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The Salem land redistribution claim hearing in the Grahamstown high court last Thursday concluded with another postponement, this time until 21 January. The case, which resumed last week for the fourth time, involves the Salem Commonage, a tract of land around the village occupied by smallholdings and farms ranging from 60 hectares to 200ha, including a private game farm and lodge.
It also includes the Salem Club and cricket grounds and its two churches. The tension inside the court room was evident on faces from both sides of the case, claimants and land owners. Misile Nondzube told Grocott's Mail that they want all 38 portions of disputed land and will not settle for less. We want our land back and there's no doubt on that, he said.
On Tuesday regional land claim commissioner Vincent Paul told the court that three families have confirmed that Salem is the land of black people. There were black people there before white people came, he said.
Court adjourned early on Thursday to enable historical experts to pursue their discussions around issues that include such elements as ancestral graves. Since the inception of land redistribution in December 1998, only seven out of 40 farms have been reinstituted.
The negotiation phase deadlocked over property evaluation results. Some land owners accepted the results while others refuted them. Referring to Section 14 (2) of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, the claimants say their forebears were dispossessed of the land in terms of racially discriminatory laws and practices.
The court documents state: After the promulgation of the Natives Land Act of 1913, and by the 1920s, a location was laid out on the commonage and the rights of the community were gradually restricted... In April, landowners offered the claimants one farm - an offer they turned down. The claimants are Mzukisi Madlavu, Lingani Nondzube, Mtutuzeli Madinda, Douglas Rwentela, Misile Nondzube and Ndoyisile Ngqiyaza. Their legal representative is Cape Town advocate Joel Krige. The current farmers, represented by advocate SC Roberts, are arguing that the claimants' forebears were not a community, but labourers.