By Andile Mngxitama
This is a very familiar story to me.
A call comes in. The person at the other end speaks with hesitation, politeness and exhaustion. Defeated. They relate the story of how one of their relatives has passed on and how the white farmer is refusing them the right to bury their relative on the farm amongst the graves of their people. I always know from experience just how this is likely to end.
This is the call you don’t wish for. Well, oon Thursday I received such a call and it sent me back to 2007. I made a promise to my landless comrade who was dying that his wish shall be granted of being buried amongst his people. My comrade and his family had in previous years been forcibly evicted and alienated from their land and graves. We did what we could to grant him his wish but the constitution of South Africa came back to bite us.
Sipho Makhombothi’s bones lay crying out for justice in the plains of Mpumalanga. The court said his bones must be exhumed after we buried him at his people’s land and graves. Back then, I understood the double truth. Landless in life. Landless in death. I wrote a story in memory of my comrade and a reminder of the convent we made. I just called it “mngoma”. Sipho was a sangoma.
When I left university I soon got a job at an NGO that worked to defend the rights of landless people; more specifically the legal slaves of South Africa – farm workers. Working with farm workers (or farm dwellers, according to NGO speak) was not a strange environment for me. I was born on a farm and raised by farm worker parents. In my adult life I realised that my manic desire to get out of Potchefstroom, where I was born, was in a large part running away from being a farm worker. I think Hezekiel Sepeng, the former 800m Olympic sensation literally run his way out of the farm. We grew up on the same farm, a little out of Porchefstroom. The owners are the Haagners, rumoured to be either of German or Swedish origins. When 1994 came the racist AWB farmers of Porchefstroom all joined the ANC and continued to terrorise our people; now not only clad in khakis but in the color of ‘revolution’ – green, gold and black.
Former President Nelson Mandela rewarded the local chairman of the AWB with a parliamentary seat. Jan Serfontein. The racist farmer next to the Haagners. I vowed never to trust the ANC.
The same Serfontein was, after his first five year stint as MP, rewarded with the position of Chair of the North West parliamentary portfolio committee on land and agriculture. He evicted farm workers with the blessings of the then premier of that province, Popo Molefe. In one instance the lawyers evicting blacks were working out of the office of premier Molefe. The AWB thrived inside the ANC in the same way the National Party did. It is for this reason often its hard to believe former ANC members pontificating about land or whites who stole the land.
The call arrived. It said Mzwandile Dintsi, a 62 year old pensioner who was born and raised on the farm some 35km out of Porchefstroom town, passed on last Saturday and the farmer is refusing the family their burial rights.
Mzwandile had worked on the farm for 16 years of his best years, just like his great grandfather, his grandfather, his own father and brothers. His forebears are all buried on the farm. The farm exchanged hands in 2014. The heir to the farm sold it to the next white man, took the money and left. He didnt even have the courtesy to inform the long term farm workers who provide him with labour that enriches him and kept the farm dwellers poor – the rightful owners of the land.
The family gave us the number of the official at the Department of Land Affairs who they reported the matter to and those of the white man playing God on our land. The official was polite and helpful. The matter was handed to the lawyers retained by the department to deal with farm evictions and such things as burial rights.
The lawyer’s advice was that the funeral must be postponed until a court finds a solution. The family rightly don’t want a postponement. The lawyer also wants the burial postponed because the farmer only sent his letter of denying access to the grave late on Thursday. We agree with the family, there is no need for any postponement. The land is ours. The lawyer agreed to pursue an urgent High Court application on Friday, 2nd September.
As a movement we have suggested another solution if progress is not made. The family is still weighing both options. The legal and the revolutionary.
When we called the white farmer we got no response on the phone. Our message will be short and clear. The land is ours. We can’t be landless in life and landless in death. Mzwandile Dintsi deserves his one meter by three six feet under. To rest with his ancestors.