Roosboom Thanksgiving Service


Background: The event was held on the 25th day of September 2017 at the African Congregational Church of South Africa. Roosboom community members gathered to praise the Almighty on their successful land claim. The Roosboom community faced evictions in the 1930’s, and the involvement of Church Land Programme (CLP) as the NGO, played the vital role on their successful land claim struggle. CLP, with the contribution and guidance of Reverend Ndlazi, proved significant on the day’s event.

This significant milestone had a programme of the day which was directed by mom Zodwa Mbongwa. Very interesting momentous situations were often highlighted in mom Zodwa’s programme directing. The event had the programme that explicitly explained the days before the evictions, experiences on the eviction and the situation the community faced at the new dumped area as their new settlement (Ezakheni). The programme also elaborated on the difficulties experienced before this celebration. There was the opening prayer and local entertainment organised for the day. During the event traditional cuisines were served to the attendants.

Programme director asked the house to stand up in honour of the people that had passed on as they had been with them in the struggle to reclaim Roosboom. The moment of silence was observed after their name list was read. The name list was topped by Reverend Njilo, the other comrades on the list were Musa Zondi, Ntombifuthi Mkhonza, Thabo Manyathi. Roosboom United Churches lost MaGamede Khoza, KaMazibuko Gama, Lethiwe Hlatshwayo, Reverend Bhengu and P. Vilakazi. After the moment of silent the hymn ‘eJesu mhlengi wethu’ was sung.

Programme director took the opportunity and gave the congregation a direction on the event’s programme. She asked the ward councillor, Ngubane, to welcome guests and everyone attending the event. On welcoming the guests, the councillor greeted them with great respect and humility. The councillor highly commended the great job and sacrifices by the Roosboom United Churches Committee which he closely monitored in his upbringing. The councillor mentioned the Roosboom Board of Trustees which was led by both Mr Nyembe and Mr Shabalala.

After all protocols were observed, the councillor emphasised that he was delighted and humbled that whatever he saw as a dream, was at this day realised. He mentioned the democratically elected Government’s role it played on hearing cries and pleas by the marginalised community of Roosboom. He also congratulated the community of Roosboom and emphasised on the dedication by Mr Shabalala and the Roosboom United Churches Committee (RUCC). Councillor Ngubane mentioned that he was serving the second term and was the Alfred Duma Municipality Speaker. He indicated that because of the trust his community had, he achieved a lot with them. In closing he thanked everyone present.

There was singing and thereafter the reigns were back to Zodwa. She asked Mr Thabethe (chairperson of RUCC) to deliver on the theme of the day. Mr Thabethe raised himself with ‘ungwele’ hymn and thereafter greeted the house and began his speech.

Mr Thabethe indicated that he never called the days gathering as the celebration event, but he called it the prayer day, mentioning that it’s because they were relentlessly praying for these bounties. Mr Thabethe greeted and observed everyone present in Jesus name. He mentioned that the theme of the day was to congratulate those who had received the money for church buildings, those who had built and those who were yet to erect their church buildings. He mentioned that the African Congregational Church of South Africa, where the celebration was held, was one of the churches built with the government land claim programme. He emphasised that the gratitude he had was because of the results of the struggle that started in year 2004. He thereafter thanked and returned the reigns to the programme director.

On receiving the microphone the programme director eluded on the theme of the day (using the metaphor) that they were celebrating the return of the assets that were destroyed by the army of locusts. The next speaker was called, it was Mr Nyembe.

Mr Nyembe rose on a ‘ungcwele’ hymn, and thereafter greeted everyone in the congregation. Mr Nyembe explained the location of Roosboom and proceeded by saying it had been there since the years of 1907. The place was settled around there, bought from the white man. The place was bought by collective of 45 men. The piece of land was determined by the amount of cash the person had. The white man that sold the land was Mr Roosboom, hence it is named Roosboom. It was previously known as Rietkul. Mr Nyembe explained the sections making Roosboom namely Ekuphumuleni, Emanqatheni, Dumbu, Ethentweni and eMafezini.

The 45 men that bought the land were called the syndicate. The new land owners were followed by the laggards who were denied the purchase. It was the beginning of the new era at Roosboom because those who couldn’t buy the land, became tenants. The landlords and tenants had a good and healthy relationship. Tenants were allowed to make a living in the land, practising agriculture and building their houses without any further hassles. The tenants had to pay R10 for the whole year.

As time went by it happened that Roosboom community had to be relocated. The then white regime decided to evict. Mr Nyembe mentioned that they were still young by then. He stated that it was in the 1950’s when all things started. The main reason for removals was that they were the ‘black spot’ in the white area. The situation for eviction was received differently by different people in our area. There were those who were for and those against. Those who favoured resettlements saw that as an opportunity and those who were against, saw the threat that needed to be stopped.

The group that favoured relocation mobilised and organised themselves even at night campaigning for new settlements. This group had a steering committee of seven men. The group that wanted to defend the area succumbed to relocation. Mr Nyembe informed the attendants that the person who was leading in organising for the relocation was built the huge house in the new settlement. He was the only person who had that benefit and the rest of the people slept in shacks and their properties (furniture etc.) kept in tents that were provided.

The area at Ezakheni was not properly developed. Tents and shacks were erected on rocks and tree stumps. The place was in the woods and developed for human settlement. He indicated that people left their warm homes to become cold and miserable in shacks and tents in the ‘Promised Land’.

In 1975, the evictions started. People and properties were forcefully removed and taken by buses and trucks which were to transport them to Ezakheni- the new dumping area. People’s homes and community facilities (like clinics schools, colleges) were demolished. People’s properties were destroyed in the process. It was so difficult and traumatic. Some people were at their work places, because it was never announced for the people to prepare for such forceful removal and as a result when they came back, they received the tragic news.

People stayed at Ezakheni up until this present democratically elected government gave an order that they have to return to Roosboom. It was not easy again here at Roosboom, because when they left everything was destroyed to the ground. They were supposed to build new homes because the government had nothing that was prepared for their return. It was with the dedication of people like Mr Mngadi, who assisted many families in erecting their homes. Mr Mngadi earned himself being called a ‘Mayor’ by the communities. He struggled and suffered with the people up until his living days were over.

Since everything never existed, people requested the government to reinstate those destroyed infrastructures such as colleges, schools, churches, and clinics. Their request was turned down and they had to seek help elsewhere for the benefit of the community. They developed a healthy working relationship with the Non-Governmental Organisations such as Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), Thukela Amajuba Mzinyathi Council of Churches (TAMCC) and the Church Land Programme (CLP). Roosboom community still receives great assistance and support from CLP. Mr Nyembe ended his speech appreciating the good relations they have with CLP.

The next speaker that was given opportunity was former CLP staff member, Rev Ndlazi, who sent his apology. Instead, Mrs Zonke Sithole (from CLP), took the podium. Mrs Sithole began her speech by apologising for Rev Ndlazi’ stating that he’s no longer working for CLP. She further observed the protocol and stated that Rev Ndlazi respectfully honoured the invitation and also sent a message for Roosboom United Churches Committee which she read. The speech was characterised by history, strategies and tremendous efforts as a collective they contributed for this day to be realised.

The significance of the involvement of Professor Gerald West from the University of Natal and the bible studies they produced was highly observed. Rev Ndlazi mentioned that it was not easy fighting the system. As churches, they had to develop workshops and held numerous meetings. In the last part of the address Rev Ndlazi gave the word of hope and wisdom to Roosboom community, expressing that what Roosboom sees today was not the Roosboom they wanted, but the real one was that impregnated in their wishes and thoughts. So it was time to organise and strive in developing Roosboom.

The next speaker was Mr Maduna. He was to talk about Roosboom United Churches Committee. The speaker happened to compare himself as the one who was ordained from birth that he was to free the Roosboom community from its despondency. He said he resumed his mission in 1990, being born from the Hlubi clan. Roosboom people never discriminated him, but included him. Mr Maduna joyfully indicated that he managed to organise the high profile people of Roosboom. Those people were church leaders, landlords and elders.

He mentioned that wherever he spoke, he was listened to, and he managed to dissuade people and convinced them. He commended Mr Shabalala, one of the trustees, that he was a great man with a big heart who never retreated nor surrendered. He said Mr Shabalala was there from the committee’s inception. In 2004, the committee was officially launched; Nyembe the chairperson and Mr Maduna, the secretary. Rev Ndlazi was their mentor and coach. He mentored and guided them on the strategies they applied.

Mr Maduna emphasised the role of Rev Ndlazi, reiterating on the things they highly consider. It was mentioned that the letters that the committee communicated to the government had serious weight and could bring triumph. The only thing claimants had to do was to stay focused, united and never be discouraged and defocused-those were Rev Ndlazi’s teachings.

In 2014, the positive response from the government happened. It brought a humungous job to the committee. Today, they have two church buildings erected. They know other denominations had received compensation. They were waiting to see more buildings because the money is there and they converge under trees for sermons. In closing Mr Maduna stressed that they were awaiting that other denominations build their churches.

The programme director took the reigns and gave herself the opportunity to address the house on compensation. On proceeding she eluded on the controversy around the issuing of vouchers by the land claims commission. Before she said more on compensation, she thanked Rev Ngema who informed them of the official notification of the vouchers by Land claims commission.

The programme director explained that the land claims commission informed them that the vouchers were there and had to be paid to churches since the claim was initially made by the churches. The commission decided to make payments to the Reverend’s private account. They deliberated on how to separate a person’s personal savings and that of the church. The question of trust emanated and more opinions surfaced. The other view that was explored was that of taking the vouchers back, so that they could be paid in churches’ accounts. This opinion was discouraged with members stating that more delay could be experienced. ‘We are very much grateful here as African Congregational Church of SA, that we have optimally used the money to its objective’, said the speaker.

In closing, the speaker called Mom Nokuthula Hlongwane of the Roman Catholic Church. In her speech, she emphasised the point of gratitude and thanking the Almighty on the experiences happening in their community and she wished the best for other churches who were yet to use those funds. She highly commended Ms N Sokhela (from CLP) whom she described as the one Rev Ndlazi left them with. Mom Hlongwane mentioned that they wanted everything that was destroyed by the apartheid regime to be rebuilt. They wanted all those schools, clinics and not only churches but the whole community development structures that were demolished.

The opportunity was given to Rev Hlomuka. He observed the protocol and clarified his role in the struggle. He mentioned that he arrived at Roosboom on the 20th of December 2011, taking over from Rev Zulu who was Rev Simelane’s successor. He explained that the Anglican Church is now called the African Congregational Church. He indicated that it was not because of his wisdom that the victory was experienced in his turn but all was in God’s plans. Rev Hlomuka explained about the money that was deposited into his private account. He mentioned that he called his executive and they transferred all the money to their head office at Cliffdale. The projects for building their churches were controlled in Cliffdale and he had no input on the project. He pointed ZL Mbongwa as the witness on the utilisation of funds for the building.

On proceeding Rev Hlomuka stated that the real opening of the house of the Lord will be on the 6th day of January 2018. On this day the other sister branch will be opened in town and the last one at Steadville. Rev Hlomuka then proceeded by reading in the scripture in the book of Acts 2 verses 42-47. He reminded the attendants that they were celebrating today not because they were indifferent but because they were together fighting for the same course. They were united in diversity, and fighting not on individual capacity for example as Romans, Wesley or Anglicans but as brethren. He then encouraged the churches to stay united.

Reverend Ngema spoke highly about roles of CLP pastors and RUCC. He also highlighted that undying struggle led to government’s ears listening. He shared the word of God and contextualised it with Roosboom history and the struggle (Nehemia 2:27). RUCC came together for the people of Roosboom. The struggle they embarked on ended with a story of victory. Government ended up listening because sometimes the way we articulate our stories has an impact, hence we consulted intensely. We consulted with NGOs and local government and that’s why we were able to articulate our story which led to what we see today.

We always felt steps from behind as warning (from leaders of the struggle) that something great was coming. Jerusalem was also destroyed. Roosboom’s history of forceful removals is painful. The RUCC stood up like the people of Jerusalem and God listened. Now churches have been rebuilt like walls of Jerusalem. As churches we must come together and unite. We plead CLP’s support and we acknowledge her long years of commitment in the struggle. Although we are happy that we’ve been compensated, its not enough in comparison with how much the people of Roosboom lost during forced removals.

See more pictures from the celebration and other pictures of the erecting of the churches here.