September 13, 2002

San Risk Losing Their Land

Three years after President Thabo Mbeki handed over 650.00ha in the Kalahari on the border of the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park to the Khomani San, the community risks losing part of its recently reclaimed heritage because of bad debt.

Between three and five executive members of the communal property association's management committee accumulated up to R150.000 in debts. On March 20 the magistrate's court in Upington ordered that Erin farm be sold off to pay the debts. The property was bought for R3-million three years ago and is one of six adjoining farms the government bought to settle the Khomani's land claim. The Khosani San Land Reform programme is the only example of a successful aboriginal land claim in Southern Africa, said Roger Chennels, a human rights lawyer who represented the community in 1999. Two weeks ago the government flew World Summit delegates to a ceremony celebrating the conclusion of the community's land claim, when officials handed over 25000ha of the Kalagadi Park.

Local government officials were in the dark about the auction. Though the trial took place six months ago, the local Upington newspaper picked up the matter only last week after being tipped off by a local farmer. Even senior government officials did not know about the pending sale until alerted by the press in the past few days.

Attie Avenant, the shopkeeper to whom the money is owed, is the former owner of Erin. "I lent the members of the Khomani San money to promote good relations and friendship. We had an agreement that they would pay me back with cheques from the Khomani San Communal Property Association, but the cheques were all bad." Hein Duvenage, Avenant's lawyer, said that the debt amounted to between R48 000 and R150 000, plus costs.

Chennels said it was illegal for members of a communal property association (CPA) to offer the farm as collateral for debt without authorisation from the management committee. "The executive members have no authority to borrow money as individuals unless they are mandated to do so," he said. Anna Festus, a senior member of the Khomani San community, said the committee assumed the debt when the troubled individuals asked for help. "But the decision wasn't unanimous," she said.

Reports of financial mismanagement have swirled around the community. Ouma Uns Kasi Rooi, one of the oldest members of the community, feels that a great wrong has been done to the Khomani San people: "We had life in our hands. Now they are taking it from us again." (MAIL & GUARDIAN)

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