Sunday, 17 June 2007

Chapter 6: The Dunns of Natal


Jonny Steinberg’s book ‘Midlands’ - about a farm murder in the Natal midlands - is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. It gets to the heart of the terrible schisms in the daily life of rural communities. Steinberg waxes lyrical about Alan Paton’s introductory paragraph from Cry, the Beloved Country: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke, and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa”.

The famous American talk show host Oprah Winfrey has “discovered” South Africa. She told her audience recently what a beautiful country it was, one of her favourites. She then donated Cry, The Beloved Country to everyone in her audience. Clearly, she was intoxicated with Paton’s expressive prose, and his eloquent descriptions of the land of the Zulus. It is indicative of the drastic changes that have taken place in our country that Paton’s widow has left South Africa – she was mugged and departed in disgust at what she called a rampant crime wave. Moreover, Paton’s beloved Natal is reverting to a savage battleground of souls and bodies which Steinberg has evocatively portrayed in his book.

Of all the provinces in South Africa, KwaZulu/Natal is the most shocking in the ferocity of its antagonisms. The evil which now permeates the rural areas is pernicious and seemingly inexorable. Land invasions, intimidation, murder, theft, arson, rape and assaults – these are the hallmarks of a province which seems to be out of control. Ms. Pat Dunn, descendant of nineteenth century British settler John Dunn (who married several Zulu wives) is a victim of just about every “gross violation of human rights” which Amnesty International defines. She told our researcher she had written to Chief Gatsha Buthelezi to complain about the behaviour of his people, where youngsters are adrift in a sea of disrespect for life and property, and where tribal warlords kill and intimidate at will, with little chance of conviction and incarceration.

His reply on 26 November 1998 expresses “distress” at the situation but he simply advises Ms. Dunn to take the matter to court. “As a descendant of King Cetshwayo who gave the land to John Dunn, I find it unacceptable that the descendants of Dunn should be robbed of their rightful inheritance”. Since 1998, of course, things only worsened.

The new South Africa has not been kind to the Dunns. Pat left South Africa in 1971 to escape apartheid. She settled again in this country in the mid nineties, and she is shocked at what she finds. She and her family have battled for over 100 years for their land, land which was given to her forefathers by the Zulu chief Cetshwayo. After 83 years, the Dunn family eventually received title to the land which was theirs by right of inheritance. This land area, situated in a narrow coastal strip between the N2 highway and the sea, immediately to the north of the Tugela River, has historically been owned and farmed by the descendants of John Dunn and his Zulu wives. It adjoins, to its north, a “reserve” area known as Macambini Tribal Authority, headed by a chief Inkosi Mathaba. By the early 1990s, Mathaba, an IFP strongman, was widely feared, and linked in numerous reports to widespread violence in the area which left many dead or injured. This resulted in hundreds of people fleeing their ancestral homes. Mathaba was subsequently found by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have been among prominent provincial leaders responsible for deploying hit squads, leading to “gross violations of human rights, including killing, attempted killing, arson….” (1)

Under the direction of Chief Mathaba, people started moving on to the land owned by the Dunn descendants from 1993 and by the mid 1990s, the illegal invasions had gained momentum, and the occupants were building solid structures. (2) Local farmers – the Mangete Landowners’ Association of which Ms. Dunn is chairman - applied to the High Court for an interdict to halt the invasions. This was never finalized because Chief Mathaba lodged a land claim in terms of new legislation (Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994). Thus the interdict was put on hold until the finalisation of the land claim.

Despite the fact that the claim was weak, and was declared so by the Land Claims Court, Mathaba didn’t relinquish it, and the matter dragged on. All the while, illegal invaders continued to move on to the Dunns’ farms. (The invasions took strength after the 1994 elections). Some of these illegals had come from far away, including one family which had been displaced by the violence perpetrated by another chief further north. (Shades of history here!).

The legal property owners and their families, among them the Dunns, were subjected to murder, rape, robbery, threats, intimidation and arson. Sugar cane crops were regularly burnt, especially in the dry season. Ms. Dunn told us she had been burnt out five years in a row, and that her harvest had been well below normal. The local Community Hall, built by the farmers without government help, was destroyed by fire. Dunn appealed for police help, but nothing was done.

She has been threatened telephonically – “once they brought a coffin to a meeting which Chief Mathaba addressed and which I attended. On the side of the coffin was written ‘Pat Dunn’. The coffin was marched to the cemetery and burnt.” She continued: “We have had numerous robberies and break-ins. They came one day looking for work. They took our revolvers and took what they wanted.” “They took my car – it was found burnt out on the highway. The second time, they killed one dog and poisoned the other one. Four armed men shot my husband and they beat me so badly they broke three vertebrae. I think they were sent by Mathaba. It’s back to the jungle here. I have lost all respect for the Zulus”.

The police were called in, but nothing materialized.. (This phrase was repeated to our researchers right throughout South Africa). “The police go through the motions”, says Ms. Dunn.

The youngsters commit the crimes and they are fed the story that the Dunns stole their land by the older chiefs. It’s a distorted view of history, says an angry Ms. Dunn. Mathaba is the epitome of evil. (In March 2001, it was reported that the N2 highway was built through his tribal lands. Despite the fact that he already had 30 000 ha of land, he told the roads department he had nowhere to settle the families who had lost their land to the road.. The department then bought four of the Dunn farms to resettle those displaced by the road. Instead, Mathaba settled his family on the farms and claimed that he personally paid for them!)(3)

The Dunns don’t know how many squatters are on their land. “They occupy any land that has not been planted”, declares Ms. Dunn. “We found it hard at the beginning to raise funds. We struggled. We were not white enough for the previous government, and now we’re not black enough for this one. We are treated with contempt. Tongaat Hulett (the big sugar company) withdrew their assistance and we were left high and dry. We were burnt out relentlessly.”

The Year 2000

Press articles from the year 2000 reported that farmers were abandoning land. At the time Agriculture MEC Narend Singh said “it is an increasingly serious problem, with valuable agricultural land being used for accommodation”.(4) He suggested that an audit be conducted to determine the extent of what he called ‘unauthorised occupation’ on state-owned and privately-owned property country-wide.(5) (We heard no more of the audit!) Police spokesman Captain Vishnu Naidoo also said at the time the farmers’ allegations would be investigated.(6) Farmers have heard nothing further about such an investigation. Further comments along the same lines as the above were made in June 2001 by Chief Buthelezi (“The KwaZulu government will not allow a precedent for Zimbabwe-style land invasions in the province”), King Goodwill Zwelethini (he called a meeting attended by 2000 “to deal with the growing crisis”), and Provincial Safety and Security MEC Nyanga Ngubane (“government will leave no stone unturned to bring the ‘barbarians’ – the invaders – to book”).(7)

This type of behaviour has become a hallmark of the present government. Promises to “look into the matter”, to “come back to” the complainants, to appoint a “commission of enquiry”, to “address the problem” are made, but nothing happens. In most cases, the situations actually worsen. Derisory laughter greets official promises now, laughter from all shades of the population. One sees the trend after a few years. Just examine the press clippings of yesteryear!

Pat Dunn believes that this type of inactivity actually supports land grabs.(8)

During 2000/1, farmers told of problems plaguing the area near the Nonoti River “but would not give their names for fear of reprisals”, according to press reports. A farmer’s wife said a gang had brazenly stolen her vegetable crops. “There was nothing we could do. Even the armed guards which made farming uneconomical, were helpless as groups just took our crops”. Farm labourers, who feared for their lives, would not come to her assistance.

South Africa’s Afghanistan

Zulu chief Michael Umbogazi was reported at the time as subletting farm land (which did not belong to him) to squatters for R30 a month. This practice has worsened. In today’s KwaZulu/Natal, it is a common practice, but the price has gone up to R1 500 a plot. The national government is clearly powerless to do anything, and the provincial government even less so. The power is in the hands of the warlords. We have another Afghanistan in South Africa’s midst.

Today, invasions threaten the whole province. A similar situation to Mangete occurs in Nqabeni on the south coast of KZN where affected farmers are coloureds.(9) The local chief is allegedly involved in these invasions, and he reputedly has close links with the notorious Mathaba.

In Nonoti, an area south of the Tugela River, it has been small scale Indian market and sugar cane farmers who have been affected to the extent of having been driven off their land by invaders and, as in both Mangete and Nqabeni, there are allegations that their land has been ‘sold’ by whoever has orchestrated these actions.(10)

In the Verulam area near Durban, Indian market gardeners have been targeted by violence, the most recent example being the cold-blooded murder of a married couple in the presence of one of their children. Other areas where encroachment and invasions are occurring are Kranskop and Vryheid. (See the stories on these areas). Papers were served on Mathaba by the Mangete Landowners’ Association after his land claim was “settled”. As the judge was moving towards finalizing the interdict against him, Mathaba appeared in court and declared he would oppose the matter. The case is to be heard in the High Court in February 2004.

According to South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, there are two crucial factors which have allowed those engaged in the illegal occupation of land, including organizers, to operate with impunity: the failure of the SA Police Service to take constructive action to stop them, and the permissive response of the Department of Land Affairs towards such behaviour.(11)

Legislation is very clear that the invasion of land which is subject to a claim is illegal. Yet a blind eye is turned to Mangete and other areas in the province. There is bias towards the land claimants, and the suffering farmers are on the defensive. They are not constitutionally protected. Says Pat Dunn: “I thought we had a constitution which is supposed to protect property owners.”

There is simply no law and order. The government is not upholding the laws of the land, and the police are not protecting those who should expect protection. It will be necessary to force the state to protect constitutionally-enshrined human rights. But who’s going to pay to force the government to do its job? Therein lies the conundrum for KwaZulu/Natal farmers.

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