The right to access land and protect dignity through the use of tenure rights is a pivotal dialogue for those who find themselves facing injustices related to tenure. This is a statement from the 17 community members who attended a Tenure workshop in the Eastern Cape this week.

The community members from Pot St Johns, Hamburg, Wavecrest, Mazzepa, Dwesa Cwebe, Colchester, Gcininsa, Benton and Cala to name just a few were attending a workshop on the use of the Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry (VGGT).

With almost all the communities represented in the workshop facing a number of land, fisheries and forestry tenure violations.

Tenure defines people’s relationships with land, marine and other natural resources. It reflects who can access what and how that access and use of resources are governed. Secure tenure is indivisible from the right of a community or group to sustainable livelihoods. Land and ocean grabbing by elites deny poor communities their rights to tenure.

“We have experience a grave violation of our customary right in a farm I used to live in Cala” said Nolast Sothumo whose son just passed away.

“As farm dwellers, we bury our family members at the backyard of where we live but the current farm owner did not allow this” she said.

When her son passed away, the immediate thing was to bring him home so that she can bury him at their farm, but due to the lack of holistic vision of the farm owner of how people used their territory, Nolast was told that she cannot bury her son at the farm and therefore was forced to bury him somewhere else.

“I therefore managed to bury my son at another farm but this too soon turned into tragedy when I was told to dig up the body of my son as I was not allowed to bury him there” she further stated.

The delegates at the workshop were, like the previous workshops in the Kwazulu Natal and Western Cape, taught how they can use the guidelines to assert their rights.

“The guidelines are soft laws but community members can use them together with “hard” laws governing the country to protect their rights and dignity” said Masifundise’s Michelle Joshua while presenting the workshop.

The Guidelines promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests as a means of eradicating hunger and poverty, supporting sustainable development and enhancing the environment.

“We want the community members to be able to take back what they have learnt at this workshop to their communities” Michelle continued.

“We want them to be able to say those who are violating their rights, according the guidelines, government, civil society and other actors are supposed to recognise and respect my human rights and livelihoods,” she said.

This workshop was the last of the 3 workshops held for the four coastal provinces of South Africa. The workshop on the Voluntary guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forest in the context of National Food Security was brought to the communities with the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

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