'GET RID OF THE game reserve'

Sicelo Dladla

Sicelo Dladla

The Landless People's Movement (LPM) has called on the KwaZulu-Natal government to remove all animals from the Ndumo Game Reserve so that locals will have access to farming land.

"It does not make sense to keep fertile land for animals, while people on the other side of the fence are starving," LPM national organiser Mangaliso Kubheka said.

He said the decision to intervene in the Ndumo saga was taken at the LPM's national conference in Port Shepstone on the South Coast last week.

"We decided to engage government before embarking on actions that will ensure that people finally get their land back," Kubheka said.

He said recent attempts to take over land were nothing compared with what they were capable of.

Just three weeks ago they cut down the fence of the 10000ha reserve and invaded the park, demanding that the reserve be removed.

Thami Ngidi, spokesman for MEC for agriculture Mtholephi Mthimkhulu, said he could not respond to "threats coming from an outsider" since locals from the Mbangweni and Bhekabantu communities have never demanded that the reserve must be shut down.

But he admitted that residents have asked for about 0,3 percent of the whole reserve.

The community lost their occupational rights to the fertile land during the dispossession that took place between the 1940s and 1960s, when the government removed them under the pretext that they could return once the authorities had been able to rid the area of the tsetse fly.

The area was later turned into a reserve that forms part of a transfrontier project involving South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.

It boasts a variety of animals that include black and white rhino, buffalo, leopards, hippos and crocodiles.

It also has a various bird species, some of which are classified as rare.

When the claim was finally settled in 2000 after protracted negotiations the locals got back the ownership of the land.

But they were not allowed to physically occupy it so that conservation activities on the park could continue uninterrupted.

For years people have had to cross the Mozambican border to access fertile land for agricultural purposes since the land they are living on is unsuitable for farming.

But the Mozambicans have since told them that they are no longer wanted there.