Labour tenants, Land News

Tactical Delays: The Long Wait Continues for Labour Tenants

by Laurel Oettle

After a day and a half of travel, engagement and waiting, 60 Labour Tenants left the Land Claims Court today frustrated and angry.


Waiting outside the Land Claims Court. Photograph: Rebekka Stredwick

The day had a bright and promising start, during which the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA)’s Land Rights Advocate Siyabonga (Siya) Sithole discussed the history and the hoped-for outcome of the case with reporters from eNCA and ANN7 (May 2016: the excellent ANN7 footage has now been removed from YouTube, with a note saying that the account had multiple copyright infringements). Thereafter, however, the day contained a series of discouraging roadblocks and confusing anomalies.

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Labour tenants, Land News

Tired of Waiting

by Rebekka Stredwick

“The people are tired, so tired of waiting….”

David Mncwabe and Sthembiso Mahlaba wait anxiously for news from the Land Claims Court in Randburg, South Africa. They are waiting to hear whether Judge Mokotedi Mpshe will today appoint a Special Master to oversee the processing of 19,000 outstanding land claims, representing approximately 100 000 South African farm dwellers.

David and Sthembiso are community representatives for some of the labour tenants involved in the Class Action case being brought by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), and supported by the Legal Resource Centre. The two representatives carry a significant burden on their shoulders – the responsibility of communicating the outcome to the people they represent.

David Mncwabe, community representative at Hilton College Farm, KZN

David Mncwabe, community representative at Hilton College Farm. Photograph: Rebekka Stredwick

Both have invested much of their time and emotional energy supporting the labour tenants, listening to their hardships and concerns, negotiating with landowners, and liaising with community leaders and government officials. As they prepare to relay the news back to the communities, will they hear frustration in the voices of their people once again and see disappointment in their eyes? Or will they be able to give a message of hope to the men, women and children who so desperately want to get on with their lives, free from the oppression of waiting?

“We all want to hear whether a Special Master will be appointed to ensure the claims are at last processed,” said David Mncwabe, representative for the four labour tenants who are part of the ‘Hilton College case’. The four claimants live on a farm owned by the Hiltonion Society which belongs to Hilton College private school in the KZN Midlands. It is the farm on which the claimants and their families have lived for generations. Continue reading

Labour tenants, Land News

Special Master Judgement Tomorrow

by Yves Vanderhaeghen

A ruling by the Land Claims Court on Thursday is likely to ensure that labour tenants are no longer forgotten in the dispensing of rights.

For 15 years, 19 000 labour tenant claims have been gathering dust in filing cabinets at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. That’s the optimistic scenario, because it’s likely that at least some of the claims have not only been forgotten, but lost. Labour tenants have not always been so low a priority. In 1964, in his “I am prepared to die” speech from the dock, Nelson Mandela included them among the groups most oppressed by Apartheid, and appealed for justice for the “labourers, labour tenants, and squatters on white farms [who] work and live under conditions similar to those of the serfs of the Middle Ages”. Decades later, after jail, after democracy, he had not forgotten these people: “We remember the farm workers and labour tenants uprooted from the land,” he said at a meeting in Howick in 1996.

In the honeymoon years of Mandela’s presidency, the future looked promising for labour tenants. The Constitution, given force by the 1996 Labour Tenants Act, sought to give security of tenure to these families scattered across the country on land owned by others, and whose fortunes were therefore precarious.

The case before Judge Mokotedi Mpshe of the Land Claims Court is a class action case technically called the Mwelase case, after Bhekindlela Mwelase, the first applicant. It is more commonly referred to as the Hilton College case, after the private school in the KZN midlands on which Mwelase, who is 86, was born and where parents and grandparents before him lived. In 2001 he lodged a labour tenant claim, which was opposed. By 2012 there had been no progress in either his claim, or in about 19 000 others. In 2013, Mwelase, supported by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), went to court to force the Department to explain why it had not implemented the Act by referring the claims to the Land Claims Court for a ruling on whether the claimants were indeed Labour Tenants and if so, for the Department to grant them their land or negotiate an alternative.

Bhekindlela Mwelase. Photo credit - Max Bastard

Bhekindlela Mwelase. Photograph by Max Bastard

The case since then has been characterised by delays and broken undertakings, forcing the applicants first to obtain a structural interdict to force the Department to show what it is doing to honour its obligations, and now to ask the court to appoint a Special Master to supervise the Department in its functions. Continue reading

Labour tenants, Land News

A Land in Limbo: Hope Deferred

“We remember the farm workers and labour tenants uprooted from the land,” Nelson Mandela, Howick, 1996

By Rebekka Stredwick

To mark both South African Human Rights Day and the 20th anniversary of the signing into law of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act by President Nelson Mandela, we have commissioned a series of photographs to tell the stories of some of the labour tenants waiting for their claims to be processed for the land on which they, their parents and their grandparents have lived and worked.

Human Rights Day in South Africa reminds us of the events that took place in Sharpeville on the 21 March 1960, when 69 people died and 180 were wounded as police fired on a peaceful crowd which had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. It marks the shared rising of ordinary people in a collective proclamation of their rights.

Bhekindlela Mwelase, 86 Yrs with Pass Book

Confined – Bhekindlela Mwelase, 86 Years Old, Labour Tenant Claim lodged in 1998, with his Pass Book. “Generations of my family have lived here. We used to farm this place – we were the only occupiers. Now I have to ask permission to crop – we are restricted to a small number of goats and cattle.” Photo: Max Bastard

Today we reflect on this reminder of the cost paid for our treasured human rights – rights enshrined in law in our Bill of Rights, which opens by promising to protect “the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom”. Today more than ever, however, we need to critically question whether these ideals are a reality in the lives of some of South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens – labour tenants.

Suspended in limbo, the lives of labour tenants on the margins of society reveal a myriad of emotions and states – confinement, neglect, doubt, resignation, fustration, and hope-deferred are just a few of the ‘sighs of sorrows’ that stir us into action.

Mndeni Skhakhane, 94 years old. Photo by Max Bastard

Neglected – Mndeni Skhakhane, 94 years old, labour tenant claim lodged in 1998. “I have nothing to pass on to my children. I have worked my whole life for nothing – I now have nothing to show for it. They have ignored us.” Photo: Max Bastard

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AFRA News, Labour tenants, Land News

Judge Mpshe to make landmark “Special Master” judgement

On the 22nd of March 1996 President Nelson Mandela signed into law the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act (LTA). He did so the day after the South Africans celebrated Human Rights Day for only the second time, symbolically marking our young democracy’s journey away from discrimination towards universal human rights. The Act signed by Mandela guaranteed the security of tenure for a unique class of persons, known as labour tenants, who had survived the worst ravages of Apartheid by providing labour, over generations, to white land owners in exchange for cropping, grazing and residency rights on the farms they worked.

Image 1 - Labour Tenant Ninety-four year old Mndeni Skhakhane Hilton College Labour Tenant Class Action, Hilton College Farm, KwaZulu Natal. Credit Max Bastard B&W

Ninety-four-year-old Mndeni Skhakhane, a labour tenant on the Hilton College Farm. Photograph: Max Bastard

Twenty years later that promise, broken by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (the Department), is about to be tested in the Land Claims Court in Randburg before Judge Mokotedi Mpshe, who on Thursday 24th March will decide the fate of 19 000 claimants representing approximately 100 000 South African farm dwellers. The landmark class action case was brought by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO working with farm dwellers, seeking to compel the Deparment to implement its own law. Judge Mpshe will make a decision about whether to appoint a Special Master to oversee the full implementation of the Act.

A Special Master is a person with a detailed understanding of both the legal and land reform contexts, who will enable the Court to more effectively and efficiently exercise its supervisory role. It will ensure the Department fully executes the terms of the Act and in so doing expedite the processing and settlement of the outstanding claims. Not only will this reduce the need for further litigation, it will also allieviate the burden of a difficult and lengthy supervisory process for the Court. Continue reading

AFRA News, Uncategorized

Beyond Parity: Securing Women’s Rights to Land

by Laurel Oettle

As International Women’s Day 2016 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the power of global solidarity, and the sense of instant connection and shared purpose that social media provides. There was an excited energy in the office as our team at the Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) gathered to make our #PledgeForParity, and share these on Facebook and Twitter, even as my own awareness that parity is not nearly a complex or meaningful enough goal to be striving for pricked my conscience.

AFRA Team #PledgeForParity 2016

“We pledge to create inclusive cultures which challenge conscious and unconscious bias”

As Michelle Festus, Action Aid South Africa’s Women’s Rights Coordinator put it today, “We need to move away from this idea of gender parity, which advocates for men and women to be in collective spaces in equal numbers. What we should rather focus on, is the empowerment, safety and dignity of women to challenge ‪‎inequality‬. Our struggle is not about equal numbers, but about changing the systems that reproduce inequality.”

South Africans tend to focus their celebrations and demonstrations related to women’s rights on our own National Women’s Day, which is held annually on the 9th August and commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against one of the Apartheid Government’s oppressive laws, the pass laws. I believe, however, that it is of immeasurable value to pause and listen to the global pulse and dialogue, and both contribute to and learn from the wider debates and campaigns, and then return with renewed focus and energy to continuing to grow our understanding of our specific context. Continue reading