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News > World

Death of 104-Year-Old Farmer Exposes South Africa's Land Divide

  • Farm workers harvest cabbages at a farm in Eikenhof, near Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Farm workers harvest cabbages at a farm in Eikenhof, near Johannesburg, South Africa. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 August 2018

Zabalaza Mshengu submitted his land transfer documentation to South Africa's Department of Land Affairs in 2000.

For nearly twenty-two years, 104-year-old Zabalaza Mshengu waited patiently to receive the legal right to a piece of land he was raised on in Ashburton, South Africa. However, he passed away earlier this week without receiving that satisfaction.

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Mshengu was born on a farm in the KwaZulu-Natal province. His father, a labor tenant, worked on the farm in return for the right to live on the land, according to AllAfrica. The centenarian would become of age on the farm and also worked the land for decades under the same promise.

In June 2000, Mshengu, along with 19,000 other claimants, submitted his land transfer documentation to the Department of Land Affairs, which has since become the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, in accordance with the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996.

Glenn Farred, programme manager for the land rights NGO Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), said Mshengu's claim withered in the courts year after year, which contributed to his long history of poor health.

"What was meant to happen from there onwards was that a settlement agreement needed to be undertaken, and the land which he was claiming needed to be surveyed and purchased by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and title that portion of land to him," Farred insisted.

"Unfortunately, the department did not do this, and Mr Mshengu was left in limbo."

Farred pointed out that officials did not comply with the most recent order, which required the landowner and the director general of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to appoint land evaluators for the plot Mshengu had claimed.

"The attorney had sent the necessary notice to the state attorney to get them to comply with the court order, and the department failed..."All he (Mr. Mshengu) ever wanted was to die in peace, knowing that little bit of land, that is his, would be given to him because it was his dying wish to know that his grandchildren would be secured on that land where his mother is buried...We sincerely hope that his children and grandchildren will get justice in obtaining their father's land."

Earlier this month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced plans to amend the country's constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation. A bill to advance the project will be pushed forward by the African National Congress (ANC) South African Ruling party in the Parliament soon.

Apartheid and white-minority rule in South Africa supposedly ended in 1994, however, most of the productive lands, and about 95 percent of the wealth is still ruled by a just ten percent of the country's population. In December, in an attempt to avoid constitutional change, the ANC adopted the measure of land seizure without compensation as a possibility of land expropriation within the current laws.

However, “it has become pertinently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation as demonstrated in the public hearings,” Ramaphosa said.

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