Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim

Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim
DISPOSSESSED: The Zulu family representing a number of land claimants who instituted a claim on a farm that is now a game reserve outside Badplaas have been crying for justice since 1998 but to date their claim remains unresolved, their dignity impugned and justice; a lonesome figure in the distant horizon. GRAPHIC BY 013NEWS/MLM

The group of elders argue they have been part of the land from time immemorial until the year 1872 when the first white man came, which ended up with them getting evicted 100 years later in 1972.

A brewing war between local land claimants in the Mpumalanga area of Tjakastad, east of Badplaas and owners of popular tourist resort – the Nkomazi Game Reserve, is getting uglier while the country braces for the worst of what will come of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The owners are now heading to court to ask for “relief” after the group of elders threatened they would now take what had become part of their lineage all these years, this after the government failed to assist in a land claim process lodged over a small piece of the entire land since December 1998.

013NEWS a week ago saw scores of papers written by government investigators detailing the history  of Doyershoek farm 702 JT, known as Mawelawela by the land claimants and which speaks of Willem Doyers as the first white man who arrived on the farm and found the great grand-fathers of the current land claimants in 1872.

Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim
The research was conducted by Professor Peter Delius, Dr Michelle Hay and Musawenkosi Malabela on behalf of the Land Claims Commission and was released in 2017

The main claimants of the land are the Zulu family and claim the land on behalf of other families like the Mlotshwa, Masina, Maseko, Ngwenya, Matsebula families etc, who they resided with on the farm before an eviction in 1972 by new farm owner John van Niekerk, who demolished homes and put in livestock.

The farms were first acquired by businessman Fred Daniel, deputy president DD Mabuza’s enemy in early 2000 and transformed into an ecotourism and game resort.

Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim
Wildlife is top of the agenda at Nkomazi, often at the cost of dispossessed locals

But in 2008, as Daniel continued to institute forced removals against the farm-dwellers, and forcing the nearby communities to protest against this, he sold much of the land while suing the Mpumalanga government R740 million for money lost while community members vandalised the property in protest against the forced removal and demolishing of the homes of farm-dwellers by Daniel.

ALSO SEE: Workers at Fred Daniel’s Craddle of Life Nature Reserve are not paid, some quit

“We have been claiming the land through the Land Claims Commission since 1998. 

“The government hired a lawyer for us and since then the lawyer never updated us on anything and we suspected something wrong was happening, like corruption, because when we phoned him he promised us he would come back to us and he never returned,” one of the elders said. 

“So this year we took a decision that the lawyer must no longer represent and we will now go back to our land,” he said.

He added their “the landlessness”  is making them poor as they have cattle but don’t have grazing land.

Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim
Elders discuss during a meeting in Tjakastad on 11 July 2020

Days later the group decided to go invade the land, forcing the owners of Nkomazi Game Reserve to call the cops who threatened to arrest them if they ever did that.

But now the battles looks set to rage on. The group has been served with court papers by lawyers of the Nkomazi Game Reserve.

The lawyers want the high court in Mbombela to treat the matter as urgent and stop the land claimants from making threats to the owners of the Nkomazi Game Reserve.

In the court papers the owners of the game reserve said about 12 000 hectares of the portion which included the farms being claimed by the groups were declared as a “Nature Reserve” by government in August 2001. 

The game reserve, declared Nkomazi Wilderness by government in 2001 despite a pending land claim, is situated between the world heritage site of the Barberton Mountainland and the Great Komati River Valley – and it is a reservoir of numerous and exceptional flora and fauna, though many of these are endangered.

Nkomazi Game Reserve vs elders: Parties go to war over unresolved land claim
Land claimants tried to invade the land, frustrated by the slow pace in getting justice

The court papers say owners of the land, who bury their family members on the land, received a letter of demand from the land claimants on 13 July 2020 demanding they move off the land but the following day a group of 15 land claimants stormed the gates of the game reserve, “breaking the gate’s locks and chains”.

“The group arrived again on 15 July 2020, with between 40 to 50 individuals and they were armed with pangas, steel knobs and other traditional weaponry,” the lawyers said in the court papers.

They are now demanding that the court gives them relief against the land claimants so that they don’t vandalise the game reserve’s properties, cause violence or further intimidate the owners. The matter is set to be heard before this week ends.

(edited by ZK)

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