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.
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.
After waiting for forty minutes for Judge Mokotedi Mpshe to arrive and court proceedings to begin, it finally emerged that his car had broken down and the proceedings were postponed until 2pm. It was unfortunately already well after 11am before this information was confirmed by the Court, which led to a difficult decision to be put before the Labour Tenants who had travelled from across KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo to be in court today: should they abandon their hope of being in Court to hear judgment finally being made around the appointment of a Special Master, and return to their families before the beginning of the Easter long weekend as promised? Or should they sacrifice another sleepless night to stay for the hearing, in order to not only hear the outcome for themselves but be able to report back to their communities, and undertake the long journey home through the night?
As Siya Sithole expressed later in the day, “True soldiers of the struggle come second to the struggle.” After some discussion and debate amongst the tired and disheartened Labour Tenants, they made a unanimous decision to all stay for the hearing, which got underway just after 2pm.
In an odd twist in the case, a new Advocate has been appointed to represent not the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (the Department), but the Minister of the Department alone. It is unclear why Minister Gugile Nkwinti feels he requires his own representation, separate to the Director General (DG) of the Department, and this move is one of many indications of potential tensions within the Department. Furthermore, the Minister signed a brief and clearly rushed Affidavit asking that the hearing be postponed for a further six months. The reasons given for this request seem to only strengthen the need for a Special Master by highlighting the lack of effective communication within the Department: important information relating to the case had apparently been left out of the previous lengthy, detailed Affidavit submitted by the Department, a fact that the Minister only became aware of on the 11th March. After this date, he was investigating why this unspecified information had been omitted, but neither his Affidavit nor his Advocate provided an answer to the Court as to either the reason for the omission, or what this supposed “information” actually pertains to.
Judge Mpshe acknowledged that the matter should be settled in the public interest, and that “This is an important case which the public is looking at with keen eyes as to what is going to happen,” as his words were captured and streamed live by the many television cameras in the room from a variety of National news agencies. He further acknowledged that the case is dealing with people who could well be evicted from their homes if this matter is not settled quickly, and who have nowhere else to go. “It is the duty of the state and the law to protect such people, thus it places this matter squarely within the realm of public interest.”
After hearing both sides of the argument for and against the postponement of the case, and despite the fact that Judge Mpshe himself clearly identified that the Minister had failed to submit substantial information to enable the Judge to make an informed decision, he finally delivered a judgement that allowed the application for postponement.
His order on the matter included the following highlights:
- The matter will return to Court on the 12 May 2016.
- The Minister shall file any additional information on Affidavit on or before 14th April 2016. He was very specific in stating that he expects full and detailed information pertaining to the case to be provided by this date.
- Wasted costs from today between the Attorney and own client will be paid by the Minister in his professional capacity.
ANN7’s evening broadcast summed up the day’s proceedings, and gave a feeling for what the day was like for the labour tenants who were there (note: this video also removed from Youtube). The day was also summarised by Karyn Maughn on eNCA:
The full court proceedings, which were streamed live by eNCA, can been seen below. Please note that the sound does not begin until a 10 minutes 44 seconds into the recording.
“We are not happy at this result,” said Sthembiso Mahlaba, who is the Community leader and representative for labour tenants in the Gongolo region of KwaZulu Natal involved in the Class Action case. “Firstly, we have travelled all day yesterday and waited all day today to hear whether or not a Special Master will be appointed to oversee the processing of the many cases in our region; secondly, we find out on the day of the hearing that we have to wait again because the Government Department has new information that it can’t yet give out. How many more delays will there be? Our people need answers; they are getting angrier. They face evictions, hunger and poor living conditions – they can’t get services like water and electricity when their claims haven’t been processed. We came here today to hear the judge for ourselves; we are leaving disappointed”.