7 June 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: KZN farm violence

Twelve sugar cane farms in eastern South Africa have been torched and about 1,000 black families are occupying portions of 63 sugar farms in a land dispute that has turned violent, the 'Mail and Guardian' said on June 7. The report said that police and soldiers have been on the farms since last week to protect the farmers and to patrol the land but had been unable to prevent the arson. It added that the arson was the latest manifestation of a bitter dispute pitting the farmers, who are mostly mixed-race, against blacks who say they want back the land some 180 km north of Durban from which they were removed under apartheid.

The dispute has its origins in colonial times, though the actual removals occurred in 1976, at the height of apartheid. The contested land was ceded to a Scottish settler, John Dunne, by the Zulu king in 1856. Dunne married 48 Zulu wives and their mixed-race offspring have farmed on the land for more than a century. Third generation descendant Patricia Dunne heads the landowners' association and has opposed a claim by 302 families of the Macambini clan who say they were removed from the land and want it back. The landowners argue that South African law only allows dispossessed people to claim back land taken from them after 1913, while King Cetswayo gave the land to them decades earlier.

Chief Mathaba, the ruler of the Macambini tribe whose members have put in a claim for the land said he was shocked by the arson on the Dunne farms, but accused the family of wanting to retain their apartheid privileges. "I have told my people they must not do that again," he said. The matter of the 63 Mangete farms is due to be heard by the land claims court on 2 July. "There is a lot of historical resentment, a lot of anger ... We need a settlement, because if somebody wins in court and somebody loses we will never have peace," said Thabi Shange, the regional land claims commissioner for KwaZulu-Natal. She said matters were complicated by the fact that 700 of the families occupying the farms had nothing to do with the land restitution claim, but had nowhere to live. (IRIN)

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