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Miriam Makeba’s cry for land resounds in citizens’ pleas to panel for change

Local and international singer Miriam Makeba gave voice to it in her 1960s song Mabayeke: Give us our land. It is a cry that has not yet grown quiet, 23 years into democracy. It is reverberating through the provincial public hearings being held by the high-level panel on assessment of key legislation and acceleration of fundamental change.

At the seven provincial public hearings held so far, people have come — sometimes hitchhiking great distances — to tell the panel of their problems with access to land for farming, land for housing, secure tenure on the land they occupy, access to mineral rights and beneficiation of minerals, restitution for apartheid-era land dispossession and the slow pace of land reform programmes. It is not surprising that land features so prominently. After all, the apartheid government forcibly removed about 3.5-million people in the years up to the 1960s.

The panel’s seven provincial public hearings held so far have been in diverse venues — church property in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Mpumalanga; a newly built Northern Cape convention centre named after an anti-apartheid struggle activist; in the city centre in Bloemfontein and Durban; and at the Johannesburg City Hall — less than 10km from Sophiatown, that vibrant multiracial suburb condemned to forced removals in the 1950s.

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