Land News, Restitution

Land Reform: The windy road to land ownership for the people of Ncunjane ends in joy

The tide of history flowed on a farm in Msinga on the Monday before Human Rights Day, lifting the spirits of the people of Ncunjane as they took possession of a title deed that stated incontrovertibly that the future was now theirs. By YVES VANDERHAEGHEN, as published in the Daily Maverick.


Above: Inkosi Sphamandla Mvelase of the abaThembu throws a stone on to an isivivane at the title handover of a land reform farm to the Ncunjane community in Msinga. At extreme right is Inkosi Ngangangandlovu Mchunu, of the amaChunu, under whose authority the farm falls. (Photo: Rauri Alcock)

“Broken-hearted people,” said one speaker at the ceremony, “have reason to rejoice”. Or was it that the colonial tide had ebbed, leaving behind a way of life imagined, where the relations between the land, the people, the river down below and the blue skies above were coherent, sensible, settled?

Amid the ebb and flow there have been few constants. Of one there is certainty. In 1864, long after the Bushmen had been driven from the area, when the king-to-be Cetshwayo ruled the Zulus in lieu of his corpulent father Mpande, when Victoria had mostly leached the globe to an imperial pink, not too long after Nongqawuse bled the cows of the Xhosa to purge the land of colonisers, and not too long before the victory rolls of Isandlwana waned into the death rattle of a nation, in that year a surveyor staked the ground that would be called Koornspruit farm on the map. It still bears that name, forming part of the Ncunjane isigodi. It is this farm and its neighbour, Spring farm, whose names appear on the title deeds presented to Inkosi Ngangangandlovu Mchunu, under whose authority the land falls, witnessed by Inkosi Sphamandla Mvelase of the neighbouring abaThembu, indunas, and the men, women and children who have settled here.

For this is settler country. But with a twist. The settlers have been, among others, the fugitive tribes of the amaChunu and the abaThembu, who sought refuge here from Shaka. And while the map shows that farmers by the name of Buys, Boshoff, Acutt, and Meyer settled here, they had never lived on these farms. It is only now, 143 years after Koornspruit was first surveyed, that the owners are the people who live on it.

The passage to ownership via what was a successful land restitution claim has not been straightforward. These dry thornscrub farms, overlooking the mighty Tugela River in the distance, form part of what Secretary for Native Affairs Theophilus Shepstone considered at first wasteland, then labour reserves and winter grazing parcelled out to farmers as a buffer zone between Native Trust lands and the commercial farms of English and Boers. It was a fluid zone that Shepstone used as a barrier to prevent the white settlers from making further land grabs in the African areas, while at the same time manoeuvring to extend the crowded areas of tribal authority against strong resistance.

Pity the cartographer tasked with flattening a quantum universe of flux, nation, pride, identity and survival into a few lines on paper that lock all human ambition behind a pencil boundary that says “you belong here, and you belong there”.


Photo above: Dancers at the Ncunjane title handover. (Photo Rauri Alcock)

Venality and quarrelsomeness aside, boundaries – visible and invisible, whether drawn up by the colonial administration or through tribal understanding – which cut people off from fertile lands, forced an impossible choice between starvation and combat. Continue reading