the motor industry and jewellery from the more than 2 000 sq km of land owned by the tribe.
The once poor Bafokeng have managed to build successful investment companies.
They have poured huge amounts into educating their youngsters and have promoted the spirit of entrepreneurship among themselves.
Chairman of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce Phiwo Thango said they were relieved that the land claim had been finalised.
"We are also happy that businesses in the area will not be affected and there will be no negative economic impact.
"We also applaud the involvement of communities in the RBM BEE deal. They will benefit financially and employment opportunities should increase," Thango said.
Alec Bozas, an Empangeni and Richards Bay-based property developer, echoed Thango's assessment.
"This is a huge opportunity for the inkosi and the local community to follow the Bafokeng model and example.
"They need to invest wisely for the benefit of the community. This could lead to the upliftment of the standard of living and education levels, and create entrepreneurs and provide job opportunities for the mostly unemployed locals," said Bozas.
He said Richards Bay had no land for further expansion and that the municipalities would need to negotiate with the KwaMbonambi people to acquire land for residential development and industry to bring about employment and investment.
"This could be a win-win situation," said Bozas.