The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in a landmark case on behalf of 19 000 labour tenants, will be returning to the Land Claims Court on the 10th October 2016.
This historic legal case (Mwelase & Others v Director-General for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform & Others) will set precedent as it seeks to have a Special Master appointed to oversee the full implementation of the Labour Tenants Act, twenty years after it was first promulgated by President Nelson Mandela. This is the long hoped-for resolution to a matter that has dragged on for several years, and has caused significant harm to the tens of thousands of labour tenants and their families whose rights have systematically been violated by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (the Department).
On the 17th May 2016, after extensive consultation, AFRA entered a period of negotiations with the Department and the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. The Minister had unexpectedly entered the Court proceedings in March 2016 with his own legal representative separate to that of the Department. The legal teams of the Minister, the Department and AFRA agreed to terms for the negotiations, with the aim of agreeing a Memorandum of Understanding before the end of June 2016, which were approved by the Judge. AFRA however still had several serious reservations and tabled these to the Court. After a constructive start to negotiations, AFRA were hopeful that a more beneficial outcome for labour tenants could be achieved through a mutual understanding and partnership.
However, the good faith negotiations broke down after Minister Gugile Nkwinti made a unilateral decision to announce his intention to convene a “National Forum of NGOs” to determine terms of reference in respect of a programme for farm dwellers (labour tenants and occupiers) in the national press on the 10th June 2016. This decision was made despite the premise of the court order being that all items contained within the scope of the Memorandum of Understanding were for negotiation, including the possible establishment of such a forum. This decision was made without the consultation of AFRA.
The effort of the Department and AFRA to engage in good faith negotiations have been undermined by the actions of the Minister. The Minister has thus far only restated his belief in the legality of his action and has failed to respond to the substantive objections raised by AFRA and its legal representatives. Accordingly, AFRA had no choice but to enrol the matter with Land Claims Court, as provided for in the Court Order of 24th May, to be heard on 10 – 11thOctober 2016.
While we are disappointed and frustrated that the negotiation process has broken down, this was always one of the possible outcomes of our decision, and we are returning to Court with a much deeper understanding of the changes and challenges within the Department. This will be of great assistance to us as we move forward with determination in the ongoing fight for the rights of labour tenants. The persistent and repeated failures of the Minister to implement the law cannot be allowed to continue, and we believe that the appointment of a Special Master is the only way that the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act will be fully implemented, and the rights of labour tenants across the country be fully realised.
For more information, interviews or material please contact.
Tom Draper, Media and Communications Officer. AFRA.
Phone: 078 754 0700