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hole in the wall

There are many things in this world that are beyond my understanding or capacity to articulate clearly. I feel not only inadequate, but also threatened by the situation surrounding me at Hole in the Wall, or rather, I truly fear taking a public stand. I don't have the clarity or writing capability to do the story true justice:

Sometime in 2003 the headman, Mzoxolo Ngubenani, was shot and killed while in Rustenburg. According to local sources, his estranged wife, Nowinase, had left him about 15 years prior to his death and she had been living with another man in Johannesburg. Shortly after Mzoxolo's murder she returned to the region with a son of approximately 9 years of age whom she claimed was his legitimate heir, and she was then installed as regent / headman by the king of the abaThembu, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo.

By all accounts over 90% of the Mthonjana villagers opposed her appointment and wished to have DNA paternity testing to prove the boy's lineage. And they wanted Mzoxolo's half-brother, Dumikude, to be appointed as their headman. Subsequently leaders among the community appealed to the supreme court for his appointment instead, and this was legally granted and a judge travelled to the area to hand down the ruling and paperwork. However there was no official appointment of Dumikude in front of the community at the time, and one of the main instigators of the appeal, who was the most strident voice insisting on Dumikude's official appointment, Mpostile, was found dead, hanging from the rafters of his hut, a few days later. If my source is correct, that murder would have occurred sometime in the first quarter of 2004.

There followed a relatively tranquil period when Dumikude was looked to as the official local leader, and in fact made decisions on behalf of the community, like, for example, authorizing the implementation of the Mussel Rehabilitation and Community Gardens projects which was instigated for the area by the local UDM leader, uTatu Weiss. The project had been running for some years in Coffee Bay with tremendous effect, and he wished to bring the benefits to the local community at Hole in the Wall. So a meeting was held in January 2006 with the chief of the Tshezi tribe, Ngwenyathi Phali, and this was followed with a community meeting at Hole in the Wall with more than 100 local people attending at Dumikude's homestead - where he was presented as their headman - and the project got underway in October 2006 with a local management committee comprised, quite likely, of mostly Dumikude supporters, and employing the poorest of the poor in the area.

In December 2006 the project was suspended for a short while at the instigation of the ward (23) councilor, Nkosinathi Mvunge, who was unhappy about his perception that the project employed only UDM members. So a meeting was held a couple of weeks later at which the ward councilor requested all the project employees to disclose their political affiliation. It was soon proven that they were comprised of both UDM and ANC supporters, and the ward councilor magnanimously allowed the project to continue. The project employees were only paid for half of the month.

Prior to that, in August 2006, there was another issue which drove a wedge between the local community and the ward councilor and Nowinase. A large tract of land on the hillside was given to a consortium of American businessmen and a local company, Incopho Development Projects. The Record of Decision (RoD) was handed down by DLA granting a long-term lease to land which is owned and registered to local individuals. Unfortunately the owners of the land were never consulted prior to the fact ( as the consortium had only entered into negotiations with the ward councilor and Nowinase, who set up a trust as the beneficiary of the development. And it is obvious that neither the ward councilor nor Nowinase were in touch with their subjects, were blithely unaware, and had no concern for their welfare. This issue is still playing out some almost 2 years later... and it seems that the development will probably be going ahead... and I'm raising the issue here simply as another example of their self-interest and lack of contact or concern for the actual members of the community.

While this was happening in the latter part of 2006 there were hut burnings and other forms of protest against the supporters of Nowinase, and a police presence had been established at the local backpackers. But none of the community concerns were considered, and the politics of power played out to tragedy in the following year.

In about March 2007, five of the local sub-headmen had gone to Nowinase's komkhulu (great place) to once more protest her presence and insist on a paternity test. They were issued with a restraining order which they subsequently broke, and they were arrested and kept overnight at the Mapuzi police station. The case had been remanded about 4 times when our headman closest to the Hole in the Wall holiday village, Bungaliwile, died of throat cancer on the 25th June 2007.

But a little prior to that, towards the end of May, the Mussel Rehabilitation Project management was contacted by the ward councilor who claimed that the chief of the area (Nowinase) was unhappy about the fact that the project had not been implemented through her authority; and a meeting for the 1st of June was arranged. At the meeting it was discovered that one of Nowinase's family members was shot and killed as he fled from his burning hut the very night before.

It seems as if in retaliation for their violent opposition to her assumption of power and their UDM political affiliations; not simply the stated rationale that the project was not conducted through her auspices, was what led to the project being stopped as at the 1st June 2007. 20 Gainful positions of employment, plus hundreds of thousands of rands for community development, mussel rehabilitation, and vegetable gardens were permanently lost to the area.

I attended the community meeting which followed shortly after the murder, and was dumbstruck by the authoritarian display and lack of concern for the vast majority of people in the community. An old woman begged the representatives from the house of traditional leaders to intervene with the police who were brutally interrogating people. Many, some of them elderly, people had been beaten ruthlessly by police in the shebeens in the course of their investigations. The response to this plea was that if any person has issues with police brutality then they should file charges at their local police station. I sputtered in protest, having tried unsuccessfully to file charges against the police for a beating I had received in the Kwaaiman charge office in 2006.

On 25th September 2007 Nowinase Ngubenani was murdered by a mob. Her hut was burned down and she was shot and killed while fleeing. Her sister Nkonkwane also died several days later - succumbing to burns and smoke inhalation. 27 People were arrested for the murders and have been incarcerated ever since, including Weiss, who is accused of being the ringleader and gunman. There is still a large police presence and an effective 8pm curfew in the area to this day, and in total over 40 people have been arrested since 2006.

I made contact with the Mussel Rehabilitation Project shortly after, and subsequently started working for the project in December 2007. We tried over several months to have the project reinstated in the area. We had meetings with the KSD (King Sabata Dalindyebo) municipality's mayor, councilors, speaker of the house, and Nowinase's daughter, Lindiwe, who had been appointed as regent over her brother... to no avail. Despite agreements with the mayor's office that we could go ahead and re-employ our trained staff, divisive tactics were employed, and at the last meeting on the 8th March 2008 the project was officially cancelled at Hole in the Wall, as it was all too clear that the current leadership had no intention of helping people from the opposing faction. I.e. nearly everyone in the community.

At the meeting with the mayor in Umtata I was warned that to even suggest an impartial meeting place could be seen to be taking sides with the, so-called, illegal faction. The mayor even went so far as to say that the people from "ehlatini" (the forest - casting some aspersion on the fact that they support Dumikude's half (bastard) brother) are irrelevant.

The polarity in the community was exploited to extreme effect: despite fearing that a meeting at komkhulu would be impractical because the majority of the community would refuse to attend, the mayor and councilors all insisted that the meeting could only be held there, and so the project was left with little choice. I printed flyers announcing the meeting at komkhulu, and distributed them throughout the villages, but one of the comments I overheard was that people don't know where komkhulu is because they do not have a chief. Unsurprisingly, only 4 people showed up.

There was yet another arson/murder incident in about March this year; and 2 of the people who own portions of the land which was given away for the hotel development are suspects in the case. Bazooka and Sidwell immediately fled the area - and while Bazooka was arrested in June (along with his sister who is being charged with assaulting a policeman... apparently she intervened while they were assaulting her brother), Sidwell remains at large.

There was a gathering at chief Ngwenyathi's homestead last month, at which the people from Mthonjana were noticeably absent. At the event, which was really a road-trip for Buyelekhaya, celebrating his official appointment as paramount chief of the abaThembu; a public complaint was made about the ward councilor's behavior and he was supposedly suspended pending an audit of the trust funds. However, instead of taking the suspension seriously, the public berating seems to have spurred him on to make some amends; and the tractors which were donated to the region some 2 years ago have apparently been seen ploughing people's fields and generally doing what they were supposed to do: benefit the local communities. The so-called audit is being undertaken by a single individual with seriously vested interests with the ward councilor's good friend Karl Weschta - the owner of Bomvu backpackers - and by one account they now seem more intent on putting pressure on their opposition across the road, over security of land tenure and lease agreements.

In point of fact I had a conversation with Weschta a few weeks before the audit was even on the horizon, during which he said to me that he would have Coffee Shack audited and put out of business. That was over a R1.8 million, 30% profit share buy-in on behalf of the local community, which was financed through a soft loan from the EU. The deal is well above board and it seems they have discovered that, so now they are taking the security of tenure angle... allegedly on behalf of the community's interests. The sad irony is the Tshezi trust which Weschta managed in the early 90's and from which he "kinda" appropriated resources. He was forced to leave the area for several years and returned only when the former trustees had themselves left or passed on. The huge barn which is now a dormitory in the establishment was meant to be a community centre for bead/basket-work and other initiatives. There is a huge question mark over the ownership of that building, as well as the legality of the Bomvu backpacker's location in general: they are located in a graveyard with 17 headstones... and also inside a forestry preserve.

There was a failed attempt on the ward councilor's life last week; and this past weekend Bhisho financed a couple of marquees, free food and live entertainment for a huge function at the soccer field. The party was to celebrate 7 years of Nkosinathi Mvunge being the ward councilor, and also for Buyelekhaya to officially appoint Lindiwe as regent until her brother obtains his majority. From what I hear the event was boycotted by most locals, and those who did attend shouted down the ward councilor during his speech... and then most of them left, in concert, as soon as the music started.

It's worth noting here that Buyelekhaya is still facing 35 criminal charges, including murder, kidnapping, extortion and arson.

So, in a community which has just over 200 homesteads, over 40 people have been arrested and remain in custody for, what seems like, eternity... and certain of their land and employment opportunities have been taken away with no regard for their constitutional rights or physical welfare. 90% of the community are against the de facto principles, and meanwhile their land is in the hands of vested and corrupt interests who have no regard whatsoever for these people from "ehlatini". And remember, we are talking about the land and people of Hole in the Wall: the icon of the Wild Coast, and potential goldmine in land and tourism terms.

I fear there will never be peace here... but truly, I feel that this story needs a real investigative journalist to do the people some justice.


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