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South Africa’s land crisis, an albatross for Ramaphosa

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President caught between satisfying African base and white backers

By Anthony Opara

 

In the East London suburb of Duncan Village on Thursday, several backyarders insisted that they are determined to remain on land they have occupied and presently renamed Ramaphosa Square.

It is one of a series of growing incidents of land occupation and takeovers that bring back echoes of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, but which speak also to the distant echoes of the monumental injustice involved in white settlers coming over to South Africa years ago, and expropriating land for their own exclusive use.

In a bid to redress this injustice – one of the unerlying reasons for its founding in 1912 – the ruling African National Congress, ANC in December passed a resolution to commence the process of restructuring land ownership in the country.

However, the official position now is to proceed slowly and not in the manner that the backyarders in East London and elsewhere are wont to proceed. This point is also being reinforced by the Duncan Village ward councilor, Peter Kiki who is saying that the backyarders will be evicted from the area which they had previously also occupied in the past.

It will be recalled that in February, about 50 backyarders came together in Duncan Village and decided to occupy what they saw as an open piece of land. And given that Ramaphosa had previously also visited Duncan Village, they decided to name the land after him. Most of the occupiers were previously renting shacks in the backyards of other people’s homes in the area. They took part in the land occupation because of what they claim was their landlords’ ill treatment and high rent.

However between March and May this year, their shacks have been demolished three times by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality. But the spirit of Ramaphosa Square is unyielding and the shacks are standing once again with the residents planning to build more this week.

But Kiki would want issues to be better addressed, “Those people have illegally invaded the land. I tried to talk to them and convince them that the land has been set for development but they won’t listen.”

For Sinaye Mxokozeli, who claims he lost his job two years ago, he is only on a survival mode: “I was unemployed. I had to rent my shack for R350 plus R100 for electricity. Moving here made sense for me. I also have a temporary job at a butchery in town now and I believe things will change for the better.”

“We were told this land is for development, and yet we are desperate for a place to stay. We have been evicted twice here and we are not going anywhere,” he maintained.

So what will Ramaphosa do?

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