Keiskammahoek villagers march on the offices of Amathole District Municipality

The people of Keiskammahoek woke up very early yesterday morning and made their way to East London. They hoisted home-made placards and sang as they marched from the public open space at the top of Oxford Street to the offices of Amathole District Municipality. They are fed up. Here is the text of the memorandum that was handed over to the mayor.

"M E M O R A N D U M

To:       Amatole District Municipality

From:   Keiskammahoek Restitution Communities

Date:    11 April 2017

The leadership of the villages has been attempting to get answers to crucial questions regarding millions of rands worth of their own funds, awarded through a land restitution settlement. To date, requests for information have largely been ignored and the community leadership treated with utter disrespect.

The land claims of the nine communities, Upper and Lower Gxulu, Upper and Lower Mnyameni, Upper Ngqumeya, Gwiligwili, Ndlovini, Ngobozana and Mthwaku were settled on 16 June 2002. The settlement agreement was structured as follows: 50% financial compensation to the families who were dispossessed and 50% set aside for development in the above mentioned communities.

The development funds, totalling approximately R55 million, were to be spent on various projects, identified through a development planning process, and administered by ADM. A local community development plan was drafted to guide the utilisation of the funds and improve local economic development of these communities. A Project Steering Committee was set up for the purpose of co-ordination, accountability and decision making. Development committees were established in each village to coordinate processes at community-level.

Almost fifteen years later, the planned economic development projects have not been implemented. There has been some expenditure on infrastructure but there has been no meaningful impact on the lives of local people. Not only has roll-out been slow, but information has been withheld regarding the communities’ own money (it must be emphasised, the monies held by ADM are not government funds – they belong to the residents of the nine villages). The ADM has built multi-purpose halls in the villages. Not are all complete. Two tractors were purchased, but three years later they have not yet been registered.

Efforts by the community leadership, over the last three years, to find out what has happened to the funds have not been successful. Incomprehensible financial reports have been submitted, with no simple answers to straight-forward questions.  Communities have been told that R35 million has been spent, and only R20 million remains. Calls for an explanation of exactly how the R35 million has been spent have gone unheeded. Unemployment is rife and levels of poverty are high. R55 million would have gone a long way to addressing this in Keiskammahoek.

The obscuring of information is raising many questions at community level, one of which is: are the funds still available? Furthermore, is there a commitment and willingness to implement meaningful development that will change the lives of people living in these communities, and the generations to come?  Is the government serious and committed to rural development, especially when there are funds available for development in these communities? Do ADM officials respect our people and are they willing to serve them?

It is important to point out that there is a section in the community that is opposed to the development process – so much so that they took the Commission to court in an attempt to get the development funds paid over to the claimant families. The elected leadership of the villages opposed this process and stood with the Land Claims Commission, and ADM, in opposition this attempt. The court action was unsuccessful, but the failure of ADM to address the concerns of the leadership plays into the hands of those opposed to developmental land restitution.

The actions of the state and ADM cannot be condoned and are condemned in the strongest possible terms. It is lamentable that, after years of oppression and economic deprivation under the previous regime, the living conditions in our rural communities remain unchanged under our democratic one.  The lack of co-ordinated and meaningful rural economic development after more than 20 years of democracy is a serious disappointment to rural citizens and a shame to our democracy.

The Keiskmmahoek Communities are demanding the following from ADM/Department of Rural Development and Land Reform

  • That there be a clear and simple breakdown of how much has been spent, and on what it has been spent and who authorised this expenditure;
  • That there be an explanation regarding the interest that will have accrued to the communities’ funds over the last fourteen years: How much interest did the funds attract? Where is this interest now?
  • That there be an independent audit of this account, and that the auditors present their report to the community directly;
  • That the remaining funds be transferred from Amathole District Municipality to an institution of the communities’ choosing within a month period. (The communities will choose the organisation that has the capacity to drive their development through the implementation of a revised community development plan).

Furthermore the Keiskammahoek communities are prepared and ready to take their struggle forward through rolling mass action and a legal battle. We are committed to explore every possible avenue available to us to get back our money and proper accountability from ADM."

There was good coverage in the Daily Dispatch today, as reflected in the photograph.