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Land Reform in South Africa; British Fashion Designer Campaigns for West African Cotton; A Look at the Jews of Uganda

Aired August 14, 2005 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST (voice-over): Land reform in South Africa. Why so many rural families say they are being evicted from land they have occupied most of their lives. And how a government sets to change that.

Saving the planet with fashion. How one British designer is campaigning for West African cotton farmers on the catwalk.

And through the lens of a photojournalist. We get a rare look at an isolated Jewish community in Uganda, the Abayudaya.

These stories, plus more, up next on INSIDE AFRICA.


OKE: Hello, and welcome to the program. We have so much to do today. I'm Femi Oke, so let's get straight to it. We begin this week with a story of a South African woman who says she's been forced off the land she's called home for more than two decades. Her account represents only a fraction of the many black South Africans who've been evicted by white farmers, mostly in rural areas. This despite apparent protection under the law, as we'll see in this report from Tumi Makgabo in Johannesburg.


TUMI MAKGABO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like so many of the people here at Canana (ph) settlement, Rosina Mashegwana spends her days watching the world go by. She is now 70 years old, and a hard life working on farms has taken its toll. This hastily erected living space is now home to Rosina, her daughter Elizabeth, four grandchildren and all their belongings.

Rosina says when her husband, Ephraim (ph), died earlier this year, his former employee evicted them after 24 years of service on his farm. For Rosina, the message was clear.

"Ephraim (ph) has died, you are no longer welcome here, you must leave, and I give you two weeks to pack up and go. Two weeks, two weeks only. That's all he gave me," she says.

This story is not unique. There are thousands of rural families living this way across South Africa. Many will be evicted because they don't know their rights, though South African law provides protection for those who've occupied a piece of land for longer than 12 months.

Siphiwe Ngomane is a caseworker with Ngune Development Association, an organization that works closely with local government to assess the needs of the landless and help them assert their rights. He says the law assumes that long term occupants are there with either tacit or verbal consent from the landowner.

SIPHIWE NGOMANE, NGUNE DEVELOPMENT ASSICIATION: (INAUDIBLE) when you see a person erecting a structure on a piece of ground, and you do not say anything to that person. Legally, it is presumed that you have given than person a permission to occupy.

MAKGABO: After 24 years, it would seem that Rosina has the law on her side, so we asked to meet with her husband's former employer, to get his prospective. The employer, D.J. Opperman (ph), agreed to meet with us, but when we showed up at the farm, he declined to speak on camera, and referred us to his representatives. And when the representatives were contacted, they said they couldn't speak for Opperman (ph) on this issue, noting that they deal only with labor issued, and not land reform matters.

Off camera, Mr. Opperman (ph) denied evicting the family, and claimed to have offered to let them stay on his land until they had found alternative accommodation.

The law does not oblige the landowner to help if the occupants leave voluntarily, but those working for land rights point out it would be an act of good faith for those who have land and means to help those who have none.

(on camera): The South African government acknowledges that land reform in this country has been very slow in coming, but the pressure is increased by its own deadline of 30 percent black agricultural land ownership by the year 2014. Now, that may not seem too daunting, until one considers that in a little more than a decade, only 3 percent of that land has been redistributed.

(voice-over): And with the burden of providing essential services to millions of poor and unemployed, the question is, how would this program be financed? Hans van der Merwe, executive director of AgriSA, a representative body for commercial farmers here, offered this solution:

HANS VAN DER MERWE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AGRISA: We think it should be paid by the fiscus through all the taxpaying citizens in the country, because it is in national interest. For people that can farm, do farm and do productive resell (ph) in a very competitive environment, with very little government support, I think to pay them less than market prices, you'll put them in a -- in a worse position than they presently are.

MAKGABO: So, while discussions and negotiations continue, thousands still languish in sprawling settlements like this, envious of those who can afford the safety, security and tranquility money can buy.

And for Rosina, who lives below the poverty line, all there is to do is wait for the day that she too can own the land her house is build on.

Tumi Makgabo for CNN, Johannesburg.


OKE: White South Africans still own more than 80 percent of farmland in South Africa, and critics say government has been slow in effecting much needed land reform. Yet, black farm laborers do have protection under the law. So, why are they being evicted at an increasing rate? A question we posed to Dr. Samuel Kariuki of Witswatersrand University earlier this week.


DR. SAMUEL KARIUKI, WITSWATERSRAND UNIVERSITY: We have about 800,000 farm workers who live with their dependents, and this brings the total to about 6 million of them. These are people who have very insecure tenure rights. And we have a tenure legislation that is drying to deal with the whole notion of trying to formalize their rights. But the problem is that some of these tenure year bills, such as the Essent (ph) and the Labor Tenant Act, some of these bills have been very weakly enforced and resourced for the last couple of years. And there is now debate within government that we need to harmonize these policies, we need to resource them, and we need to educate farm dwellers and farm workers about their rights.

OKE: With land reform in South Africa, there is such a disparity between how much land is owned and farmed by white South Africans, as opposed to how much land is owned by black South Africans.

Is it that black South Africans want to be farmers, or do they just need some way to live?

KARIUKI: That has been quite a controversial debate of late. The Center for Development and Enterprise released a report saying that lots of Africans would actually want a place to live and not to farm. And it is actually controversial, because people are saying that the methodology that was used in this study was not very justifying. It wasn't compelling enough, because if you look at rural South Africa, asset (ph) capital poverty is a reality. The inequality of landownership, which links to the question of incidents of poverty, is actually one that tells that -- that's the (INAUDIBLE) amongst the black South Africans.

But again, access to land is not adequate. So, even though the Center for Development Enterprise actually claimed that only about 9 percent of black South Africans would want to farm, I think one has to problematize that, because we -- we're dealing with the situation whereby people don't have land rights, people don't have secure land, and as a result of this, people cannot farm.

OKE: The government set itself quite a target: 30 percent of black land ownership by 2014. Is there any way they can make that target now?

KARIUKI: That is quite an ambitious target, because if you're going to redistribute 30 percent of farm land by the year 2014, it means that you need to redistribute physically 25 million hectares by the year 2014.

But I'm quite convinced, because right now, as I pointed to you earlier, the government has actually increased its budgetary allocation to land reform, that over 91 percent, and the reason land summit actually committed to some far reaching changes that you're yet to see, because on the side of the government, they've realized that we need to do things differently. We need to get a bite (ph) in of all the stakeholders, because there is an urgent need to accelerate the pace of reform. At the current pace, it is highly unlikely that these targets will be made, but they are promising debates, they're promising changes, that are beginning to take place.

OKE: So, in some ways, a really complex issue, because as you're talking about -- a lot of black South Africans don't have the money to actually acquire farms, a lot of the farms with the policy that government has is, is that we will buy your farms at market value. And a lot of the farmers are then putting up the price of their farms, so it's a very complex issue, but out of the 3 percent that -- of land that has been managed to be redistributed to black South Africans, would you say that it was a complete success story? Is it working well so far?

KARIUKI: (INAUDIBLE) the minister, Atoko Didiza (ph), was very clear and honest by saying that what we have in place, even though we've been mandated by the Constitution Section 25 to conduct a three-legged land reform -- that is restitution, tenure and redistribution -- honestly, with the kind of resources we have and the way land reform has been structured from a policy perspective, there are also shortcomings that we need to deal with.

So, for instance, there was need to -- there was a need that we need to decentralize land reform. You know, we need to intervene -- government needs to intervene in the land markets. And hopefully, even, we need to use expropriation as an instrument of land reform.

But within the constitutional precepts, you know, whereby compensations will have to be paid -- you know, there was talk about a land tax, and already the government has also initiated the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Program, CASP, which is targeted at helping the emerging black commercial farmers, because currently there is a lot of focus that redistribution should be able to de-racialize the bimodal agricultural sector that we have in South Africa.


OKE: That was Dr. Samuel Kariuki of South Africa's Wits University.

Still ahead on INSIDE AFRICA -- how the worlds of high fashion and West African cotton farmers unite for a common cause. See you on the other side.


OKE: Hello. Good to see you again. Now, fashion with a passion sums up British designer Katharine Hamnett's approach to her business. If you click on her Web site, there's a promise that all her designs will be as ethically produced and environmentally friendly as possible. And it's this mission that has taken her to Africa to promote the production of organic cotton. Our Sylvia Smith has more.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cotton is king in West Africa, supporting directly or indirectly over 15 million people. But often, the farmers get a raw deal.

London designer Katharine Hamnett, wants to change that. And she traveled to West Africa to find out how.

KATHARINE HAMNETT, LONDON FASHION DESIGNER: For a farmer to get a contract to bail cotton, to bail his cotton, he has to find a contract right at the beginning of the planting season, and he has to buy his seeds and his pesticide from the company that will ultimately buy the cotton off of him.

SMITH: Campaigners say small-scale farmers pay the price with their health.

SIMON FERRIGNO, PESTICIDE ACTION NETWORK: Using pesticides, farmers tend to lose 20 or so days of work a year. So, the side effects of using chemicals, that can lead them to employ their children as replacement labor, or to poverty that results for them having to pay for the healthcare, leads them not to send their children to school.

SMITH: Cotton relies more heavily than many crops on pesticides. This farmer in Mali wants more help from the companies that produce them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The pesticide companies should first send us safety equipment adapted to our country, and medicines for the illnesses caused by the chemicals, especially eye problems. We suffer a lot from that.

SMITH: Pesticides can contaminate water supplies as well as damage farmers' health.

Hamnett says there is an alternative, and the market for it. She is pioneering a fashion line that uses only organic cotton, grown without chemicals. She calls it conscious commerce.

HAMNETT: I've been campaigning sort of ceaselessly for the last 16 years, for the clothing industry to do this. Because it would make me the most enormous difference, and I think that the climate now, with the focus on Africa, with the focus on poverty, with the focus on climate change, that people are realizing that growing cotton organically and farming organically is the way out of famine for Africa.

SMITH: One problem is that productivity is likely to drop initially if pesticides are abandoned. But organic farming activists insist it recovers and yields actually increase over the long term.

But the potential for change for the cotton farmers of Mali, Benin and other West African countries may depend on the shopping habits of the fashion-conscious in a developed world.

HAMNETT: We'll continue to make all the difference. By the way we shop, we decide the future of the planet. By asking for organic cotton to buy right into their favorite brands by saying, love what you make or (INAUDIBLE) in the past, (INAUDIBLE) -- if your cotton is not organic, obviously I'm not buying it. I'm going shopping somewhere else.

SMITH: It's certainly a rapidly growing market. Organic cotton now accounts for $15 million in clothing sales, as more environmentally- conscious consumers make a statement with that checkbooks.

Katharine Hamnett believes this is one trend that's more than another fashion fad.

For CNN's INSIDE AFRICA, I'm Sylvia Smith in London.


OKE: Oh, this poor model. She looks like she needs a good plate of yam and plantain and stew.

Still to come on INSIDE AFRICA, how the enthusiasm of villages in southwestern Uganda brought safe drinking water to their community. Stay with us.


OKE: Welcome back. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA.

Our next stop is southwestern Uganda, where some villagers are working to improve the quality of their drinking water, and as you'll see in this report, their efforts are being rewarded by the help they've received from several local and international organizations.


OKE (voice-over): Hard at work. The people of Kotekso (ph) village in southwestern Uganda are building a water processing facility, or a catchment, that will provide the 1,700 inhabitants of this village safe drinking water.

The workers here are mostly volunteers. Up to 280 people show up each day in different shifts, demonstrating their enthusiasm for a project that, when completed, could raise health standards in the village.

"The people will be pleased when the project is done," community leader Rubin Turyagenda says.

At the moment, they get water from several unhealthy sources, including the Kigero (ph) River, where thousands of mutilated corpses floated during the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Other sources of water here -- shallow wells and contaminated ponds.

The villagers are also well aware of other benefits of having this water reservoir. For the most part, women and young girls have to walk, at times as far as five kilometers to fetch water, taking time away from other important activities, like school for the young girls. Which explains the enthusiasm shown here since the project began.

Canadian geologist Geoffrey Owen is the coordinator.

GEOFFREY OWEN, WATER PROJECT COORDINATOR: The involvement is amazing. They have been collecting hard core, all the rock that you see laid around here, all the rocks for the walls. They've been collecting that. They've purchased the land for this project, which is 700,000 shillings.

OKE: The Ugandan government and Owen's Canadian-based employer, Africa Community Tactical Service, or ACTS, formed the project, along with a local church group. Owen, who also helps with the construction, says the catchment will have a water filtration system. Water will flow into the reservoir from nearby rivers and streams; it will then be filtered before being ready for drinking. Rain water will also be used., as Owen explains in the nearby village of Rubingo (ph), where a similar project has already been completed.

OWEN: We actually have rain water collected from the roof, and it flows down to the iron sheets. And after passing through the length of the -- the catchment, it falls into a trough system, and from the trough, it funnels into the -- into the main catchment area.

OKE: The water is then sent to several hand-operated pumps like these, which were built around the village using locally available materials.

Back in Kotekso (ph), the catchment should be ready for use before the end of August. Construction work in other villages will follow, and by 2007, more than 8,000 people in southwestern Uganda should have access to safe drinking water, if all goes as planned.


OKE: Amazing how so much work goes into something so simple. Apologies to my east Ugandan friends and viewers, for the British cockney pronunciation of your region's names.

But we are going to be staying in Uganda as we cross over to the east of the country, for a story about a unique group of people who have been isolated for much of their existence. But as Camille Wright-Felton reports, their way of life is now being discovered and documented by journalists and historians.


CAMILLE WRIGHT-FELTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In eastern Uganda, there are five villages with residents who are like many other rural villagers who live off the land and follow centuries-old religions. But in this enclave, the religion isn't Christianity or Islam; it's orthodox Judaism. They are the Abayudaya, or Ugandan Jews.

They've been relatively isolated. Now, their story is being told around the world.

Photojournalist Richard Sobol is one of the few people who have documented their time with the Abayudaya. He's put their stories and his pictures into a new book, "Abayudaya: The Jews of Uganda."

RICHARD SOBOL, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I said, look, I'm a photographer, this is a story that I'll be eager to tell. Is this something you want? And -- and the leaders of the community said that one of their greatest challenges was their sense of isolation, and they were very welcoming and open to the idea of my helping to tell their story.

WRIGHT-FELTON: The group began in 1919, started by a Ugandan general, who became disillusioned by British colonists and Christian missionaries, and the influence they asserted in his country.

SOBOL: And he was rather dispirited. He went into a spiritual and religious seclusion, and he took with him the missionary Bible that had been left behind by the British and European missionaries, and he studied, and he studied, and he thought, and he pondered -- and he came away having been struck by the concepts and precepts of the Old Testament, and felt that that was the true religion.

He then took the missionary Bible, and basically ripped it in half, discarded the New Testament, and following the teachings of the Old Testament. At that point, 3,000 of his followers converted along with him, and basically became Jews.

For most Jews, to wander into one of the traditional services, be it on a Friday night or a Saturday morning in one of the synagogues, they would find many of the prayers and many of the traditions very familiar to what they know from the synagogues anywhere else in the world.

WRIGHT-FELTON: While Ugandan Jews adopted Orthodox practices, they didn't abandon cultural traditions. They blended their culture with their religion.

SOBOL: It's very common in rural Africa for the cooking fire to be lit every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In the area where Jewish families live, that cooking fire will be -- will be quiet on Friday night and Saturday morning.

WRIGHT-FELTON: One of the most striking examples of the blending of culture and faith is the music.

SOBOL: Certainly, in their music, and in the way that they've interpreted the chants within the religious services, there's a great influence from both Afropop, that they hear on the radio, and an influence from church services, some of the hymns that are -- are -- there are many hymns that are common to church services and to -- and to Jewish services, and some of the tunes that the Abayudaya have incorporated have a sense that they came from the history in the -- of what was around them within the -- within the church.

WRIGHT-FELTON: Today, there are about 600 Ugandan Jews. Sobol says he believes the Abayudaya will continue to thrive, because of their faith, and because their leaders are willing to go outside their enclave for help and continuing their legacy at home.


OKE: Oh, yes. That was Camille Wright-Felton reporting.

If you didn't get your hand on Richard Sobol's book, "Abayudaya: The Jews of Uganda," take a look inside the back sleeve. Let me just show this to you, in a close-up. This is really worth doing.

Slip this out, and you'll get a CD of music; some of it is religious Jewish music, some of it is just fantastic Uganda Afropop. And you'll be hearing some of that music as we play out to the end of the show.

Now, before we go, please remember to let us know what you think of this week's program. E-mail us at

And that is our program for this week. Let the music begin! I'm Femi Oke. Until the next time, take care.



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