Village Elders Vow They Don’t Want To Move With AM-South Africa, Bjt
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ His ancestors bought the land in 1910 and his father is buried there, so Solomon Mathope figures the land belongs to him and his family.
But property-owners of the village of Mathopestad, which means ″town of Mathope,″ are scheduled to be moved by the white-minority government to a tribal homeland.
″I oppose the move. My father is buried there. The land is ours,″ Solomon Mathope, chief of the village, said Tuesday.
Other owners of property along the tract of land of Mathopestad, in a valley 43 miles west of Johannesburg, challenged the government to count those willing to relocate.
″We will not move, and the government will see for itself that we are opposed,″ said village sub-chief John Mathope, whose ancestors bought land in a pastoral valley west of Johannesburg in 1910, three years before it became illegal for blacks to own property in white areas.
John Mathope and 11 other descendants of the purchasers, in a news conference at the South African Council of Churches, refuted government contentions that the majority in their community is willing to relocate.
The village is home to some 2,000 people, many of them related and descendants of the buyers of the land - most of whom are named Mathope.
It covers a 1,200-acre tract along the stream-like Mooi River 43 miles west of Johannesburg in a fertile region that receives adequate rain.The group said it fears the government will move soon to force the owners and track them north to an arid region unsuited for corn, their staple crop.
The new area is to be incorporated into the tribal homeland of Bophuthatswana , which South Africa - but no other countries - recognizes as an independent nation.
Mathopestad is a symbol of the government’s efforts to remove so-called ″black spots″ - African villages in white farm regions.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., drew attention to Mathopestad’s fate when he visited the settlement in January.
Forced removals are one of the more internationally condemned practices of apartheid practices. Anti-apartheid groups say that between three and four million of South Africa’s 22 million blacks have been relocated over the past 20 years. The government says the figure is about half that.
Gerrit Viljoen, minister of cooperation and development and education, announced in February that all forced removals were suspended. He added, though, that removals would proceed in cases where villagers agreed.
This was seen by many as a catch. In the past, the government had been accused of installing village chiefs who agreed to removals without the blessing of the residents.
On April 9, Viljoen said most of Mathopestad’s 2,000 residents had agreed to go.The village elders accused the government of encouraging ″tenants″ in the village to favor the move.
″Tenants″ are non-owners who pay an $80 ″joiner’s fee″ and pledge allegiance Mathopestad’s chiefs. In return, they receive a plot for a shack- like home, and maybe space for a garden.
Samuel Mathope, a son of John, said 1,500 of Mathopestad’s residents are owners, or descendants from the purchasers more than two generations ago, and the remaining 500 are tenants.
He said the government falsely encouraged tenants to believe they would be given land if they accepted the move.
″It is the land-owners who can negotiate about the land, not the ordinary tenants,″ he saod. ″If the tenants are in favor, they must be given that chance. The government must take them away from Mathopestad in order to avoid trouble.″
All of the elders said in interviews the tenants should go if they chose, but the owners were staying.
As in most removals, the government would negotiate a purchasing price. Often these are considered inadequate.