Land: The people speak - Tensions simmer in Pietermaritzburg

Tensions simmered at the Joint Constitutional Review Committee's public hearing in Pietermaritzburg on Friday - where a white man and a black man both declared that they were prepared to die for the land.

The delegation was holding the committee's 10th meeting, which was also the rowdiest of the gatherings held so far.

It was held in the historic Pietermaritzburg Town Hall and members of the committee were seated on a stage in front of a giant pipe organ. 

The hearing followed a now familiar pattern set at previous hearings: most speakers expressed support for an amendment to the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation, while white speakers were mainly among those who were opposed to the move.

As a white man started to speak, committee co-chairperson Lewis Nzimande had to ask the audience to pipe down and to allow him to speak. Many of them wore the colours of the parties they supported.

The man said he had bought his farm in 1913 – presumably, he meant 2013 – with his pension money after he was placed on early retirement "because of this racist regime". He said he lost his job three times "because of his white skin". 

He added that he paid tax on his pension and every cent he made and that this tax was used for black people.

"And now you want to take my farm away from me," he said. "Over my dead body!" 

He was jeered as he spoke and rude gestures he made to the audience as he left only served to raise the volume.

"You're racist!" a man wearing an ANC jacket sneered at him.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu rose and asked: "Can we settle down, please?"

"Let us remain calm, there is a deliberate attempt to provoke," Shivambu added. 

"Let's not howl when people make submissions."

Some people continued to jeer while Nzimande explained the process and asked the audience to remain quiet while people speak. Other MPs also gestured to the audience to keep quiet.

While Nzimande was discussing something with other members of the committee, some members of the audience got up and started singing as they clapped their hands and stomped their feet.

CRC hearing in Pietermaritzburg turns rowdy #SAonLand @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/3ofJLc04ep

After a few minutes, calm was restored. 

"We've seen white supremacy here," said a black man, referring to the earlier speaker who gestured to the audience. 

"We see how arrogant they are because they own land."

"Africa belongs to Africans!" he said.

"This (the process to amend the Constitution) is just a formality. The land is coming back!"

An EFF supporter said there should be no "intimidation about food security". 

"Our grandfathers tilled the land long ago," he said.

"There should be no protection of whites. They're no longer superior to us."

A white woman said she was opposed to the amendment of the Constitution.

"When things are given to people, you take away their pride," she said. 

She said the government should rather empower people. She also called on everybody to work together.

"Together we can build this country," she said.

Unlike other speakers who opposed an amendment, she was not shouted down.

During a break, EFF supporters sang and danced in a circle outside the venue.

ANC supporters soon started their own song.  Many of them wore yellow T-shirts bearing the "Thuma mina" (Send me) slogan. 

After the break, the hall filled up slowly.

It wasn't as rowdy as the earlier session, but Nzimande had to address the audience a few times.  

A man wearing an Azapo shirt said the process shouldn't be taking place and that land should be handed to blacks. He warned the "settlers" that they too were prepared to fight for the land. 

A black man told attendees that there shouldn't be a fight about land because it was not for white or black people. It was for the gods, he said.

He was shouted down as some people stomped their feet and others tapped their wrists to indicate that it was time for him to go.

Again, Nzimande had to appeal for calm. 

The hearing had more IFP supporters than at other hearings.

They cheered loudly for speakers, some who also wore IFP garb, who expressed their support for the Ingonyama Trust.

The delegation is expected to go to Kokstad on Saturday. The meeting is scheduled for 11:00.