Elambini Land Claim: Court Finding Commended

The recent rejection by Judge Yasmin Meer and her two assessors of a land claim involving 1,380ha in the Scottburgh area is to be commended.

It is gratifying when the repository of history is utilised in establishing the facts. By consulting the record, Judge Meer’s court was able to show that the claim of land dispossession between 1914 and 1940 by a group calling itself the Elambini community, was unfounded.

Settlement of the South Coast beyond the Mkomazi River began in 1858. In making grants of crown land to white settlers, the colonial government was careful to avoid the locations which Shepstone had set aside for Africans. Joseph and Thomas Landers established Renishaw and Maryland farms in 1858 in the area claimed by the Elambini. Between 1876 and 1882, Samuel Crookes purchased Renishaw, Maryland and Restalrig estates which became the nucleus of the Crookes sugar business.

Apart from the uncalled for action of Colonel McKenzie in 1906 at Umzinto, my research of the history of the South Coast between 1850 and 1910 shows that relations between settlers and Africans in Alexandra County were stable and peaceful. Settlers frequently complained about the fractured territorial integrity of the South Coast as a result of Shepstone’s location system which accounted for 270,000 acres of African reserve between Isipingo and the Mzimkulu River.

African ownership of those lands was ring-fenced. Requests permitting white settlement on those lands were rejected. Of further interest is the dependence of white settlers on the production of maize by Africans until the 1890s. From that perspective, Judge Meer’s finding in favour of Crookes Bros enables the continued development of South Coast to proceed after having been stalled on account of a false and protracted land claim.

One of the new criteria being proposed for land restitution is that of “use it or lose it,” that criterion should be reciprocal. In other words, land claims that fail to reflect development within a window period should be forfeit and placed on the open market. It is not in the general economic interest either for frivolous land claims to disincentivise development or for previously productive land to fall fallow because of the inability of restored owners to develop it.

Sent in and published, 11 June 2018.

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