Catherine Komane may have been just a child at the time but she remembers when she and her community were forcefully removed from their land by the apartheid government.
That was in the 1960s and the land in question was Tweerivier, now known as Dikgatlong, in the North West.
Today, Catherine is the deputy chairperson of the Dikgatlong Communal Property Association (CPA) and together with her father-in-law Daniel Komane, runs the Dikgatlong Lodge after their land was returned to them by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
With support of the Recapitalisation and Development Programme, the lodge is thriving today, benefiting the community and creating employment.
Daniel recalls that the late former President Nelson Mandela was representing the community and when he was sentenced to jail on Robben Island, the community lost all hope.
“The apartheid government gave us tents for a few months and took them soon afterwards,” he says.
Catherine admits she was doubtful of any form of redress but was equally delighted when the Restitution of the Land Right Act was passed and the Dikgatlong CPA was registered in February 2007. Fifty-two claims were lodged by the direct descendants or original dispossessed black owners of the Tweerivier farm.
Three of the claims were lodged on behalf of the community, while the rest were lodged individually on behalf of families of the original persons dispossessed, according to the department’s documents.
The community, through the department’s restitution programme, was given just more than 5 550 hectares of land to the tune of R96.3 million. They also received grants, amounting to R24.3 million.
Through the department’s intervention, the Dikgatlong CPA received crucial skills training and a further grant to establish an office, which is situated in Brits, explains Catherine.
The CPA then entered into a lease agreement with farmers, who pay rent for operating a neighbouring farm. About 10 people, selected from the community, are employed at the lodge.
Gladys Molekane is one of those who has worked at the lodge for the past three years.
“Life is much better. I wasn’t employed before the community took over the lodge,” she says.
Community members were also employed to paint and provide maintenance at the lodge, Daniel adds.
“Whenever we host events (at the lodge), we employ people from the community. The claim was welcomed. Everyone was excited but the youth want development and hope the claim will alleviate poverty.”
Today the lodge prides itself on the sweet melodies of exotic birds moving freely across the beautiful green trees. The lodge is surrounded by soft green lawn with a clear pool.
There are plans to open four other lodges, which were restored after the land claim and boasts impala and zebra, for wildlife tours, Dikgatlong Lodge manager Samuel Kolokoto reveals.
It is not difficult to understand why the Dikgatlong Lodge was fully booked last December and jam-packed with activities this year.
“From August to January, it’s very busy or fully booked. We have lots of schools visiting, we also host matric dances,” he says.
The department’s project officer for the Dikgatlong land claim, Tsietsi Sebata, congratulated the beneficiaries for the way in which they were running of the lodge.
“I was impressed when I recently visited the lodge. It is truly one of the best. The financial management is good. The community is involved with the finances and the people that work at the lodge are the beneficiaries.”
Sebata indicated that prospective land claimants could learn a lot from the Dikgatlong community when it came to financial management and maintaining a project.
*Lungelo Mkamba works for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.