“If you are hungry you eat, if you are tired you sleep, if you want land you take it”.
Masello Motana, founder and leader of Matlama Anaha which means soldiers of the land, began her journey to reconcile with land some few years ago.
She founded the task team Matlama Anaha to address issues of housing through art and occupation of abandoned buildings. Her first attempt was unfortunately met with an arrest of the dubbed, “Noorwood trio” made up of Masello, Gugulethu Bodibe and Ntsikelelo Lokwe after being criminalised for occupying an abandoned house in the Southern suburb of Johannesburg in 2016. Motana at the time had declared the arrest only heightened her quest to reunite herself and others with land.
Two years after the arrest, Azibuye was staged at what Motana calls “prime land” in Observatory, Johannesburg. The project is regarded as an experiment in emancipatory use of expression through occupation.
The artistic performance of occupying spaces seeks to address the spatial injustices that Africans still face 163 years since the first legalized act that dispossessed Africans of land. These numerous “legal” instruments through staunch legislation played a pertinent role in legitimizing systematic land dispossession.
Azibuye is meant to address concerns of the artists’ livelihood, who do not make monthly incomes but survive on hand to mouth. This industry does not enable them to pay rent on a monthly basis, nor qualify for financing or be eligible for public housing since they do work.
“The homeless artist will through occupation of land, attempt to take art practise out of standardised commodified cycle of the gallery system. It intends to bring forth a challenge to private ownership patterns in the most unequal society in the world through a class based African analyses” emphasizes Motana on the collective’s mission.
The collective of artists aims to speak to the continuation of spatial injustices not only through occupation but also through dialogues, readings, historical re-enactments and other forms; by interrogating significant historical characters and events, and their consequence in the current narrative of land reform.
The occupation of suburban private property per the collective’s reputation is to address the issues of many South Africans who work in the cities like Johannesburg, and yet are veered into the edges of the city into townships like Alexandra and Soweto. The few who live the city and pay rent Motana concludes that they participate in their own oppression.
Motana’s choice of the “prime land” is to dismiss the continuous occupation of inferior land by skwatta camp dwellers which is in areas that always underdeveloped and overcrowded. To understand such peculiarities that the indigenous people of South Africa find themselves in one must go back into the past, into the history of land dispossession and how Settlers accumulated the land and the wealth. However, one will also have to go into the current condition of the law and leadership to have a clearer understanding.
The 14 different land control system constructed by the Apartheid regime as noted on the walls of the occupied property by the collective, have not been countered by new laws to ensure a proper land reform that close the spatial inequalities long assembled by the apartheid regime.
While the occupation in Observatory by Motana maybe be considered a small act, it is essential in challenging racial land ownership patterns which continue to favour whites a quarter century after the end of apartheid.
Azibuye is a necessary and pertinent movement which not only serves to speak truth to white power, by addressing issues of dispossession within the city but also a force that edges the ruling party to address and heal the spatial wounds inflicted by the apartheid regime.