A long way from home

‘As a lawyer I have seen a lot of suffering because of the apartheid laws. But I do not think I have seen people suffer more than the people from Mogopa.”


The lawyer was speaking at a meeting in Johannesburg last month. The meeting was called to tell the sad story of the people from the village of Mogopa, in the western Transvaal.


It is story of how a proud and peaceful people were robbed of their land – and how they have become strangers in the country of their birth.


LIVING IN PEACE


“Our parents and grandparents sold their cattle to buy the land at Mogopa in 1912,” said Ntate Ephraim Pooe. The old man came to the meeting from a place called Bethanie near Pretoria, where he has lived since the government forced the people off their land in 1984.


“When our parents arrived there was no water at Mogopa. They dug the land with their bare hands to find water. They lived together peacefully, sharing the land.”


“In 1931 my people bought the farm next door because the tribe was growing. We built roads, schools and a church. It was our land and we were proud of it.”


Ntate Pooe then told the meeting how their problems started. The government decided to move the people because Mogopa was a “black spot” in a white area. They wanted to move the people to a place called Pachsdraai near the border to Botswana.


The government had secret meetings with a leader who no longer had the respect of the people from Mogopa. The leader, Jacob More, told the government that the people of Mogopa agreed to move. But most of the people of Mogopa did not agree – and when the time came, Jacob More left for Pachsdraai with only ten families. The people of Mogopa thought they were safe. But they were not safe for long.


THE BULLDOZER


At the end of June 1983, government officials came back to Mogopa with a bulldozer. They knocked down the school, the clinic and three churches. They took away the water pump and stopped buses from coming into Mogopa.


Some of the people at Mogopa decided to move to Pachsdraai. By late August 1983, 170 families had moved to Pachsdraai. But over 350 families stayed on at Mogopa.


Soon afterwards, the government officials came back to Mogopa. They told the people that they had 10 days to leave Mogopa. On the night before they were to be moved, Archbishop Tutu, Alan Boesak, members of the UDF and Black Sash came to sit and pray with the people. When the government officials and the police came the next day, they saw who was there – and left the people of Mogopa in peace.


The people of Mogopa got back to work. They fixed the school and the clinic. They got the buses going again. Once again, the people of Mogopa thought they were safe.


THE LAST DAY


On the 14 February 1984, at three o’clock in the morning, the police arrived. They cut the telephone wires and surrounded Mogopa. This time there was nothing the people could do.


“They took us away to Pachdraai by force,” said Ntate Pooe. “We had no guns, we could not fight back. They loaded our things onto the trucks, without our help.”


“They took us to Pachsdraai near Zeerust. But we did not stay there for long. There was nothing there.”


Ntate Pooe said his people went to a place called Bethanie, just outside Pretoria. Bethanie is the home of Mamogale, the great chief of the Mogopa people.


“Life is very hard for us in Bethanie,” said Ntate Boya. “We are not settled there. If a place is not yours, you can’t enjoy it. We are just people living with the hope of God.

“We can’t plough and our people cannot get work. Old people like me do not get our pension money. Many of our people have died in Bethanie. A doctor told us that our people have died because the water is no good.”


EVERY LEGAL WAY


The meeting heard how the Mogopa people have tried every legal way to get their land back. They have written letters to the government – and they have spoken to many different government officials.


The Mogopa people fought the government in court. In 1985 the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein said the government was wrong for moving the people from Mogopa. But the government did not give the people their land back. They just changed the law.


The meeting heard how the government hurt the people of Mogopa once again in July this year. With the help of the churches, the people of Mogopa bought a farm called Holgat near Lichtenburg in the western Transvaal. The Mogopa people were going to share Holgat with the workers already living there – and with the Machavie people, who were forced off their land 16 years ago.


The farm was paid for and the people got ready to go to their new home. Then last month, all of a sudden, the government told the Mogopa people that they could not live on the farm. The government said it wanted to build a big farm school there.


The farm has been for sale for many years. And now, when the people of Mogopa have found a new home, the government decides it wants the land for a school!


ROTTING IN THE SHADE


“At Bethanie we are rotting in the shade of our shacks,” said Lucas Kgatitsoe, another leader of the Mogopa people. “We are suffering because the white government does not treat black people like human beings.


“We have followed the law and we have tried to be honest with the government. But how can people live nowhere?”


Lucas Kgatitsoe told the meeting his people have decided to go back to Mogopa. He said that his people believe that it is their right to go home.


“We are the rightful owners of the land at Mogopa. We are going back without guns, and without a wish for a fight. We ask the government please to leave us alone. We are a destroyed community.”


And as the people of Mogopa get ready for the long and dangerous journey back home, we at Learn and Teach send them this message: “Tsela tshweu, may your journey be peaceful. You have suffered enough!”

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