Media: A forced removal to allow for ‘progress’

13 12 2008

The eMacambini community is challenging the government’s plan to build a theme park on its ancestral land, writes PETER MACHEN

THE north coast of KwaZulu- Natal is dotted with towns gradually filling up with strip malls and gated communities blocking the view . Tuscan, Balinese and modernist architecture have obliterated views of rolling green hills and blue sea.

A little further up the coast, a local community is challenging this notion of “the end of history”.

They are defending a richly lived rural life against the virus of development .

The people of eMacambini have lived surrounded by a beautiful landscape for generations — with little extreme poverty and crime, in a place where community is more important than political affiliation.

Now their way of life is being threatened by the proposed development of the Amazulu World Theme Park .

The planned R44m development by Dubai-based Ruwaad Holdings will occupy 16500ha.

In addition to the theme park, plans include the largest shopping centre in Africa, a game reserve, six golf courses, residential facilities, sports fields and a statue of Shaka at the Thukela river mouth.

To achieve this, the eMacambini community is going to be displaced, 29 schools will be demolished along with 300 churches, three clinics and brand-new RDP houses. Ancestral graves will also be displaced. And between 20000 and 50000 people will be forcibly removed.

It is absurd that a vast Zulu theme park will destroy everything that is Zulu about the area — everything currently there.

The community of eMacambini first heard about the memorandum of understanding signed between the provincial government and Ruwaad Holdings in the media. Many of them were aware of talks between their chief, the province and two companies in Dubai. But they had not been informed that their entire world had been promised away by the provincial leadership.

Only later did the provincial authorities, led by director- general Kwazi Mbanjwa and Premier S’bu Ndebele, break the news — and threaten the community with land expropriation.

Anti-Removal Committee member Khanyisani Shandu recalls the meeting. “It was a top-to-bottom kind of approach — ‘We as government are telling you that it is going to be like this.’”

He says the province has no legal power to take away the community’s land. “The community owns the land. That is indisputable.”

After examining the proposal, the people of eMacambini rejected the project in its entirety.

On November 26, more than 5000 residents of eMacambini marched to the Mandeni municipal offices to deliver a petition to Ndebele and threatened to blockade the N2 and R102 if they did not receive a response from him.

After waiting for 10 days for a response, members of the community blockaded the roads with burning tyres.

Their protest was met with the full fury of the local police force, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to end the blockade. Several people were arrested and 10 people were admitted to hospital.

The African National Congress condemned the protests as “unfortunate and unnecessary” and its youth league cast the Inkatha Freedom Party as “political instigators”.

For the eMacambini community, such responses are further fodder for its disillusionment with the former liberation movement.

As the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee says in a statement: “There will be no compensation for what we will lose. There will just be a swap of land — a 500ha township for 16500ha of beautiful and free land with rivers, valleys, pastures and beaches.

“In the townships there will be nothing for free. We will have to pay rates there.

“Here we are growing sugar cane, vegetables and fruit.

“Here we are raising cattle, sheep and goats. Here some of us survive on fishing.”

The community of eMacambini defended its land for centuries, surviving the threats of colonialism and apartheid intact. “And now,” says Shandu, “this so-called people’s government is happy to remove us. It’s really terrible, to say the least.”

He stresses the community’s response to the development has nothing to do with party politics. “We have all now come together in solidarity to say this is pure theft of the land,” he says.

“The premier has been saying that the people of eMacambini are rejecting development. But this is not development. It’s theft. It’s absolute theft.”

Inkosi Khayelilhle Mathaba, the local traditional leader who was sidelined in negotiations with Ruwaad, says Ndebele will shortly be leaving his position as premier to go into business.

He claims he has documents which show that Ndebele will get 10% of the shares in the development. Ndebele has refused to give Mathaba and the community the memorandum of understanding signed with Ruwaad Holdings.

A spokesperson for Ndebele’s office says the consultation process with communities is ongoing. The premier’s office will not release details of the contract with the Dubai developers.

Unlike many other rural communities in SA, residents of eMacambini say, “We are rich. We are not poor. We are rich.” They acknowledge that their access to land makes them rich and their removal to a township will send them straight into poverty.

They say they do not hold all development in contempt. They are in favour of development that would help them become richer — in the broadest meaning of the word — rather than poorer. But they do not want their landscape to change.

Mathaba and the community of eMacambini will soon be taking the matter to the courts. They are determined to maintain their land and their autonomy in the face of plans to turn it into a playground for the rich.

And if they win, it will not simply be a victory for themselves and their land, but for all South Africans who are in favour of self-determination and sustainability over rampant development.

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