MABASO FORCED REMOVALS : IS THE GOVERNMENT IN CONTROL?

Recent events in Mbazwana, near the Greater St Lucia Heritage site, raise serious questions about whether those mandated to ensure the security of the State, its citizens and potential tourists are in control of private militias who are terrorising rural residents.

On the border of the Mabaso and Mbila Tribal Authority areas Inkosi Nxumalo of Mabaso, together with business associates, has fenced off an area of communal land for the establishment of a game lodge. In the process dozens of residents have been displaced from their family homes and/or had their subsistence activities curtailed or stopped. Since their constitutionally enshrined human rights have been violated a High Court action has been brought on their behalf.

Towards the end of 2002, when people still living inside the fenced off game lodge area received a threatening ultimatum to vacate their homes, and stop engaging in the type of subsistence activities which keep them alive, a High Court Interdict was obtained. Inkosi Nxumalo was restrained from (a)evicting people from their homes (b)preventing their access to traditional sources of sustenance (c)restricting their freedom of movement, and (d) threatening them. When information was disclosed that he had transgressed the Interdict Inkosi Nxumalo was arrested for contempt of court in February 2003 and released on his own recognizances. He denies the charges against him, and there will be a further court appearances in June 2003.

Despite the fact that the Interdict is still in force, people continue to claim that they cannot freely engage in subsistence activities, and that they suffer other forms of harassment which can only emanate form the chief, presumably in order to procure his objective. After a helicopter was seen in the area on Saturday 15 March, it returned on Monday 17 March, bringing people who appeared to be army members to search people and homes for weapons allegedly used to kill game. Although residents are adamant that the helicopter was the same as that used by the army, both police and army deny that any security force operation took place.

On Sunday 30 March two men whose home is inside the fenced off area were engaged in one of their subsistence activities at around 07:30. Two of these men had furnished affidavits which had caused the court to order the chief’s arrest. They had also opened cases at the local police station, in respect of which no action seems to have been taken against chief. They were held up at gunpoint by men wearing army (camouflage) uniforms and bullet proof vests, armed with what appeared automatic, army-issue type guns, and hand grenades. To all intents and purposes they were soldiers – but with one small, hardly noticeable difference – on their caps a small sign bore the name of a private security company (name known). The two men were
– abducted by these men and, in the course of the day (they were allowed to return to their homes during the late afternoon) assaulted and abused
– told that they would be shot if they were found in the area again; when they protested that they lived there they were
– informed that they needed to obtain a permit from the chief (Inkosi) – who is under court Interdict and arrest – or one of his headmen (izinduna)
– photographed so that they would be identified if they were found in the area again.

As ordered, after their release they sought a permit, thinking that would prevent their being shot on sight, as they had been warned, if they returned to their homes. The permit was refused by the official representative of same chief. These men now, understandably, fear being shot if they return home. Appropriate court action is, once again, being instituted. However, even with a court Interdict in place the law continues to be wilfully subverted.

There is credible evidence relating to the incident on Sunday, and that two weeks earlier in which homes were raided, which raises extremely serious questions about the capacity of the relevant organs of State to administer law and order –and which suggests that there are areas which are not under the State’s control. These areas appear to be under the control of a paramilitary force composed of persons impersonating (with one difference only – a small sign on their caps) the SANDF, breaking the law by wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying grenades. The area is one which is communal land, occupied by families for generations, and it is also regrettably close to the St Lucia World Heritage Site to which international tourists are invited. .Both senior police and army officers claim to know nothing about the operations of this militia. Initial investigations suggest that this paramilitary force may have links with apartheid military operatives and their Caprivi trainee surrogates.

In the public interest, answers are urgently needed to the following questions :
– who is deploying this private army in the area? Who is paying them?
– Why do the police and the army know nothing about their activities?
– Why are the local police not preventing illegal activities such as the order that people obtain permits to live in their own homes – especially given the existence of a court Interdict?
– Why are the police not protecting the local residents?
– What is the real truth behind the scramble to control this piece of land – is it because there are valuable minerals on it?

Finally, has the South African government lost control of strategic areas which are of pivotal importance to economic development and tourism?