During the apartheid years millions of people were forcibly removed from their ancestral land for apparently ideologically driven reasons – homeland consolidation. This ideology, however, was used to disguise the vested economic interests of the apartheid state. In the new South Africa forced removals are dressed up in the ideology of supposed development, but are still driven by the economic interests of the elites. This strategy was used to drive people off land in Mabaso, northern KZN, and is now being used in eMacambini, iLembe region. During June 2008 a Dubai-based property developer, Ruwaad Holdings, presented a draft plan to the KZN cabinet about a proposed $2,5 billion tourism project on 16 556ha of land in this area and, although it is not known exactly what agreements have been reached, it was announced that this massive development would be ‘fast-tracked’. eMacambini residents have been kept in the dark, despite the fact that thousands of them will lose their homes and many their sugar cane plantations. The office of the Premier must explain why deals have been done behind their backs – and why undertakings given that no people will lose their land have not been honoured.

When, in April 2008, long-circulating rumours about this investment were confirmed, an open letter, copied to the media, was sent to Premier Ndebele, pointing out, among other things, that

• The local traditional leader had been implicated by the TRC in gross human rights violations, and that allegations of his involvement in violence – and paramilitary training – have continued to the present time
• The same leader had directed people to settle, illegally, on nearby Mangete farms owned by descendants of John Dunn and his Zulu wives, against whom a campaign of terror – the burning of their sugar cane, and countless criminal attacks – was waged
• Following the settlement of a land claim by persons moved from Mangete in the 1970s the claimants were not given the land allocated to them – seven small farms and a large commercial farm – which land remains under the control of Inkosi Mathaba who was not even a claimant. Most of these claimants continue to live, illegally, on Dunn descendant farms, where they are subject to a High Court Interdict. Mathaba, the First Respondent, is in breach of this Order and hence in contempt of court. The claimants desperately want their land, but have been subject to severe intimidation for demanding what is rightfully theirs
• Attacks on ANC activists have continued up until the present time, and there is no freedom of political association whatsoever in the eMacambini area. Without freedom of political activity and association no true development can take place

This letter drew an immediate response from the office of the Premier, and a meeting with the Director-General, Dr Mbanjwa, took place on 29 April. Dr Mbanjwa claimed to be unsure of which specific areas were earmarked for inclusion in the proposed development. He promised to look into the matter and he provided the following assurances

• No eMacambini resident would be dispossessed of land
• The provision of land and housing to persons directed to settle on Mangete land would be prioritised and successful claimants would be given land in eMacambini to which they were entitled and
• processes would be initiated to democratise the area with a view to empowering local residents, safeguarding their human rights and facilitating their participation in the planned development

At its request, more background information about the area was subsequently supplied to the Premier’s office and, when nothing further had been heard, a letter was sent on 22 May asking for a progress report. There has been no movement in implementing any of the assurances given but it is clear from media reports that at least ten thousand people will be moved to make way for the new city – to be built on valuable agricultural land – despite the assurances given by the Premier’s office. Only at the beginning of July did the provincial government hold a public meeting at Macambini. People were not told where they would be moved to, but were promised compensation and jobs. Since the verbal assurances given at the April meetings have been dishonoured people have no reason to believe these promises. Although it was announced that the provincial government would work with representatives from the affected area the climate of intense repression in the area will ensure that only those selected by the traditional leader will participate and no democratic decision making will be permitted.

The plight of the illegal occupants on Mangete farms is particularly invidious, since it is only out of compassion that the farm owners have not implemented the court order and evicted them. Not only is the claim settlement land being withheld from them, but that given to them in the 1970s – Wangu – has reportedly been included in the land made available to Ruwaad Holdings. Mathaba is well aware of this fact, since he himself alludes to it in a sworn statement in Durban High Court Case 1931/96. Is it simply a co-incidence that areas in which residents were driven from their land by violence in the 1990s – Wangu, Owabede and Lamboti – now apparently form part of the new Ruwaad Holdings empire?

The actions of the provincial government are in breach of the Constitution which states (Sec 25,1) that ‘No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property’ Deals struck with Ruwaad Holdings behind closed doors are lacking in the transparency demanded of government. Both the Premier’s office, and the Ingonyama Trust – which is the landowner in law of all former homeland land – owe the people of eMacambini, and the general public, a full explanation of exactly what agreements have been entered into relating to eMacambini land, including the identities of local beneficiaries of this deal. We also need to know whether anyone who is currently part of any government structures has a vested interest in this neo-imperialist venture which seems set to benefit a select few at the expense of thousands whose homes and livelihoods are in jeopardy.