Mangete In Crisis: Is Nobody Listening?

Following a recent arson attack in which their community hall was razed, and continuing threats that they will be driven off their ancestral lands, members of the Dunn farming community of the KZN north coast are living in fear of their lives. For the past seven years their appeals to government, including the Ministries of Land Affairs and Safety and Security, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Unless something is done to halt the campaign of terror being waged against them other farmers in this province wil not be safe from similar terror tactics.

Members of the Dunn community, descendants of nineteenth century British settler John Dunn and his Zulu wives, who hold title deeds to their land bordering on the Tugela River, are small scale sugar cane farmers. Since 1993 they have been subject to ‘land invasions’, as squatters have built houses on their farms. Whilst this illegal occupation is justified by claims that the squatters are merely returning to land from which they were forcibly removed under apartheid, relatively few of the several thousand people living in these illegal structures have historic ties to the area. For example, on one of the earliest properties affected, in 1993, the owners of which were forced to vacate in fear of their personal safety, those erecting structures (and dismantling the house of the property owner) were not from the ranks of the original displacees. Part of the Mangete area is the subject of a contested land claim lodged by neighbouring chief Khayalesha Mathaba on behalf of the Macambini Tribal Authority. In the mean time, illegal building activities continue, despite a request to the Land Claims Commission that a moratorium be declared on the erection of any further structures.

During the past eight years, members of the Dunn community have been subject to threat, intimidation – including through threatening, anonymous pamphlets – and acts of violence from some of the squatters and persons associated with them. In one recent incident the Chairperson of Mangete Landowners association, Ms Pat Dunn, was held up at gunpoint and robbed. The farmers’ financial losses, incurred through the regular burning of their sugar cane, and the poisoning of cattle, have been huge.

When the land invasions started it was no secret that the instigator was Inkosi Mathaba, and what is happening in Mangete cannot be divorced from events in the Macambini area over the past decade. In the run up to the 1994 elections, especially, and, to a somewhat lesser extent since then, this area has been wracked by politically-linked violence in which many people, especially ANC supporters, have been chased away or killed, often by known hitmen. At present there is a vigilante-type gang styling itself ‘Pagad’ which is targetting suspected ANC sympathisers. Violence in Macambini has been closely linked to similar activities in other north coast areas, which smack of sinister ‘third force’ networks and tactics. What is of particular concern is the influence which Inkosi Mathaba appears to wield over police in the area; he has reportedly been overheard boasting that they are his ‘eyes and ears’.

The apparently cosy relationship between Mathaba and the police raises questions about the conspicuous failure of the security forces to ensure that members of the Dunn community receive the protection to which they are entitled, despite senior management having been apprised of the dangers to which they were subject since 1994. They were told in 1995, for example, that people were being shot at in broad daylight and that fearful for their safety, women and children were locking themselves away in their homes during the day. In one recent incident on 19 February an illegal blockade of roads leading to Mangete, led by one Sibiya (a self-styled squatter leader who is not from the area) posed a serious threat to the safety of residents and disrupted work and schooling. Members of management of the SAPS and SANDF were advised, over a week before it took place, that this blockade was being planned, and were given specific details, including the time at which it was to start. They arrived only after the illegal activities had commenced and the safety of residents had been unncessarily jeopardised.

The burning of the community hall during the early hours of Sunday 19 April is but one indicator of gross derelection of duty on the part of the security forces and their intelligence arms. It should have been obvious that the recent intensification of hostilities towards the Dunn community poses grave danger to people’s lives and property, especially as numbers of ‘intelligence agents’ have been active in the area (although it should be noted that massacres in Richmond occurred despite the area being awash with ‘intelligence’ agents). To add insult to injury, later in the day on which the hall was burnt Inkosi Mathaba held a meeting near the smouldering ruins. It is alleged that, in the course of this meeting, marked by racist rhetoric, threats were made that:

  • Other community structures such as clinic and schools would be targetted
  • Pat Dunn would end up in the coffin which had been displayed, with her name on it, at a previous meeting
  • There would be a further blockade of roads if the squatters were not victorious in court

Such threats must be taken seriously, especially given the arms circulating in the area. As the date of the court case approaches, and during and after the hearing itself, the extremely volatile situation in Mangete may well give rise to further attacks on life and property. It is absolutely essential that security force patrols remain deployed in the area. Whilst an army patrol would be welcome, under no circumstances should soldiers deployed in the area come from KwaZulu-Natal, since serious allegations are made about continuing partisanship on the part of certain recruits from this province.

The deployment of patrols is a stopgap measure. What is happening in Mangete is symptomatic of what is perceived as ineffectiveness on the part of those charged with implementing land reform. More importantly, however, it is an extremely serious indictment of the failure of those charged with meeting the safety and security needs of South Africa’s citizens to fulfill their mandate. Whilst problems with policing abound, nowhere are these problems more pronounced that in the rural North Coast and Northern regions. Since provincial management has shown itself incapable of addressing these problems, the time for firm action at a national level is long overdue.

A failure by government to ensure that its organs of state take action to right the wrongs of Mangete will be interpreted as carte blanche not only to people wishing to help themselves to land which does not belong to them, but to perpetrators of violent crime conducting their reign of terror in rural areas.