The Emcakwini community has claimed 38 000 ha of land in the Babanango area, stretching from the hills of Zululand to the banks of the Umfolozi River.

Emcakwini timber Emcakwini kiln
Emcakwini timber destined for Mondi in Richards Bay.

One of two charcoal kilns in operation on the farm. Timber not suitable for pulping is used to make charcoal.

Tree harvesting in Emcakwini Land Claims Commission staff

A tree harvesting team on the Emcakwini farm.

Land Claims Commission staff visited the Emcakwini farm recently. Here they are in discussion with farm manager Gordon Potgieter (right).

 

The claim is made up of several parcels of land including private farms and two game farms. It incorporates forestry land (wattle, pine and gum) plus good cattle grazing land. The game farms, situated in the Umfolozi River valley, comprise some 4 200 ha of typical indigenous Zululand thornveld. A game lodge, Eagle’s View, is perched on a hillside overlooking the valley. It is a registered national heritage site.

In addition, two farms belonging to Ngonyama Trust were originally part of the claim. However, according to Emcakwini Trust chairperson Eric Buthelezi, the Trust agreed not to press those claims in return for compensation from the Land Claims Commission which, at the time of writing, had not been paid.

The claimant community, represented by the Emcakwini Community Trust, were forced off the land in the 1950s and comprise 192 households.

According to Eric, the process of settling the claims and transferring the land has been drawn out over a long period of time, and some parcels of the claim have still not been transferred. This has negatively impacted on the community and the business.

Some 12 of the farms (22 000 ha) have been transferred into the community Trust’s name to date, he said.

“Before the Land Claims Commission got involved we had already agreed the terms of the settlement with the landowners,” said Eric. “We were negotiating back in 1977. We made it easy for the LCC. There were no overlapping claims – there were no farmers dragging their heels. The settlement was gazetted a long time ago. Everything was done. The farmers were cooperative – they wanted out. Now some of the farmers are saying they want a re-evaluation of their farms and I can understand that.”

One of the first things that the Trust did after settlement of the claim was to appoint an experienced forester/farmer, Gordon Potgieter, to help run the estate. He is paid on a profit-share basis and so has an interest in ensuring the success and productivity of the business.

It was Gordon’s presence on the farm that has enabled them to start cleaning up the burnt and neglected timber compartments, and to get a charcoal business going utilising burnt and endersize timber. Gordon was also able to start preparing firebreaks and played a key role in preventing the farm from being burnt down during the fire season last year.

“If it wasn’t for Gordon being there it would have been a disaster as there were so many fires. The forestry part of our farm was well protected thanks to his efforts,” said Eric.

Eric said that the Trust has had no post-settlement support from the LCC or the government.

“We have a very serious problem with the Land Claims Commission,” he said. “We as the community have done everything we can. We fight with intruders. Thieves cut and took timber from us … We have created 40 jobs. They are doing harvesting and cleaning work on the farm. Some of them are running their own businesses. We could double the number of jobs if we had the support that we require.”

Eric says that some of the farms claimed were badly maintained prior to handover. “There were no firebreaks and there had been major fires in the years prior to the settlement. We are trying to cut out the burnt timber so we can replant.

“We make money from the small timber we harvest, which we sell to Mondi, and from the charcoal business. We had to start somewhere, to get going, we couldn’t wait.”

However, in December, the Land Claims Commission promised the Trust R10 million to enable them to start operations. The Trust was able to make the first draw-down on that grant early this year to purchase the game on the game farms and the furniture and fittings in the lodge.

The Trust is also in discussions with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife around the possibility of them getting involved in the management of wildlife on the farms.

There is some 7000 ha of growing timber on the farm, including wattle, gum and pine. Gordon estimates that fires last year burnt 5 000 ha of grazing land.

The charcoal kilns were bought second hand and were erected on the farm to generate some income from the fire-damaged timber that is not good enough to sell for pulp. A number of community members were trained to operate the kilns, which are producing around eight tons of good quality charcoal per month. It is sold to a Newcastle-based business.

According to Eric, one of the private farmers who owned the land prior to it being transferred to the Emcakwini community continues to occupy one of the houses on the farm, and the Trust is engaged in a court battle with him.

However despite the difficulties encountered along the way, the community is extremely excited about regaining ownership of their land, and are determined to succeed, and to maximise the business potential.

Eric says the Trust is in discussions with Mondi to explore ways of developing the forestry operations on the farm. They are also planning to utilise the game lodge ti develop an eco-tourism business.

Published January/February 2009



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