Durban - A NORTH Coast family is fighting back to save a piece of land they use for prayer after it was expropriated, allegedly, without their knowledge.
On this land lies a puthu (an anthill some Hindus believe is sacred) as well as a prayer place where the family erected a jhanda (a flag pole dedicated to the Hindu deity Hanuman) and where they pray every morning.
Nirmala Devi Maharaj, 73, of Umhlali, inherited the land from her late mother, Jagataran Devi, who died 40 years ago.
In addition to the prayer places, the land that was taken also has an orchard with almonds, mangoes, and papaya as well as a vegetable garden.
Maharaj’s sons, Yogendranath, 53, and Rohit, 54, live with their mother on the property with their families.
Yogendranath, who is a police captain at Umhlali SAPS, said the family realised they lost the land when construction began on their 4ha property last year.
Since then, they have been involved in a battle with the KwaDukuza Municipality to find out how the land was expropriated without their knowledge, and to get it back.
However, the KwaDukuza Municipality media liaison officer, Sipho Mkhize, said: “The property is registered under the KwaDukuza Municipality. We can prove that the expropriation was done rightfully.”
Yogendranath said he lived on this land since he was a little boy.
“When I started work, we began to develop the property. I started the orchard while my wife and mother tended the garden. We are vegetarians, so my wife started planting various vegetables, from cabbage and tomatoes to various beans, and several other vegetables which we use on a daily basis.”
About a year ago, Yogendranath said he noticed parts of the land had pegs. “When we approached the workers, they told us they were going to build a road. I was baffled as it was private land. When I told them this, they said it was municipal land.
“Initially we managed to stop them. During this time, I approached the municipality to find out what was happening. It was then I found out that land had been expropriated in 2015. However, there was no notification or meeting. And we were never informed this was happening.”
Yogendranath approached the Department of Housing.
“I was told they could not find our lot number on the map. However, I was able to identify our land as there is a river just below the property.”
He then realised the lot number had changed. However, the family was not told about this.
As a result, when news of the expropriation was published in the newspaper, it was done under the new lot number and did not raise his suspicions.
Yogendranath said he was told the land that had been expropriated would be used for the low-cost houses. On this land is the orchard, the garden, and the prayer places. However, the land where the family home is built was not taken.
He went to an attorney with the aim of stopping the process. There are now plans for the family to meet with officials from the municipality to find an amicable solution.
“My sister-in-law built up the puthu about seven years ago. It is sacred to us, and we will fight to keep it,” he said. “What happened is very unfair. We feel there was no transparency and we should have been informed about this expropriation. Everyone else was informed. What makes us different?”
Meanwhile, Nirmala Devi said she felt hopeless and as though she was being robbed of her livelihood.
“For many years, we have taken care of this land and we have so many memories here. My parents and siblings started doing sugar cane farming and growing our own crops on this land. It is in our blood, and for them to come change our way of life is unfair.
“Also, my daughter-in-law and I have spent years making sure we take care of this garden. Where will we have our prayers now? My other daughter-in-law does her prayers at the puthu. Where will she pray now?”