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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Ebenhaeser land claim settlement ceremony

Programme Director, Mr Mcebisi Skwatsha,
Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Premier of the Western Cape, Ms Hellen Zille
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Mayor of the West Coast District, Cllr Harold Cleophas,
Mayor of the Matzikama Local Municipality, Cllr Johan van der Hoven,
MECs and councillors,
Members of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights,
Religious and community leaders,

And our most honoured guests of all, the members of the Ebenhaeser community whose forebearers were removed from their ancestral land nearly a century ago.

Ons verwelkom ook vandag verteenwoordigers en gemeenskapslede van Beeswater, Vanrhynsdorp en omliggende gebiede wat trots is op hul Griekwa-afkoms.

Ons sê ook baie welkom aan die Vaalplaas en Paternoster-gemeenskappe en verteenwoordigers van Rooiberg en Rooikamp.

The handing over of these title deeds is a historic occasion, because it includes the first ever settled land claim in the Western Cape to descendants of the Griqua people.

It is in the ownership of land that we find our independence as a people.

It is land that we rely on to live, to work and to eat.

It is land that holds firmly the roots of our ancestors.

Land is the one thing that endures the passage of time.

To borrow the words of Mahatma Gandhi, land is not so much an inheritance from our forefathers, as it is a loan from our children.

We therefore extend a particular welcome to the youth of the Ebenhaeser community and the young people of the other communities represented today.

It is you who are the future beneficiaries of this land.

It is you who will restore it to its former glory and it is you who will be the next generation of farmers, conservation managers, foresters and aqua-culturists.

What we are witnessing here today is a triumph of cooperative governance, because the settlement of these claims would not have been possible without the close collaboration of local, provincial and national government.

The number of claims settled for the West Coast Municipality – a total of 392 out of 422 by February this year – is a result of cooperation between the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the Office of the Regional Land Claims Commissioner.

We share a common goal, to improve the lives of all South Africans and uplift their material conditions by giving them access to land.

This process has shown just what can be achieved when we work together.

Two days ago, our country observed Human Rights Day, a time to reflect on how far we have come in advancing human rights in our society.

It has been 59 years since the terrible events at Sharpeville, where 69 unarmed protestors were killed by the apartheid state, and Langa, where three others were killed.

We are reminded of the need to never return to a dark past where the state deprives people of their basic human rights.

It was successive colonial and apartheid administrations who deprived our people of access to, and ownership of, the land .

As the democratic government of a free South Africa, it is our responsibility to undo this bitter legacy.

Although human rights are by their nature universal, it is the rights of society’s most vulnerable that we must take particular care to enforce and protect.

Farmworkers and labour tenants on farms are the lifeblood of our country.

It is your hands and your labour that puts food on our tables.

Without your daily efforts all the farms around the country
would not be able to produce, sell and export the many agricultural goods for which our country is famous around the world.

On behalf of all the people of South Africa I want to acknowledge you and your families.

Sadly, the men, women and children who live and work on farms have borne the brunt of the discriminatory land ownership policies of the past.

They have been dispossessed of the land of their forefathers, forcibly removed from land on which they were born.

Unjust laws like the 1913 Natives Land Act, the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act and the Group Areas Act caused untold hardship for our people across South Africa, and their effects remain with us today.

The brutality of these laws was keenly felt in the farmlands of the Western Cape.

People who had spent their lives on these farms were uprooted, evicted and shunted off to faraway and desolate settlements for their designated population group.

Some received paltry compensation, but most received nothing at all.

They were simply told to gather their belongings and leave, often with no notice.

It is impossible for us who live today to fully comprehend the anguish they felt.

They left behind the only homes they had ever known, where their ancestors were buried – and were forbidden to return.

It is this systematic dispossession that our people were forced to endure that we are correcting here today.

More than half a century ago, the people of this country declared in the Freedom Charter that the land shall be shared among those who work it.

With the passing of the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994, this government set about giving effect to that declaration.

Over the past 25 years ago, we have been able to harness the provisions of this law to begin to change the skewed patterns of land ownership in our country.

Across the length and breadth of South Africa, land has been restored to its original owners, be they individuals or community.

In other cases, where it was not feasible to return land, individuals or communities were financially compensated.

Despite the numerous challenges we have faced, the land claims process has made a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans denied their birthright.

But land reform needs to be accelerated if we are to correct this historical injustice.

The slow pace of reform has caused impatience among our people, and justifiably so.

An Inter-Ministerial Committee has been established to oversee the accelerated land reform process, with a Presidential Advisory Panel on hand to assist the committee in its work.

Ours is a Constitution founded on the principle of social justice.

In the past, access to land, to wealth, to services, to opportunity, was the realm of the privileged few at the expense of the majority.

With democracy, all our people were afforded equal rights as we laid out our vision for a non-racial, non-sexist, free, egalitarian society.

Having land returned to its rightful owners is just the first step towards sustainable and enduring land reform.

It is a priority of this government to ensure that we provide the necessary support to communities who have had their land returned to them in order for it to be utilised productively and effectively, and to support our broader goals of agricultural growth and economic transformation.

I am therefore particularly pleased that the Ebenhaeser community wants to use the land for productive purposes.

There are already various agricultural activities, including livestock farming, taking place on some of the farms, and three harvests have been completed so far.

I am pleased to note that the emerging farmers in the community are being supported through the Ebenhaeser Farmer Production Support Unit and have established a co-operative model to build capacity in livestock, vineyards, lucerne and hay production as well as fresh produce.

I am told the restituted farms have also acquired a quota for the delivery of wine grapes to local sellers and the community trust is engaging with Pioneer Foods around the production of raisins, currants and sultanas.

A number of infrastructure projects have also been implemented on the restituted land.

The farms have combined water rights for 132 ha from the Olifantsrivier Irrigation Scheme, which will greatly help the community in its future agricultural activities.

In the future the community is looking at exploring opportunities in the rapidly growing aquaculture sector, which has significant potential benefits in terms of job creation.

The other communities are also exploring opportunities in livestock and game farming, as well as possible opportunities in salt and gypsum mining.

It is critical that we highlight the post-settlement futures of these claims.

Land reform isn’t just an imperative for social justice.

It is also part of our greater drive to grow our economy and create jobs for our people.

In the economic recovery and stimulus package I announced last year we prioritised support to the agricultural sector.

We have a vibrant and diverse agricultural sector and it is ripe for investment.

As more land is made available for agriculture and its associated activities, and more historically disadvantaged communities are bought into the mainstream, we will be better able to ensure our nation’s food security.

We are determined that our accelerated land reform programme should expand economic opportunities in areas where our people live.

Whether it is through agriculture or, in places like Paternoster, through tourism, there is huge potential for job creation.

The story of farmworkers and labour tenants in the Western Cape, like the story of farmworkers elsewhere, has until now been told through a vale of tears.

It is a story of rootlessness, of dispossession, and of being denied one of the most fundamental securities as a human being – of knowing that the roof you have over your head today, will still be yours tomorrow.

It is a story of one of the greatest injustices – of spending one’s entire life working the land, often under harsh and intolerable conditions, but never getting to enjoy its fruits.

It is a story of having exhausted one’s youth and strength in hard labour and expecting to retire in peace to the home you have lived in all your life – only to be told to leave because you have outlived your usefulness to your employer.

We cannot hope to have a truly united nation so long as such wounds continue to fester.

Our accelerated land reform programme is an imperative if we are to correct the wrongs of the past.

But it is also in the interests of social cohesion and harmony between the different race groups in our country.

Given the excesses of our past, we cannot and must not return to a place where one race turns on another, and where instead of societal harmony, there is only bitterness, discontent and anger.

We have come too far, and we have too much to look forward to.

This is why what we celebrate here today represents so much more than the return of land to the descendants of its original owners.

Each time a land claim is settled, each time we witness the joy of communities who can return to their ancestors’ land, we become all the more optimistic for our country’s future.

For decades the communities represented here have waited for justice.

Despite the length of time it has taken, they have been patient.

They knew that justice was on their side and that it would ultimately prevail.

This government made a promise in 1994 that we would return the land to our people.

We have made considerable and demonstrable progress, and will continue to do more.

Seeing the children of the Ebenhaeser community running free on the land that was their forebearers’ is no longer a dream deferred, but a promise fulfilled.

As we forge ahead with new momentum to accelerate the pace of land reform in our country, I call on all South Africans to support us in our vision.

To do so is in the interests of justice, in the interests of equity, and above all, in the interests of reconciliation and peace.

As we imagine a new future for our people, we recall the words of the poet Antjie Krog. She wrote:

“Gee vir my ‘n land waar swart en wit hand aan hand vrede en liefde kan bring in my mooi land.”

I thank you.