Andrew Molefe

Andrew Molefe

Lasting peace has continued to elude generations of Moutse residents.

The peri-urban settlement near Dennilton, two hours' drive north of Johannesburg, is once again caught up in a web of political chicanery and brinkmanship.

Two weeks ago, members of the community rose up again - for the fifth time in as many decades - in an attempt to force the government to reverse its decision to incorporate the area into Limpopo .

Forty-seven protesters were arrested and charged with public violence, resisting arrest and assaulting law enforcement officers in Groblersdal, the political seat of Greater Sekhukhune District Council.

Some of the protesters wore ANC T-shirts emblazoned with the image of President Thabo Mbeki.

The government, as was the case last year with Khutsong in the Merafong area, North West, is unlikely to blink first.

Last year Khutsong exploded in an orgy of violence. Councillors fled the town, their homes and public properties torched over the rezoning of Khutsong from rich Gauteng to the rural North West.

But Ben Mbonani has seen it all. The ageing Moutse taxi operator has seen fiefdoms rise and fall since the late 1950s when word spread that the South African government was planning to off-load his beloved Moutse on Lebowa.

At the time, Lebowa and other nominally independent black regions such as Bophuthatswana, KwaNdebele, the Transkei, Ciskei, and Natal were a spark in the mind of then prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd's grandiose dream of homelands for black South Africans. These homelands were in effect meant to exile black South Africans from the a greater part of the land of their birth.

In 1964, part of Verwoerd's evil social engineering plan came to pass when Moutse fell under Lebowa and was lorded over by educationist Cedric Phatudi.

Phatudi became the first president of "independent" Lebowa in the mid-1970s.

But even then, the Moutse residents were as defiant as they are today. They challenged their incorporation into the Lebowa homeland and demanded their return to "central government".

Phatudi, a benevolent dictator, grew tired of the recalcitrant Moutse residents and passed the area like a hot potato back to South Africa less than a decade after accepting responsibility for it.

Now, what Mbonani, the taxi operator, cannot fathom is the thinking behind the handover of Moutse to Lebowa in the first place.

"Even before then," he said, "most of the people of Moutse were eking out a living in Pretoria and Johannesburg travelling daily to and fro spending their money and paying taxes there."

The 1980s brought with it the KwaNdebele government and the ogre, Piet Ntuli, the homeland's interior minister, and the "horror of Moutse".

He led the South African-supported vigilante group, Mbhokodo on a reign of terror to try to force the people into accepting the farce that was KwaNdebele as their homeland.

Residents were tortured, activists' homes raided in the dead of night and the victims beaten with pick handles. Some were made to walk barefoot on hot coals. Many fled their homes.

Ntuli was "removed" when a bomb exploded under the seat of his car in 1986.

The late Chris Hani, chief of the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe, accepted responsibility for what he said was "the elimination of the most notorious of the collaborationist elements".

With the dawn of democracy in 1994 Moutse was once again returned to the central government while the new borders were redrawn.

It then became part of Mpumalanga.

So, it was with a sense of deja vu when two years ago democratic South Africa once more carted off the people of Moutse, kicking and screaming, from Mpumalanga to Limpopo province.