In 1997, the community of Mfulamuhle near Mzimkhulu lodged a claim for the land that was forcibly taken away from them by a certain Mr. Strachan in the early 1900s. The claim was first lodged with the Eastern Cape Regional Land Claims Commission office in Bisho. It was later transferred to the KwaZulu Natal Regional Land Claims Commission in Pietermaritzburg following the re-demarcation of boundaries. It was sitting in the Pietermaritzburg office unattended until the Justice and Peace group of the Diocese of Umzimkhulu, led by one Mr. Michael Shabalala, decided to assist the community to follow up on the claim. He arranged a meeting for the community and the chief with the Commission. It was at this meeting where the community learnt with great disappointment that their claim had not been worked. This annoyed the chief and delegates so much that the officials had to make concrete undertakings to process the claim. The claim is being processed.
On the 20th of October the officials from the Land Claims Commission were at Mfulamuhle to mark using a GPS handset, all residential sites of people who were removed from the farm, in order to create a map of claimants and do a comparison between this and other competing claims. This is the first step (research) towards validating this community’s claim. The identification of sites was to be done over a period of 3 days (20-22 October 2014).
On the part of the Land Desk Coordinator who was present on the first day, it was interesting to observe the heated exchanges between the government officials and the community. The arguments emanated from the difference in understanding the purpose of the identification of sites on the side of governments’ officials on one hand, and the community on the other. The officials explained that they needed to arrive at each of the sites within the boundaries of the claimed land, mark it and record the name of the head of that household. The community members, (especially the elderly who had all the knowledge were not strong enough to do the walking), thought that it would suffice to point at the sites and areas from a distance. They were also concerned that the officials wanted the individual names of household heads, and yet according to their understanding, they lodged the claim as a tribe, not individuals. Government were at pains to explain that it was a requirement by law that even though the claim was lodged on behalf of the tribe, individual sites still had to be identified. Some community members were not convinced, but a compromise was reached and the journey to point out the sites begun.
The case of Mfulamuhle claim presents an important lesson for all claimants who lodged claims during the first window, and have not seen any progress. The lesson is, unless claimants stand up, it is possible that even the second window may draw to a close before their claims are attended.