A Quiet Lion: A Tribute to land activist Moss Sekobane

He was a tireless worker for the rights of the vulnerable

By David Dickinson

29 January 2024

Photo of Moss Sekobane

Moss Sekobane at a protest organised outside Tilly’s Farm on 18 July 2023. Photo: David Dickinson

Moses ‘Moss’ Sekobane, a community activist and advice office volunteer on the West Rand, died following kidney failure at Leratong Hospital on 17 December 2023, aged 56.

When I met Ntate Moss in 2022, while based with Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), he had been referring farm evictions to LHR since 1998. The Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), protects farm workers and their families from arbitrary eviction, but enforcing this in court requires lawyers, hence Moss’s referrals to LHR.

At Tilly’s Farm in Muldersdrift, he fought attempts by a developer who wanted to evict people living on an agricultural plot of some nine hectares so as to build luxury housing. The developer had employed lawyers specialising in evictions, but neither ESTA nor the Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act was being followed. Rather, a mixture of threats, legal bluffs, and bribes was being employed.

Moss and I drove through loadshedded darkness on unfamiliar, potholed roads and met the long-term residents in a dimly lit room of the old farm buildings. We took details of each family to establish their ESTA rights (which remain even if ownership of the land changes). But two weeks’ later the developers ignored LHR’s letters and, pretending that they had a court order, demolished the residents’ homes. The residents camped out in the rubble while LHR went to court.

Despite an order from the Land Claims Court in July 2022 that the developer must rebuild within three months what he had unlawfully demolished, the 12 families are now into their second year living in squalid temporary accommodation.

Tilly’s Farm illustrates how the powerful can disregard the law. It also demonstrates how Moss was the West Rand go-to person for poor and marginalised people facing adversity.

This was true for the three-generation Xaba family. The family was headed by a grandmother whose late husband had worked for a landowner who now wanted to sell his property. Without the family living there he would get a better price.

The Xabas turned to Moss and Moss turned to the LHR when the owner brought eviction proceedings in the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s court.

The owner claimed that he was offering the Xaba family equivalent alternative accommodation, with running water and electricity. But when Moss and I drove to the Dairy Farm informal

settlement to check, there was no electricity and water came from a JoJo tank filled by the municipality. The dirt roads were in terrible condition and rubbish was strewn on the veld. There was another family living on the stand where the Xabas were to live.

The magistrate’s court dismissed the eviction attempt but then a carload of nkabis arrived brandishing guns, along with a bakkie load of day labourers who proceeded to smash the doors and windows of the Xaba home with crowbars.

Then there is the Ingwenya Community.

They had worked for a country hotel and spa which went bankrupt and were still living on the site. The new owner wanted them out and men in unmarked black uniforms with guns and batons arrived, kicking open doors and shouting at them to leave. The next day the residents came to the advice office Moss ran from his small flat in the Affri Village social housing complex outside Randfontein.

The community obtained an interim order against the new owner and the harassment stopped.

LHR offered to negotiate, but this has been ignored and we wait for the owner’s next move.

Moss’ advice office was supported by the Rural Legal Trust, which later became the Centre for Advice and Training. But the budget was limited and Moss paid his own bills by working as a night shift cleaner at a Randfontein mall over weekends. He couldn’t afford a car, so our fieldwork would start with me picking him up from Affri Village, which gave me a chance to talk to him.

Moss was 100% committed to assisting vulnerable members of our society, particularly farm workers paid at the minimum wage (and not always that) and those being forced from their homes. He was disgusted with the corruption and incompetence of the state which he came across, particularly at the municipal level.

At Brickvale, for instance, Moss was up against Mogale City Municipality which wanted families to move off the site which had been bought for a housing development of mega proportions. Brickvale, a 130-hectare farm, was the site of a brickworks established in the 1960s but now long closed.

Former employees, some now in their 70s and 80s, live with their families in the old brickwork buildings and hostels where there is space for vegetable gardens. The municipality wants them out. The councillor’s ward committee members set to cajoling and threatening those who did not want to relocate. The councillor refused to meet with us, referring us to the municipal manager, who ignored us.

The community elected a committee to represent them, but a key member was promptly co-opted by the councillor and took over pressurising residents to leave.

Moss laboured in a world where this sort of betrayal is commonplace. Poor communities struggle to unite, even in the face of an external threat. But despite obstacles, delays, frustrations, and setbacks, Moss never stopped. I worked with him on half a dozen cases, but he had many more. Some we talked about, others I only heard about at his funeral.

Members of the Brickvale, Ingwenya, Tilly’s Farm and other communities he had helped came to pay their last respects to this quiet lion of a man. So did members of the local DA branch, wearing their party T-shirts. He was deputy chair of the branch and had hoped to stand as a DA councillor.

I learned much from Moss. I came to understand just how limited South Africa’s legal system is for those without money, how it is bypassed and defied by the powerful, how hired lawyers bluff those without legal knowledge, and drag out proceedings against less well-resourced opponents.

Conflict over land on the West Rand is multi-dimensional, but always pits the privileged against the poor. It reflects South Africa’s gross inequalities. Neither progressive laws nor pro bono legal assistance will bring justice while this inequality remains.

Moss understood this well, yet continued, always hopeful that some good could be achieved. He will be sorely missed by family, friends, church, DA branch, comrades, and the many that he assisted.

This tribute, incomplete as it is, pays homage to a great man.

Robala ka kagiso ntate!

Moss Sekobane

Moses ‘Moss’ Sekobane was born on 3 September 1967 in Ventersdorp in what is now the North West Province, son of Boy Chabane and Letty Sekobane. He was educated at Brandvlei Farm School and Phokompe Secondary School, Randfontein. He completed his matric through ABET classes at Mohlakeng School, Randfontein.

His first employment was as a petrol attendant. Then his increasing involvement as a community activist took him to the Rural Legal Trust (later the Centre for Advice and Training).

He was a founder member of the Brandvlei-based Isaiah Apostolic Church in Zion.

He was buried on 24 December 2023 at Maanhaarrand near Magaliesburg.

He is survived by four children, three grandchildren and two sisters.

David Dickinson is professor of sociology at Wits University. He spent a sabbatical year with the LHR Land and Housing Programme in 2022.

Views expressed are not necessarily GroundUp’s.