A photo of the mission house in "Kouroulene" as it was called by the Swiss. This photo was taken before 1915 by Jules Dentan and comes out of the University of Southern California's digital library.
The more than 100-year-old dispute as to who should legally rule over the Kurhuleni community is seemingly still brewing, and the Masia Traditional Council has now asked the Limpopo Provincial Government to provide some answers as to the legality of the Kurhuleni Community Authority.
“The Kurhuleni Community Authority has never legally existed and still does not legally exist. The whole thing is a matter of lies, cover-ups, disinformation and maladministration,” says Thovhele Nyhumeni Masia in a letter addressed to the provincial government. Thovhele Masia also accuses certain government departments of recognising an illegal structure and allowing them to collect taxes in an unlawful manner.
The dispute between the Masia Royal Council and the community staying at Kurhuleni dates back many decades. It reached a boiling point at the end of last year when residents protested against the installation of a new headman in the area. The Kurhuleni structure even managed to get a temporary court interdict to stop the proposed installation of the new headman.
During the public unrest in December last year, the police were called in to restore the peace and some residents were injured when rubber bullets were fired. A spokesperson for the Kurhuleni community, Mr Owen Makhubele, then described the action of Thovhele Masia to appoint a new chief as a clear sign of tribal cleansing. He said it increased tension between the Tsonga and Venda people. "Masia has already illegally occupied land belonging to the Tsonga, and he is widely perceived to harbour hatred of the Tsonga," Makhubele stated in a press release.
The two parties apparently came to an agreement in February this year regarding the appointment of a headman, but the tension has not subsided. A petty headman was subsequently installed.
The piece of land that is under dispute, the farm Ongedacht, LT52, has a very interesting, albeit somewhat controversial, history. It dates back to 1906 when the Swiss Mission bought the farm from a certain Robert Hamilton. In 1985 there was an agreement that the farm would become part of the then Gazankulu government, but this seemingly did not materialize. The farm was sold to the South African government in 1994.
The Swiss Mission farms, as they were commonly known, were run by (what was later called) the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The missionaries allowed people from the area to settle on these farms and taught them various skills. They also built schools and clinics and took care of the administrative functions in the community. The Mission Farms did not fall under the tribal authorities in the various areas, and throughout the decades they also served as “tax collectors” for the government of the day.
The Mission Farms came under a lot of pressure from various governments and at first were criticised for allowing black people to settle on “white” land. The missionaries were also criticised for not recognising and allowing African rituals such as initiation ceremonies to be practiced on the land.
In an interview with the SABC earlier this year, the Kurhuleni Community Association’s spokesperson, Owen Makhubele, denied that they had ever been under the authority of a traditional council. “The church started having control of this area since 1903 and 1905. When they established a church, they also built a school and a clinic in order to render these services to the community. It was sold back to the central government by the church in 1993 and the title deed is still under the Republic of South Africa. It has never under been chief Masia or whoever,” said Makhubele.
This statement is vehemently denied by Thovhele Masia and he points out that community authorities were established in terms of the Black Authorities Act of 1951. This act has since been repealed and is no longer applicable.
As far as the farm Ongedacht (Kurhuleni) is concerned, Masia says that the area was subdivided into farms by the colonialists in the 1900s. “The Masia Great Place was cut into four parts,” Thovhele Masia explains. “The ancestral worship shrine, royal graveyard, royal ploughing fields and the Morogolo River fell under the farm Ongedacht, now commonly known as Kurhuleni Mission,” he says.
According to him, the Union of South Africa recognised the Masia traditional leadership in the early 1930s as having traditional jurisdiction over a number of farms, including Ongedacht.
On 24 August 1955, the government of the day arranged for a meeting where the various headmen and other dignitaries from the specific area were present. The 322 representatives present unanimously elected Chief Thomas Masia to be their leader and representative. The representatives included members of the Kurhuleni Mission.
In a proclamation published in the Government Gazette on 24 September 1982 (Proclamation 187), the farm Ongedacht is listed as one of those that will become part of the Republic of Venda. “Serious attempts were made by interested parties to have proclamation 187 rescinded in order to pave the way for the proclamation of Kurhuleni as a community authority,” says Thovhele Masia.
In 1985 attempts were made to incorporate the farm under the then Gazankulu government, but this seemingly came to nothing. The farm was sold to the South African government in October 1993 for the sum of R482 700.
“When the new democratic government was born on 27 April 1994 and took over the administration of the homeland, the Kurhuleni baggage was sneaked in through the back door as if it was a proclaimed establishment like other community authorities,” Masia says.
Throughout the years numerous attempts were made to resolve the dispute and various groups and committees tried to establish a legitimate Kurhuleni Community Authority. According to Thovhele Masia, the first of such attempts was in July 1998 when elections for a Kurhuleni authority were held. The traditional leaders at that stage objected to the fact that the Limpopo Government apparently paid stipends to the newly elected office bearers.
In April 2002, a Limpopo delegation addressed a well-attended meeting in Kurhuleni and confirmed that re-elections could not take place because Kurhuleni had not been proclaimed as a community authority. The meeting then elected a task team to work towards the establishment of a Kurhuleni Community Authority.
The committee tabled a report a short while later, but it seems as if the 1982 proclamation as well as the 1993 expropriation were viewed as serious stumbling blocks that prohibited the formation of such a community authority.
In 2005 the Limpopo Premier instructed the Masia traditional authority to establish a traditional governance structure in the area, which includes the farm Ongedacht. The Masia Traditional Authority was also asked to appoint a person to man the Kurhuleni sub-office. Thovhele Masia alleges that the lady who manned the office was later intimidated by “faceless individuals” and, out of fear for her life, vacated the office.
Thovhele Masia regards the actions of the Kurhuleni community authority as counter-productive and says it divides people. “It is creating conflict in a community that has always been peaceful and whose members are interrelated,” he says.
His view is seemingly not shared by the Kurhuleni Community Authority Council, and in a press release issued earlier this year, they accuse Thovhele Masia of illegally occupying the land. “The action of Masia is a clear sign of tribal cleansing that has been emerging among some of the Venda leaders against the Tsonga people,” the statement reads.
When approached for comment last week, the Kurhuleni Council did not want to comment on the issue and said such matters should not be discussed in the media. They are waiting for the matter to appear before court once more and will only make a statement after obtaining legal advice.
Date:05 June 2015 - By: Anton van Zyl
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror for over 27 years. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.