Another year of abnormally high levels of violent crime and gratuitous brutality has ended. While much of the blame can be laid at the door of the criminal justice system* there can be no dramatic drop in violence until structural problems affecting family and community life are addressed.  Perpetrators of serious violent crime are found among all races and all classes. However, a disproportionate number of victims and perpetrators are black African, which is a legacy of our past.  As the Marikana tragedy showed, virtually nothing has been done in the past eighteen years to deal with the major cause of family instability for millions of people : The migrant labour system and its attendant ills. Cleansing ceremonies and moral regeneration campaigns are of limited value if children have not learned moral values and non-violent solutions to problems during their formative years.  In all societies it is the family, in its different forms, from which children learn core values. It is iniquitous that millions of South African children are still denied their right to a stable family life.


The impact of the past on the present

The discovery of minerals in the nineteenth century led to massive labour migration from rural areas, much of it prompted by land dispossession. Families were left without adult men (and women, if they too migrated). Influx control, the Group Areas Act and the forced relocation of millions of rural residents for purposes of homelands consolidation, wreaked havoc by disrupting stable communities. In rural areas children grew up in dire poverty in communities demographically skewed by the absence of adults, especially men, for most of the year.  For many decades researchers have recorded high percentages of female-headed households.  They are common in poverty-stricken societies in which the role of men, disempowered by discrimination and lack of access to decent employment, is marginal.


In urban and mining areas migrants are housed in dehumanising single sex hostels (because families were historically forbidden from entering town).  By the 1980s women were living with men in many hostels.  However, the nature of the accommodation – crowded, shared rooms with Spartan furnishings – did not encourage men to ring their families, but local girlfriends, and children, moved in. Men had little control over who their room mates brought in, and some complained bitterly of the lack of privacy, women fighting among themselves, illegal shebeens, and theft of personal belongings. Millions of people, including countless children growing up in these environs, have been – and still are – brutalised by extremely high levels of violence in these overcrowded dormitories.


The damage done to gender relationships by the structural changes should not be underestimated. The interdependence of the sexes of the pre-colonial era, and the authority of the senior male over his sons, was transformed by the independent earning capacity of men and women. At the same time, cruel and humiliating racial discrimination dealt a severe blow to the self-image and autonomy of many men who were also being challenged by the growing independence of women.  Power dynamics are central to violence and for decades researchers noted how many men displaced the frustrations of their own experience of powerlessness on to women, by abusing them and failing to maintain them.


Criminalisation of black people for trivial (and unjust) offences also occurred from the late nineteenth century. These offences related to the brewing and sale of liquor (even traditional beer, which the government monopolised), ‘pass law’ infringements and from the 1970s, possession of dagga. Petty offenders, falling victim to prison gangs, often emerged as hardened criminals.   At the same time, extremely dangerous drugs such as apartheid state-linked mandrax netted increasing numbers of drug addicts, whose addiction often led to other criminal activities to feed their habit.


The scars of the past have not disappeared in eighteen years and, unless there is fundamental structural change, they are unlikely to do so in the near future. Families remain divided between urban and under-developed, poverty-stricken rural areas, which still serve as labour resevoirs, as they did under colonialism. Migrancy has become a way of life for many men for whom it means the best of both worlds, since they can maintain their rural base and families (whom they may or may not support) while taking up with other women, and fathering children by them, in urban areas.  In towns or on the mines they are still, for the most part, subject to inhumane living conditions which would not be acceptable in ‘first world’ countries – yet they are still deemed good enough for black people in democratic South Africa.


So the past continues to shape the lives of a significant sector of the country’s population. Men whose fathers abused their wives, and children who were abused themselves, are likely to continue these patterns of abuse in their own families.  If appropriate male role models are absent the work of mothers and grandmothers is far more demanding and the children lose out. Both male and female children need stable male, as well as female, role models and the fact that too many do not have them is manifest in various ways, including criminal activities and teenage pregnancies.  Children need the love and security of a stable family grouping in which core values which promote the development of conscience are instilled, one in which fathers support their families and do not abuse them.  Poverty in itself does not lead to criminality – but in a society in which there are glaring inequalities, and the only male role models for badly educated, unemployed young men are public figures who promote the worst excesses of conspicuous consumption, a life of crime can easily beckon.


Healing the family to heal the wider community

It is time to put policy about family life in the public spotlight, and to address the issues which separate families, especially the lack of rural development and the need for family accommodation for migrants. Despite the government hype about development, changes in rural KZN since 1994 have been minimal.  There is a  multi-million rand development at Nkandla but people living in the same region (Umlalazi near Eshowe) suffer long periods without water, as do those in other rural areas. The Nkandla project includes new road works – yet in remote areas people battle to access clinics because of the state of the roads.  The National Development Plan speaks of increased food production, which would obviously create rural jobs – but that needs infrastructure, including reliable water supplies. At the same time, the mining industry is spreading its tentacles in rural areas, further jeopardising precarious water resources while creating minimal employment. Nor can there be any real development until the whole question of land use and ownership is traditional areas is addressed – and until the damage done to the land reform process by government departments is corrected.


It is imperative for all who are concerned about the circumstances in which millions of our children are growing up, including faith-based organisations, NGOs, professional associations and trade unions, to speak out about the evils of migrancy, and demand that in 2013 the government and employers start taking the steps needed to promote stable family life.


One of the policy issues up for debate by the ANC at Mangaung is the slow pace of land reform.  There can be no meaningful solution to this problem unless the government is prepared to shoulder the blame for failing to deliver, and to take urgent remedial action.  Events in Mangete illustrate the complete failure of the Department of Land Affairs (now Rural Development and Land Reform),  and the SA Police Services, to act in the interest of land owners and claimants alike – and the ways in which they themselves break the law with impunity.


The Mangete area, near Mandeni, consists of small farms owned by the descendants of nineteenth century settler John Dunn and his numerous Zulu wives. This ownership predates 1913.  In the early 1990s the traditional leader of the adjoining Macambini area orchestrated illegal land invasions, and a campaign of terror and violence, including the burning of sugar cane and buildings, was unleashed against the farmers. Some of the invaders had been removed by the apartheid government in the 1970s, and given land in nearby Wangu. Others – probably the majority – had no historical association with Mangete.  In 1996 the farmers obtained an interim interdict against the chief and the illegal occupants.


The interdict could not be finalised because the chief lodged a land claim on behalf of those who had been removed. He tried to show that it was a tribal claim, which it was not, since the claimants had not been members of his tribe. Before the matter could be finalised in the Land Claims Court in 2002 the then Regional Land Claims Commissioner unilaterally concluded a Section 42D settlement, in which land (including a few Mangete farms, and a large commercial farm, which had been purchased) was transferred to the Bhekamafa Trust. This settlement cost taxpayers over fourteen million rand.  The trustees who were appointed were led by the chief, who had never been a claimant, and his associates.


Despite the settlement, the illegal occupants remained on Mangete farms, and the campaign of terror and illegal building continued.  The claimants themselves received no benefit from the Trust and those who were not claimants were not moved elsewhere, as was supposed to have happened.  In 2004 the 1996 Interdict was made a final High Court Order,. It ordered those residing on the farms without permission to move or face eviction, and expressly forbad any further entry or building on the farms without the owners’ permission.


An attempt to approach the Constitutional Court to force the Department to take action was initiated but, before it could be pursued to that level, the Court itself made a judgment in another matter in which land invasions on a similar scale were also beyond the capability of the landowners to deal with.    In the watershed (and unanimous) Modderklip judgment the Court ruled that, given the magnitude of the invasion and the potential for disruption in executing a court order it was the duty of the state – and not the owners – to provide relief for both the owners and the illegal occupiers. It also ruled that by failing to act the State breached the owners’ constitutional rights. Such invasions had to be prevented for they had serious implications for stability and public peace. Despite the Mangete matter involving a settled claim, as well as widespread land invasions, appeals to the Department of Land Affairs to act in accordance with the settlement, and this judgment, were ignored.


The claimants were in an invidious position, especially as the land they had been given when removed in the 1970s, Wangu, had since been incorporated into Macambini. It had apparently been earmarked for the planned multi-billion rand Dubai investment (now defunct) on which they, the rightful owners, were not consulted. They tried to challenge the Mangete settlement in the Land Claims court, but were unsuccessful.  Having received no benefits from the Trust they then approached the Masters Office and, in 2010, were successful in having the trustees appointed in 2002 removed for failure to comply with the terms of the Trust. They were subject to a campaign of threat and intimidation. Several months ago a new Board of Trustees, nominated by the claimants was appointed. Following further threats when the matter of the disappearance of trust earnings was pursued, one of the new trustees was shot and seriously injured in August.


The claimants accuse the Department of Land Affairs of failing to assist them, and of acting in collusion with the chief.  In 2011, a delegation from the Department in Pretoria visited the farmers with a view to discussing plans for the area.  They did not know that the claim had been settled. Nor could any departmental documentation be found. The landowners, who had not been a party to settlement, had to make copies of their own documentation for them!


To make matters worse, illegal building operations continue, in contravention of the court order and the conduct of the local police has been absolutely disgraceful. On 19 October a woman arrived on Lot 40 and started building. Members of the Saker family, who own and live on the farm, immediately tried to open a trespass case. They were not assisted. Despite a series of sustained interventions aimed at local and Cluster police management since then only a case of trespass has been opened. Contrary to instructions in a December 2003 circular from SAPS Head Office Mandeni police have consistently refused to open a contempt of court case. The station commissioner even denied the existence of a court order – despite his having referred to it in correspondence in 2005 – and then claimed that it was ‘old’ (it is valid for thirty years). Despite umpteen requests, the police have also failed to escort these trespassers off private land – which any landowner is surely entitled to expect of the forces of law and order.


It is only after an approach to a member of provincial management that there has been any willingness on the part of the police to do what is required of them.  In the mean time the building has continued, in clear breach of the Order. The owners have had no option but to approach the sheriff, with all the attendant costs and unpleasantness. Again, there has been a delay because of the need to await the services of an acting sheriff in the area (However, the Board for Sheriffs has been helpful and efficient).  It appears that land owned by the Bhekamafa Trust is also being invaded, creating further problems for the claimants, who are still trying to find out where their lands – and the monies due to them – are.


It appears that the Department of Land Affairs is in contempt of court for ignoring a constitutional court judgment. The police are apparently defeating the ends of justice by failing to implement the law regarding trespass and contempt of court. This is the very recipe for anarchy which the Constitutional   Court warned about if people could not look to the state to protect people from land invasions, and both the Department of Land Affairs and the SAPS are culpable. Unless fundamental steps are taken to stop government employees themselves breaking the law the situation can only worsen.