Rural land in the Eastern Cape should be transferred to the control of the abaThembu King Azenathi Zanelizwe Dalindyebo, who will distribute it among his subjects through various chiefs.

This is according to the king’s spokesperson, chief Zwelenqaba Mgudlwa, who made his submission on the first day of the public hearings on amending Section 25 of the Constitution — which deals with property rights — in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.

The parliamentary constitutional review committee which is conducting hearings into whether that section should be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation, arrived in rural Eastern Cape to dozens of traditional leaders awaiting their turn to make oral submissions.

READ MORE: How land expropriation would work

First among them was Mgudlwa, who demanded a return of the nation’s land: from the Indian ocean to the Orange river and from the KwaZulu-Natal border to the Mbashe river.

“It will be the king and his subjects that will govern the land. It can be something similar to the [Ingonyama] Trust,” Mgudlwa told the
Mail & Guardian.

“The land we are talking about was taken from the kings, chiefs and their subjects. There were about eight wars in the Eastern Cape which were fought, so that land should be given to the traditional leaders,” he said.

Inside the hall, multiple speakers echoed the call for traditional leaders to take control of the land, citing the battles of Gwadana and subsequent wars that were fought as the original dispossession.

Mthatha west resident Mntuwoxolo Ngudle said: “The process of dispossession also included knowledge dispossession. So when we return the land we will be restoring the place of our kingdoms in the country and among our people.”

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa’s (Contralesa) Eastern Cape secretary Mkhanyiseli Dudumayo said the land in the Transkei and amaMpondo land should be returned to its “original owners” — the kings.

READ MORE: KZN: ‘Hands off Ingonyama land’

But he said Contralesa was disappointed by the manner in which Parliament had organised the hearings, which are taking place at the Mthatha tourism centre.

Set in a colonial era building with pillars holding up high ceilings and an arch over the stage, the hearings started with the hall packed to capacity, with about a hundred people still waiting outside.

“There are about 1.5-million people living in the Transkei alone. You cannot say the people here are representative of the entire area. It would have been better if the committee went to more areas in the Transkei and had a bigger venue,” Dudumayo said.

But not everyone agreed with the traditional leaders, with some Mthatha residents saying land should be expropriated quickly, before land hunger segues into violence.

“This process is too slow and the people are becoming impatient. Soon the land will be taken by force and that is something that you will not be able to stop,” said the Dosi farmers association spokesperson Archibald Mayekiso — who represents 15 small scale farmers with no access to land in a township on the outskirts of Mthatha.

But Mgudlwa said the abaThembu King could ensure peace if he becomes the custodian of the land in the Eastern Cape.

“We don’t want this to be radical. Everything must be done according to the law and we must also respect the Bill of Rights. We are matured and we do have leaders,” he said.

Turning to the white commercial farmers who had arrived at the hearing to warn about negative effects on food production and possible unemployment if their land is taken, chief Mgudlwa said: “Let’s say to those people they must cool down. They are going to be the subjects of the kings. Nobody is going to fight against the other. We are not going to chase anybody to the sea.”

One of these farmers, Kenneth Biggs, insisted that his farm land in Matatiele was not taken from anyone. “We know we have not stolen land or been given land. We went to the bank and we are still paying for this land,” Biggs told the

Some of the people who arrived to make oral submissions are opposed to amending the Constitution because of politics. Mthatha resident Raymond Knocks said:

“The ANC must come clean and explain the true consequences that this legislation will have. They must stop using it for an election campaign. The ANC failed at land restitution now they are trying to make up for it.”

READ MORE: EFF knows what it wants on land

Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) member and Nqeleni resident Sanelisa Dalaka had similar reservations about the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) intentions and made a grim warning.

“Don’t use the public hearing for political grandstanding. The PAC was the first to raise this issue and now [EFF leader Julius] Malema is using it for elections. If this is only an election campaign then all hell will break loose after 2019,” she said.