He died waiting for land justice

Mourners who gathered to bid farewell to Zabalaza Mshengu in Ashburton on Sunday said the slow wheels of justice had failed him.

Mshengu (104), who was described as an “unsung hero” for land claimants, was buried on Sunday at Admore Farm following a long battle with illness.

His relatives said that he died “sick and tired” of waiting for his claim to the land he was born on to be settled.

The centenarian died in his derelict shack on bare veld. Mshengu did not have running water, electricity or a proper functioning toilet.

On rainy days, his shack leaked, soaking his bed and blankets.

Although the odds were against him, he never lost hope and fought until his last breath to give his children a place to call home.

His longtime friend Bhekokwakhe Mbheje said he was heartbroken that Mshengu’s dream had not been realised.

“All he wanted was for the government to process this claim so he could die in peace. He died a sad man,” said Mbheje.

He said he would often accompany Mshengu when he attended meetings in his quest for the land.

“He was very smart, even though he never went to school. Mshengu would constantly tell me that he wants his children to have a place to call home. He would say if he died, he didn’t want his children to be displaced,” he added.

Mbheje urged Mshengu’s two sons to pick up the baton and not let their father’s efforts be in vain.

“Everybody was scared to go forward. He decided to go forward because he was poor and wanted a place to live.”

Legal Resources Centre attorney Thabiso Mbhense, who had been assisting Mshengu with his land claim since 2002, said he was shattered by the death of a man dedicated to improving the life of his family.

Mshengu submitted his land claim in June 2000, along with 19 000 others, to the Department of Land Affairs (now the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform) under the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996.

Mbhense said: “What was meant to happen from there onwards was that a settlement agreement needed to be undertaken, and the land which he was claiming needed to be surveyed and purchased by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and title that portion of land to him,” Mbhense said.

“Unfortunately, the department did not do this and Mshengu was left in limbo,” Mbhense said.

Mbhense said there had been various orders by courts, with the matter going back and forth with no success.

He said under a recent order the owner of the piece of land Mshengu was claiming and the director-general of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform were meant to appoint land evaluators.

Mbhense said this was not done.