- Published on Tuesday, 14 February 2006 07:00
(Heidelberg) - FIAN, the international human rights organisation for the right to food and La Vía Campesina, the global network of small peasants and landless people’s movements are kicking of a global protest campaign on the occasion of UN Human Rights Day on the 10th of December. Beginning from that date, thousands of protest letters will be flooding into South African President Thabo Mbeki’s office in which it is demanded that a huge tract of fertile land be returned to the rural community of Gumbu-Mutele on the border with the troubled neighbour Zimbabwe. The argument of the two organisations is that non-restitution of the land is a violation of the right to food by the South African state. Under the right to food, landless peasants must be guaranteed access to land in order to be able feed themselves. UN Human Rights Day is an opportunity to highlight the importance of socio-economic human rights, amongst which the right to food, next to political rights such as freedom from torture. Protest letters will also be handed over to South African embassies world-wide.
The rural community of Gumbu-Mutele numbering some 1200 people has been claiming back their land which they were brutally removed from during the Apartheid era. The community is presently living on a dry patch of infertile land in the most harsh conditions with rampant hunger and poverty destroying the communities future. Under the country’s land reform laws which are aimed at redressing the enormous injustice commited during Apartheid when the white minority dispossessed black South African’s of most agricultural land, the community has a right to be restituted its former land. Ironically, the South African State which has been emphasising its committment to land reform under the ANC government, is itself the obstacle to a resolution of the case: The land is not held by white commercial farmers, as in other, similar cases. The Ministry of Defence is the current holder of the land and has been categorically refusing to return the land to the original owners with a tenuous argument: certain types of military exercises can only be held on that particular land. Kofi Yakpo, who is working on the case for the Agrarian Reform Campaign of FIAN and La Vía Campesina tells a different story: " Many of the old-guard Apartheid era public servants are still working with the Ministry of Defense and there are vested interests not to create too many precedents for other, similar cases."
There has been mounting pressure on the government from South African civl society organisations that the present land reform programme is a failure. Eight years after the end of Apartheid, 80% or fertile agricultural land still belongs to 60,000 white commercial farmers, while some 15 million black South Africans are crowded into the low quality lands of the former Homelands.