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The land debate: building castles in the sand

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Picture: Leon Nicholas/African News Agency (ANA) – Most of the fertile land was under the control of white people, which is the case to this very day. After twenty-eight years, little has changed in this regard, says the writer.

Dr Wallace Mgoqi

The colonial governments successively neglected, as a matter of deliberate policy, the development of rural areas, as they were to serve, among others, as pools for cheap labour for the benefit of white settlers, the mines and farms in agriculture. This was the case in all colonial societies, be it under the Dutch, the British, or the Portuguese.

Sadly, when liberation movements took over, they too perpetuated this anomaly by not, from the beginning, prioritising a reversal of this trend.

With the abrogation of the laws barring people from going to cities and towns, like the Influx Control laws, in South Africa, there was an avalanche, or wave after wave, of in-migration into these previously racially – excluded areas for white comfort.

To this day, you still find places where non-white people were allowed to settle only in areas called “ Vergenoeg” meaning” far-away enough “, in towns like Aliwal North and many other places, or Bergsig meaning mountain-view, just outside the little town of Garies, near Springbok, where Coloured families were forcibly taken out of the middle of town to make way for white families, for them to settle on a hill facing a mountain to have a mountain-view out there, as it were.

Places like Gugulethu (meaning our pride, yet there was nothing to be proud about) were given innocuous names like that.

I am sure that if they had known that the name given to Langa was not just referring to the Sun but was, in fact, a shortened form of Langalibelele, the militant Hlubi King, who resisted the annexation of their land by the British, in today’s KZN, near Escourt, they would not have allowed that the ANC activists decided to name the new place they were being moved to in 1927 after the militant King Langalibalele of Ama-Hlubi, who had been held in a Concentration camp near Ndabeni, later transferred to Robben Island, where he died.

The architecture of apartheid was such that it started with individuals being registered according to racial classification, in terms of the Population Registration Act ( the ID document would be endorsed: “ in the case of a Bantu who is not a South African citizen “) as well as racial groups in terms of the Group Areas Act, designating separate residential places as well as public amenities.

Grand apartheid ensured that the political aspirations of various population groups were also channelled according to racial lines, with Whites in the main Parliament, and other groups were channelled in different streams, like the Tri-cameral Parliament for Coloureds and Indians, and the Bantustans for the various ethnic groups. ( Xhosa, Zulus, Tswanas, Vendas, Tsongas, etc).

Most of the fertile land was under the control of white people, which is the case to this very day.

After twenty-eight years, little has changed in this regard, though politicians would want us to believe otherwise.

The neglect of the development of the rural areas lies at the heart of the problems the country faces today, such as the over-population of areas in the urban setting, beyond the infrastructure that was originally designed for these areas.

Areas like Langa, for instance, the first African township established in 1927, today carry a population five times the capacity of the original infrastructure. Consequently, the quality of life has been seriously and permanently compromised.

Another example is Wallacedene, so-named after my first name, in Kraaifontein, established in 1992, carries today a population of more than ten thousand people. Its capacity was then for a thousand households. More recently, to illustrate the point that any development efforts are like building castles in the sand: a missionary couple from Swaziland came to do missionary work in the area.

They built a small church and held church services there. They then saw a need for a Wellness Centre and Children Centre. They were fortunate to find a company of architects called SAOTA with an international network undertook to adopt this as their social responsibility project.

A director of the company, Mr Greg Truen, a very benevolent man, designed plans for the facility and submitted them to the City Council of Cape Town, taking three years to reach the approval stage. The couple had invited my wife and me to serve as Trustees on the Trust driving the project.

But just as they were ready to implement the project, squatters had taken occupation of not just the adjacent land but the whole of the land on which the project was to be built and refused to budge an inch.

The project came to a standstill. The gender dimension to this is that women, mothers and the girl-child were deprived of an opportunity to have a wellness and children’s centre in the area. They are the worst victims. The couple has since packed their belongings and returned to Swaziland with heavy hearts that they could not accomplish what they set out to do for the children of Wallacedene.

This is the trend in all areas. Spatial planning is done, plans and budgets are approved, but by the time it comes to the implementation stage, the land in question is invaded, and the project atrophies and dies a natural death.

For as long as the municipalities in the rural areas lack the capacity and wherewithal to build infrastructure in those areas that can support local people, the wave after wave of in-migration into towns and cities is going to continue unabated. It makes nonsense of any planning, and it is getting worse.

Similarly, on the level of dealing with foreign nationals, South Africa has to spearhead stabilising those countries where the foreign nationals come from so that they too can attract investments that would put their countries on a growth trajectory.

It is futile to strengthen security at the border gates if the conditions that drive them to come down remain unchanged. It is like collecting the intestines of a swine – an impossible task.

Every open space is now targeted by the homeless to make a home for themselves. It is not only people from our rural areas. The situation is exacerbated by foreign nationals, who are also in search of better prospects for livelihood.

Municipalities, to comply with their developmental duties under Section 153 of the Constitution, as well as under similar provisions in terms of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act ( SPLUMA), must co-operate in facing this challenge, with the bigger / metros assisting the smaller rural municipalities to come up to speed in building viable infrastructure in their areas.

During my tenure as City Manager at the City of Cape Town, we started a pilot in terms in which our officials connected with officials in Mthatha municipality, with a view to helping them to reinforce each other and exchange experiences and perspectives.

They donated, for example, unused communication equipment for fire engines there that were not able to communicate with the base once they went out. Sadly, the experiment was killed by politicians on grounds of politics, not merit.

The reasoning was that they could not allow the resources of the ratepayers of Cape Town to be used in a far away municipality. In this reasoning, they failed to see the connection between these two municipalities- they were being penny-wise and pound foolish.

For as long as the municipalities in those far-flung areas are left to their own devices and not assisted as spearheads for development by national, provincial and local government, urban areas are going to face this unstoppable wave after wave of in-migration into the cities.

A wave that can be likened to the volcanic eruption on the island, La Palma, Spain, which flowed incessantly for three months, spewing ash and hot molten rock, through the length of the land, wreaking chaos and havoc in its wake, ending as a mountain of lava into the sea, releasing the toxic gas sulphur dioxide as it mixed with seawater.

There will come a time when the ratepayers, will not have the luxury of open, recreational spaces in their residential areas, golf courses etc, as these will be raided and occupied with impunity, accompanied by violence on both sides.

The problem must be stopped at its source – now, and it must never be said that we were not warned that this would happen. The 7 000 people who had to flee their homes in La Palma never dreamed that it would happen, yet it was smouldering beneath them.

We draw huge inspiration from projects like Nkuna Smart City Project in the rural village of Nkuza, Limpopo, which is creating jobs for large numbers of people. May it be replicated in every province in South Africa.

Whose counsel will our leaders listen to? Must we call the wisdom of the astute Counsellor of King David, Ahithophel, a man: “ For the counsel of Ahithophel, says the sacred writer, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God, so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with King David and with Absalom”.

Whose counsel will our leaders listen to and obey?

Mgoqi writes in his personal capacity.

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