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Fakir Hassen in Durban
The crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where self-styled war veterans are seizing white-owned farms, has taken a new meaning in South Africa with some Indians who were dispossessed of their land in the apartheid era.
With the entire southern African economy now plunged into crisis by the Zimbabwean actions, the Malacca Ex-Ratepayers Association has threatened to adopt the same policy if the local city authorities do not take steps to return their ancestral properties to them.
The "ex" in the organisation's title comes from the fact that its members were all former residents of the Malacca Road suburb, about 10km from the centre of Durban City, before they were forcibly removed under apartheid legislation and resettled in the sprawling Indian townships of Phoenix, about 20km north of Durban, and Chatsworth, 25km to the south.
Their properties were handed down to them by their forebears, who owned them after first settling in the area shortly after the first Indians arrived in Durban in 1860 as indentured labourers on the sugarcane plantations of Natal.
With the advent of the new democratic order in South Africa, restitution measures have been introduced to return to Indian, black and coloured (mixed race) South Africans, wherever possible, property that was taken away from them and, in most instances, given over to the white community.
But former residents of Malacca Road claim that although the land remains vacant, the Durban City Council is refusing to return it to the heirs of the more than 4,000 owners whose homes were razed after they were moved out.
The outspoken secretary of the association, Robin Naidoo, said his members would consider an invasion of the type in Zimbabwe -- where white-owned land is being seized with the approval of President Robert Mugabe -- if no immediate steps were taken.
"We have a bit of a Mugabe-type situation, but where Uncle Bob [Mugabe] is taking from the white farmers and giving it to the black people, here in South Africa we have the council taking from the Indians and giving it to the white community," Naidoo earlier told the weekly newspaper, Extra.
"We need someone like Uncle Bob to help us go and occupy the land," he added.
Naidoo's other controversial statements have included claims that he had called senior council officials "anti-Indian" and "racist" in letters written by him.
Other Indian leaders, who say emotional arguments such as his would not help anyone, have slammed Naidoo's comments. Most have called for dialogue to resolve the situation.
The council has said the vacant land is required for a new cemetery for Durban, where space in existing cemeteries has become an acute problem with the huge increase in burials in recent years.
This has been attributed to the high death toll from HIV/AIDS in the region. But Naidoo said a church for the white community had been built on the site while he had been pursuing the matter for the past decade.
A council spokesman, S'bu Gumede, said the council had to investigate a number of options for the land, including the development of low-cost housing for the many people left homeless by apartheid laws that prioritised development for the white community and left millions of people, especially blacks, without accommodation.
Gumede said the process of investigating the validity of claims by descendants of the original residents of Malacca Road also needed to be considered first.
Indo-Asian News Service
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