'Hilton College refused to make amends to land claim families'

The land question is in the spotlight in South Africa and a land claim at Kwa-Zulu Natal's Hilton College, one of the most prestigious schools in South Africa, is an example of historical land dispossession.

Adjacent to the college grounds poor destitute land claimants live in squalor. For many years they had a relationship with the school, but are required to get permission from the school every time they wish to access their ancestral graves.

In addition, the school has built a game farm over the graves, making the situation even more difficult as wild animals graze over the area.

Activist and political commentator Khaya Sithole talks to Bingwa about the case.

Sithole says it is the common situation of white people arriving in areas hundreds of years ago and taking over land occupied by black people.

In the late 1870s, a white Afrikaans farmer said he bought the land and converted it into Hilton College. The black people who lived there historically remained there but kept being moved around.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

After 1994 these people were entitled to a land claim because they had been dispossessed, says Sithole.

The families worked at the school over the years and became labour tenants.

After 1913, there were multiple forms of dispossession for which families now are entitled to restitution.

What white farmers realised was if you moved away all the black people there would be no one to work on the farm, so developed a practice that said, you can stay on the farm provided you work for free - and that is known as labour tenancy.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

A window period provided labour tenants the opportunity to make land claims.

The law written in 1996, stated that anyone who has been a labour tenant has the unique feature of having lived on the particular land for generations, but do not have the title to that land, explains Sithole.

As they are always at the risk of being moved arbitrarily, the law said if they can prove labour tenancy they can lodge a claim to receive a title to that land.

That window for this process was closed in 2001 whereby 19 000 claims had been submitted.

Unfortunately, as we sit here 18 years later, those claims have not been processed.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

So what happened?

The government will not go on record saying they have lost many of the documents, but we know this is the reality.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

To try and address the problem the Land Claims Court proposed in 2017 that a land claims master of the courts be established but Sithole says government has refused to set this saying it will take care if the matter itself.

Government argued in the Supreme Court that this body would be judicial overreach and won.

The Constitutional Court on Thursday is ruling on this matter.

Even of the ConCourt orders that the claims start to be processed from today, many claimants have passed on.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

Four families at Hilton refused to be removed away even when the college attempted to move them to land in Howick.

They have an ancestral and emotional connection to the land.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

Sadly, one claimant has died at the age of 90 in November last year and another is 89 and has gone blind.

Sithole says Hilton College had an opportunity to make amends to the four families.

There is land on the other side of the college which could have been made available. But their fear was when you open up those floodgates there could be a claim on the whole estate.

Khaya Sithole, Activist and political commentator

Listen to the story below:


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