Sunday Tribune: Land invaders vow to keep grabbing plots

Land invaders vow to keep grabbing plots

January 10, 2010 Edition 1


A young boy plays under a tree on land marked out by his mother. In his offices in town, Estcourt Mayor Maliyakhe Shelembe is still fuming after hordes of people invaded municipal property on the Christmas weekend.

The threat of invasion still hangs over the town, but the local council has been quick to take legal action to stop people carving up plots for themselves.

Undeterred, invaders say they are not giving up, even if it means breaking the law.

This week the Sunday Tribune visited the two areas where land grabs occurred in recent weeks. In Brewitt Park near Wagendrift Dam, a teenager was building a car made of wire.

He said his family had high hopes that they would finally leave their mud and wattle hut in Bergville and move to a decent home in an urban area.

The boy, whose teacher mother was among more than 200 land grabbers who invaded the 30 hectares of prime vacant land on Christmas Day, said he had been left by his mother at the plot to familiarise himself with his new home. The plot, alongside Ntabamhlophe Road, had been marked by white paint on the trunk of an acacia tree.

“Mom said we will built a big house here,” said the boy.

His family’s dream of a new home is a nightmare for Umtshezi municipality, which obtained a court interdict to stop the land grab.

But this did not deter another group of land grabbers who, on New Year’s Eve, invaded a tract of land in Papkuilsfontein on the east side of the town. The municipality says the 121 families were part of a well-orchestrated invasion.

This week, the Brewitt Park land grabbers threatened that the land would be theirs “come rain or shine”.

On Thursday the council was in court again seeking a permanent interdict against the invaders. The case was postponed to February 25 to allow all parties to make representations.


The invaders at both Brewitt Park and Papkuilsfontein have demarcated plots by cutting the grass, painting trees, building shacks or digging a site. The Brewitt Park land invaders included blacks, whites and Indians and among them were teachers, police officers, public servants and church leaders.

“We were promised land and housing a long time ago and they are not doing anything about it. They don’t care. Now we are taking what is rightfully ours,” said Mbhekeni Mazibuko, a factory worker from Colenso.

“I applied for a house in 2003. I’m still waiting today. What are they taking us for? This land will be ours, come rain or shine. Why should the law start working when we take what is ours, and not work when our rights are being violated?” said Makhosi Vilakazi, a teacher from Wembezi.

The municipality said the invaders had come from as far as Ladysmith, Richards Bay, Newcastle, Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The invaders, who call themselves Msholozi Community Forum, have banded together and obtained a lawyer. Individuals are paying R120 each for legal services as well as a R50 travel allowance for the lawyer.

Opposing them is Shelembe, who says the invaders are not poor people, but well-heeled individuals with ulterior motives.

He said he was enjoying Christmas with his family when he was alerted about the invasion.

“I found the area populated by multitudes. You could see these are very wealthy people, judging by the cars they were driving. They were putting pegs on vacant plots. I immediately called the municipal manager and we engaged our protection services to remove them from the land.”

Shelembe vowed to do anything to protect the interests of the municipality.

He said the council intended building family houses in Brewitt Park for middle- to higher-income earners. He said this was in line with the Municipal Property Rates Act and was a means to provide the council with a rates income.

Plots on this vacant land are selling for about R80 000, and once the building plan has been approved, buyers should be able to get bank finance for the deal. Once the house was built, the value of the property would rise to between R350 000 and R400 000.


“If we lose this area, the municipality will collapse and we will have no revenue for services. Second, the bulk of this land has not been properly surveyed for infrastructure like electricity, water and sanitation.”

The municipality has already built eight houses on this land as part of its Phase 1 Project. A total of 400 houses are to be built for Phase 2.

Shelembe refuted claims by the local ANC that houses were being allocated in a partisan manner.

However, an angry housing official told the Sunday Tribune on Friday that the council should take responsibility for the situation.

“I don’t blame the people. I work at housing and I really do not know what this bureaucracy is all about, because the Land Disposal Policy was adopted early in 2008. The land is there, although not enough to accommodate all. People have been served with letters saying the matter has been placed on hold. What for?” asked the official.

The source said the land and housing wrangle in the area was a time bomb, as the municipality was failing to deal with mounting anger arising from land occupations, particularly in Wembezi township.

President Jacob Zuma’s name has also been dragged into the Estcourt land grab, with those invading the land calling themselves the Msholozi Community Forum and their newly acquired land “JZ Village”.

The invaders went as far as opening an Absa Bank account with the holder being Msholozi Community Club.

“He’s our president and would be sympathetic to our plight,” said a land grabber who gave his name as Bonga.

Mafiki Dlamini, who bought a plot and built a house at Brewitt Park, said she was angry that other people wanted a shortcut to this prime land.

“I chose to buy and live here because I wanted peace. Now I’m subjected to squatters who will not pay as much as I did for the property. I’m angry and action must be taken.”

Stakeholders and land organisations

MANGALISO KUBHEKA: National organiser for Landless People’s Movement

“People must take what is theirs. We cannot stop people from grabbing the land. They have been lied to and violated for a long time.

“People are inspired by what is happening elsewhere. These are poor people who will never be able to afford decent housing because of the adverse systems in place.

“I think the government realises now that the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle is not working – this is the same system that was used in Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere in the world. It’s fatal and will never work.”

THULANI NDLAZI: Church land programme director

“We do not encourage land occupation. We have heard about this Estcourt situation. However, this is a trend that is happening all over the world in countries like Brazil, Kenya and India.

“If you do not provide land or housing, a situation like this one will happen.

“The problem is lack of access to land and housing, resulting in influx.

“The government has no system of accommodation and most of the people are poor. Some are working but they cannot afford housing.

“The solution here would be for the government to acknowledge the problem and start developing rural areas to prevent urbanisation that ultimately leads to this.”


SIPHO DLAMINI: Spokesman for Land Affairs in KwaZulu-Natal

“There is not much we can do, as this land is privately owned by the municipality. They have not approached us formally, as far as I know. However, having said that, we do not encourage land invasions. There are processes in place for aggrieved parties to follow.

“So, until such time as the land owner decides to approach us, we will allow them to take the necessary measures.”

Political parties

BONGANI DLAMINI: Estcourt ANC sub-region chairman

“We condemn the land grabs, but the IFP-led municipality should also take the rap for its failure to address land issues and its underhanded tactics in this saga.

“The land and houses are allocated to a select few. The process remains non-transparent.

“Invasions happened here before in Midway and Rensberg towards Weenen and were spearheaded by the IFP, but the municipality did not do anything. Aren’t those double standards?”

DAVID ALLEN: DA leader in Estcourt

“Our standpoint should be clear and the municipality should acknowledge that there is a land problem in Estcourt. We are, however, opposed to land invasions.

“We support development and squatters will only entrench the situation.

“We are planning a meeting where all the stakeholders will discuss the matter before it is too late.”

STEVEN HAGGARD: President of the Estcourt/Umtshezi Chamber of Commerce and Industry

“While we empathise with people who are struggling in this tough economic climate and who may be opportunistic, the land distribution processes cannot be undermined.

“If the perception is that processes are not being handled properly, there are channels available that lead to the national government, which must be held to account.

“If property owners do not have trust in the judicial system to help protect their assets, they will be discouraged to continue doing business in our area.

“This will also negatively impact our town’s economic development and therefore discourage external investments in Estcourt.”