Farm dwellers demand Land Claims Court act against “Contemptuous Minister”

Minister Gugile Nkwinti and the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform once again find themselves in hot water at the Land Claims Court with South Africa’s labour tenants.

Mr. Sikhakhane is one of the Hilton residents who has been waiting for the government to act on their promises. He is 96 yeats old. Photo: Tom Draper

The long running legal battle between the Minister and the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO acting on behalf of labour tenant claimants, is set to escalate this month when the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) appears on behalf of AFRA and an estimated 19 000 labour tenants in the Land Claims Court in Randburg, Johannesburg on 29 January 2016.

A fifteen-year wait

Labour tenants are currently mobilising in preparation for a mass picket at the Court to voice their anger at the continued failure of the Minister and the Department to implement the court orders agreed before Judge Mokotedi Mpshe in September 2014. The anger and frustration amongst labour tenants has grown since 2001, which was the cut-off date for labour tenants to lodge their claimant status.

The fifteen year wait has thus far proved fruitless for some of our country’s most marginalised and vulnerable communities. AFRA will be joined in its protest action by representatives of labour tenants and rural communities from throughout South Africa.

Last year, labour tenants from rural areas converged on the Land Claims Court in support of the class action AFRA brought in 2013, seeking to compel the Department to expedite the many thousands of outstanding labour tenant land claims. A settlement was then reached with the Department which entailed the following

  • The parties agreeing that the Director-General for the Depart­ment shall, on or before the 31 March 2015, and at 3 monthly intervals thereafter, file a report with AFRA and the Court con­tain­ing the sta­tis­tics of the cur­rent sta­tus of labour ten­ant land appli­ca­tions,
  • The said progress indi­cat­ing the sta­tus of each indi­vid­ual labour ten­ant land claim, together with a plan for the fur­ther pro­cess­ing of all out­stand­ing labour claims.
Mwelase is one of the Hilton claimants, alongside AFRA that will be taking the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to court on the 29th of January. Photo: Tom Draper

After missing its initial deadline in March 2015, the Department was ordered to file reports on 31 July, 30 October 2015 and 12 February 2016.  The July report failed to provide all the necessary information detailed in the court order and subsequently the Department completely missed the October deadline. To date, the Department has still not submitted this report.

Plight of 22 000 labour tenants

At the centre of the legal storm is the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, which was passed in 1996. The law derived directly from the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which guarantees secure tenure to people deprived of their rights in terms of past racially discriminatory laws.

The act addressed the plight of labour tenants who had clung to land and the remnants of independent farming by working for landowners without receiving wages despite attempts by successive apartheid laws to destroy this way of life.

It provided for labour tenants to claim ownership of the land they and their parents and grandparents had lived on and used. By the closing date for the lodging of claims in March 2001, about 22,000 labour tenants had applied for land ownership.

The Minister and his Department have “consistently failed to comply with the requirements of the law (Labour Tenants Act); moreover they have shown complete contempt for the law, labour tenants and the Court itself through the persistent refusal to comply with deadlines and directives given by the Court” said Laurel Oettle, AFRA’s Director.

She explained that “AFRA is convinced that the Department has comprehensively and systematically failed to carry out its basic mandate in respect of labour tenant applications by processing and finalising labour tenant claims for acquisition of land. It has also become abundantly clear during our interaction that the Department has failed to maintain accurate records which means that thousands of applications have been lost or cannot be traced.

The scale of this problem suggests something far more troubling than simple bureaucratic incompetence.”


What the labour tenants expect of the Court

AFRA will be requesting the Land Claims Court to appoint a “special master” which will set legal precedent in South Africa as an extraordinary measure to oversee the implementation of the existing court order.

A growing movement of rural people are mobilizing in support of labour tenants in their struggle. The movement is convinced that a case of “Constitutional Damages” must also be brought against the Department for its flagrant violation of the rights of labour tenants.

The media is kindly invited to the picket at the Land Claims Court at 10 am, and to a press conference:

Time: 9 am

Date: 29th January 2016

Venue: Outside the Land Claims Court, Randburg Mall, Kent Avenue & Hill Street, Randburg

For information regarding the press conference and interviews please contact:

Tom Draper, AFRA Media and Communications Officer:  078 754 0700

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