Rights enshrined yet rights denied
What this workshop reiterated to me was that policies have been set up yet not properly implemented; that the Equality Courts are not efficient and operating in all towns in South Africa and that there are still a lot of citizens who do not know about them. This is opening a window to human rights abuses taking place in South Africa in the time of democracy. Human Rights Day is not yet a day to celebrate, perhaps a day to look at the current picture and interrogate ourselves to do more to achieve these human rights.
Human rights provide the essential social foundation for all people to live lives of dignity and opportunity. International (universal) human rights norms have long asserted the fundamental moral claim each person has to life’s essentials – such as food, water, shelter, health care, sanitation, education, freedom of expression, political participation and personal security – no matter how much or how little money or power they have. So which human rights do we celebrate in South Africa when the basic immediate rights are denied to some of our fellow South Africans?
Our government enjoins us to be proactive in making sure that human rights are enjoyed by all, but at the same time, it is our government that infringes on these rights or allows for certain bodies to do so to the extent that people are killed whilst trying to make a simple living. This does not make worthy news as it happens to rural people with no money or power. Let me share with you the story of the people who live near the Dwesa and Cwebe forests.
The Dwesa and Cwebe forests surround the Mbhashe River as it meets the Indian Ocean deep in the rural “Wild Coast” of the Eastern Cape. The forests span approximately 18 km of coastline and extend inward for 2-5 km, encompassing over 5, 700 ha. The river itself is a natural, political and cultural boundary, separating the forests, Gatyana and Xhorha magisterial districts and two historically distinct populations of Xhosa speakers. Between the 1890’s and 1930’s, African residents were evicted from within the forest boundary, while white settlers established the Haven Hotel and holiday cottages in the same area. By the 1940’s, cash cropping was virtually eliminated in the region and nearly all households came to depend on remittances from migrants who oscillated between their rural homes and urban workplaces.
In the 1970’s, the administration of the black ‘homeland’ of the Transkei fenced the forests and created the Dwesa/Cwebe Nature Reserve, eliminating all local access to forest resources and grazing. Beginning around 1990, local residents began organising a formal land claim for the Reserve, and informal actions and negotiations with the reserve management. They launched a mass protest inside the reserves during a severe drought between 1993 and 1994 (for there was no food for their cattle outside the reserve area), drawing national media coverage.
In the midst of the negotiations over local residents’ land claim, in 1997, Dwesa-Cwebe was designated as a ‘node’ for the high profile Wild Coast Spatial Development Initiative (WCSDI), a ‘public-private partnership’ aimed at attracting tourism investment around nature reserves and other scenic areas along the Transkei coast.
The people of Dwesa and Cwebe won the land restitution claim and in 2001 a ceremony marking the resolution was held. Ten years after that spectacular Ceremony at Dwesa Nature Reserve, with the Chief Land Claims commissioner, then Deputy President Jacob Zuma and the then Minister of Land Affairs, Thoko Didiza, MEC Godongwana and a plethora of senior state officials flying in by helicopter, not one fundamental component of Settlement Agreement has been implemented. These reserves are managed by the Eastern Cape’s Park Board.
A lot has happened in the past 10-11 years and a lot has not happened. Our government continues to encourage us to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. At Dwesa and Cwebe the glass looks empty.
14 June 2011 - Mr Mbirha was shot by a Parks Board reserve guard on his leg close to the waist and he bled to death. Maqhekeni was the shooter. Mr Mbirha had left his home in the morning to go and chop poles for fencing inside Cwebe nature reserve. Then around midday the chief was visited by police who took him inside the reserve. They took him to where Mr Mbirha was chopping poles and told him that Mr Mbirha was shot and he passed away. The chief says that he does not know what really happened there. The reserve guard that shot Mr Mbirha says that he saw Mr Mbirha chopping poles and confronted him. The guard says he asked Mr Mbirha what he was doing. Mr Mbirha told him he that he was chopping poles and was not going to stop. The guard ran to the Cwebe gate to get the reserve guard stationed there to help him. They both went back into the reserve to Mr Mbirha. When they got there Mr Mbirha became very angry when they started asking him questions. The guard says that Mr Mbirha then started charging at him with his axe. He took out his gun and shot him. It is difficult for the chief and the people in the village to believe the story because they did not see the body. When the chief and the rest of the village people, including the family of the deceased, got to the site of the shooting the body had already been taken away by the police. The people are still upset about this. They say that the police should have contacted the chief before taking the body away. They were then going to ask questions based on something that they could see. Now all they got was a story from the reserve guards. The only evidence they saw were poles that Mr Mbirha had chopped. The brother of the deceased says that he does not know anything. The only thing he knows is the guards’ story and they were the only people in the forest with his brother.
9 February 2012 - Bhangile was shot dead inside the Dwesa nature reserve returning from a fishing trip. The locals are not allowed to fish, only the hotel and camping site owners, and tourists are allowed to. Many other killing incidents have happened in the past 12 years and many abuses including beatings by guards, imprisonment, and guards raping women who they caught inside the reserve coming back from collecting mussels. Many members of these villages are currently attending court cases for similar offences.
All these human rights abuse and killing stories happened to South Africans striving for immediate human rights, chopping poles for fencing or building huts and fetching mussels for sustenance definitely qualifies for basic living rights. The fact that people who draw up policies of how those in rural areas should live in towns and cities with different needs negatively infringes on rural people’s human rights. People of Dwesa/ Cwebe are far from towns and mostly do not possess money to afford buying poles, which are a natural resource and necessary for living in the rural lifestyle.
Derrick Fay, ‘Post-apartheid transformations and population change around Dwesa-Cwebe nature reserve, South Africa’, Conservation and Society 9(1): 08-15, 2011, paper compiled by the Transkei Land Service Organisation (TRALSO) as part of a situation analysis of the Dwesa-Cwebe communities for the Tshintsha Amakhaya Agrarian Transformation programme, August 2011.