Five blond children watch intently as sweet words are written on the board. They giggle a little when ‘strawberry’ and ‘kauliflower’ appear. We have already heard that according to their parents they grow up in paradise. Their teacher is their mother; she wants her sprouts to learn Afrikaans: “That is the language in which we pray, sing and love.”
This paradise has bigger problems than snake nuisance, as it turns out when the mother’s hips come into view a little later. On the left she carries a walkie-talkie, on the right a pistol. Later, we see eight-year-old Liam being lovingly instructed by his father in the operation of an AK-47. His sister can too. Every day there is a fear of a violent robbery, because it is known that during the day women and children are alone on the farm. “Farmers are being killed. When my wife is tied up, someone must be able to do something,” the father says with a nod to his child.
The God of Apartheid
The Hattingh family was extensively portrayed on Sunday evening in Bloodland (EO), a report series by Johan Eikelboom, about the relationship between South Africans and their part of the earth. Marguerite Hattingh talks about it in religious terms: their land has been family owned for seven generations. “Our blood, sweat and tears are in this country. This is who I am.” Her husband: “This land belongs to God. He gave it to me; I am but his tool. They cannot compete with my God.”
If only it were that simple. For the God of Hattingh was also the God of colonialism and apartheid. Now there is a threat of redistribution of his 13,500 paradise hectares. Hattingh takes Eikelboom to a hill one point. Land that belongs to no one. Then why would they want to take his? Besides, what can the blacks do with it? Ten years ago, he had given his best people five sheep and a farm on his land. Within a year they had all sold their sheep: “These people don’t want to farm.”
Eikelboom also hears about this at least seven generations of passed-on racism and goes in search of the other side of the story. Zanele Lwana, an activist in Johannesburg, explains to him that blacks no longer want to be condemned to “the leftovers, the crumbs.” When Eikelboom, in line with what he has heard from the Hattingh family, wonders whether it is wise to give farmland to people without education and experience, she says sharply: “Blacks are already doing the work. We work the land, the white people are supervising.”
It is important that the government takes action, explains researcher Ruth Hall. Redistribution of land is necessary, but people who have lived somewhere for generations also have rights. “We have legitimate but overlapping claims on the same land. That needs to be settled before it happens violently.”
Mowing grass for the cows
Because violence is ubiquitous. Not only with the white Hattinghs, but also with the black Rachel Mathabatha you have to go through a gate to get to the farm. Ever since Mathabatha quit her job as a teacher to keep livestock on a piece of land donated by the state, the problems have been increasing: a robbery, poaching, fire and drought. Now she has to mow grass on the verge thirty kilometers away to feed her cows. “The problem is that you have way too many sheep and too little grass,” explains her white neighbor. “You have to prioritize.”
This is how it is still in South Africa a quarter of a century after the abolition of apartheid, he says: “They give the people something and then they are left to their own devices.” In Rachel Mathabatha’s kitchen hangs a beautiful portrait of Nelson Mandela.