A struggle for home

Bernard Brown is fighting a losing battle to get back to his roots. Born in Constantia 58 years ago, all he wants is to live by the Rastafarian philosophy of getting back to the land.

Until recently he lived in a caravan with his two daughters, aged 10 and 15, eking out an existence by nurturing veggies and herbs from the sandy soil in Firgrove Way and as a car guard at Tokai Park.

His story has unfolded since Saturday February 25 when he told a group of pilgrims doing the Cape Camino that his neighbour had cut off the water. He says he has been evicted but was excited that a BADISA social worker had found him a place in Tokai Park.

Two weeks later, sitting on a step of an outbuilding at Orpen House in the Tokai section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), he told the Bulletin that he had been evicted from here as well. The person renting the house at that time had allowed him to live in the outbuilding in two rooms with concrete floors and no ablutions.

Mr Brown showed the Bulletin documents going back to 2001 when he made an application under the Land Reform Act for agricultural rights. He has many documents, from three past TMNP managers; various national government departments: social, justice, agriculture; letters of recommendation from the department of sociology at UCT, NICRO and the Cape Camino; even a handwritten letter to the president.

Elaine Harrison who lives in Bergvliet and who has been leasing the Firgrove land since 1997 when the property was a reformatory, says that in 2004 she noticed Mr Brown with a tiny girl and realised they were living in the nearby swamp, Soetvlei, between her paddocks and Tokai Park.

Feeling sorry for the child, she offered them accommodation in a caravan on her land. Too late she says she realised the error of this deed. She says she tried giving him work, helped with the girls’ school work and looked after them when Mr Brown disappeared, sometimes for days. She was also paying the bills, water, electricity, and admits to cutting off Mr Brown’s water. She says he then used the schools’ ablutions until earlier this year when the principal allegedly stopped him after hearing that Mr Brown was selling dagga to pupils.

In 2010 she closed her riding school due to poor health and told Mr Brown she could no longer sponsor him. She says this eventually led to a huge row.

He continued living there, she started an equine therapy business, people came from overseas. The place looked a mess and she again tried to get Mr Brown to leave. Sleepless nights followed, more fights, police raids for drugs and she says he physically attacked her. That was some weeks ago and she has not seen him since.

Since 2009 her landlord is the Department of Transport and Public Works. We contacted them to ask about Mr Brown living on the land but they did not respond by the time of going to print.

On March 9 Mr Brown was served with a second eviction notice. Within hours the new tenants arrived and were disturbed by what was taking place. The TMNP manager south arrived to hand-over the keys but refused to speak to the Bulletin.

SANParks spokesperson Merle Collins, says the previous tenant had no authority to allow Mr Brown to reside or to sublet the property. Mr Brown was given verbal and written notice to vacate more than three months ago.

Mr Brown is shocked by SANParks attitude, saying he is a graduate of the Elgin Learning Foundation and that he initiated the medicinal garden at Mount Pleasant on behalf of the Rasta community. “The idea behind the course is that they must assist us in finding land to do this,” he says.

Ms Collins confirmed that he completed the course, saying the basic concept of this project was to establish a medicinal plant garden on the historic agricultural terraces in the Groote Schuur Estate.

She says this project was aimed at alleviating pressure on the medicinal plant resources in TMNP and providing an alternative through propagation and cultivation ventures with traditional practitioners, thus protecting indigenous biodiversity of Afro-Montane forest species inside the park, as well as restoring cultural historical resources.

She says Mr Brown was one of 30 people, of which 20 were traditional healers and 10 were Rastafarians, who in September 2005 were trained on different horticultural skills that include health and safety, soil preparation, soils, seed production, seedlings pricking out, water and watering the landscape.

The trainees had temporary use of the terrace for production for own use, to learn how to develop their own medicinal plant gardens near to where they live, and to develop their own small businesses.

Greg van Schalkwyk, principal of Cape Academy, said he did not react on rumours about the alleged marijuana peddling. He said permission to use ablution was given on humanitarian grounds about four or five years ago. “We even took in one of his daughters in hostel for Grade 8 in 2016. Unfortunately that did not work as result of various factors caused by the unfortunate situation the family finds itself in and the child left school midway in 2016,” says Mr Van Schalkwyk.

Ms Harrison claims that Mr Brown has a long rap sheet with Kirstenhof police. Captain Edgar Jones says he knows Mr Brown and he does have cases against him but none involving drugs. He would not elaborate on what the cases are.

We contacted BADISA by email and phone, twice. Annemarie Bezuidenhout eventually responded, confirming they have a case open in their Wynberg office. She said they are unable to respond to our questions as they are bound to an ethical code and these children are protected by the Children’s Act.

As for what the South African Constitution says regarding human rights, deputy director of communications support services with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Vuyani Nkasayi, says prior to July 2016 a person or a community who was dispossessed of the right of land after 19 June 1913 as a result of apartheid, and who did not receive just and equitable compensation at the time of dispossession, could claim for restitution of that right in land or equitable redress. “But at this stage, the land claims process was stopped by the Constitutional Court last July, meaning the office is not taking any land claims until the Restitution of Land Rights Act is amended,” says Mr Nkasayi.

He says Section 25 of the Constitution states: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources to foster conditions which citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.

“A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an act of Parliament, either to tenure which legally secure or to comparable redress.

“A person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws of practices is entitled to the extent provided by an act of Parliament, either to restitution of that property or to equitable redress.

“No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provision of this section is in accordance with the provisions of section 36 (1).”

The new tenants at Orpen House have agreed to allow Mr Brown and his two girls to stay in the outbuildings for the time being.