Labour tenants, Land News

Urgent Update: Minister convenes National Land NGO Forum in breach of Court Order

The Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) has recently discovered that the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has invited a number of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to attend a meeting today, 29th July 2016, in Gauteng.

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In his invitation the Minister has stated that the purpose of the meeting will be:

“the establishment of the Forum, working together with the Department, which will be responsible, inter alia, for policy formulation, development of the National Programme for the implementation and monitoring and evaluation of progress in respect of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 2 of 1996 (LTA) and Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (ESTA)”

In this context, AFRA is surprised that it did not receive an invitation to attend the meeting and is deeply concerned with the Minister’s decision not to invite AFRA to participate in the establishment of the national forum. We are also concerned by the repeated attempts of the Department to further delay the processing of labour tenant claims, which are clear set out in a very specific legal process, by confusing the process with regards to a broader programme for Farm Dwellers with a very different set of rights. The Department has systematically attempted to reduce the rights of labour tenants to the land which they have been promised by the Constitution that they should now have ownership of.

The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) has been represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in a landmark case on behalf of 19 000 labour tenants. This matter 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) through their failure to process the large majority of labour tenant claims.

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 in the form of a Memorandum of Explanation. 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. On the 21 June 2016, AFRA advised the Minister that his stance that he holds sole responsibility for the establishment of the national forum that will deal with farm dwellers was incorrect and in conflict with the provisions of the court order dated 17 May 2016.

AFRA maintains that the Minister ought not to have sent the abovementioned invitation to non-governmental organisations because the parties to the litigation have failed to conclude the memorandum of understanding. The Minister has indeed acted contrary to the mandate set out in the court order dated 17 May 2016. As such, AFRA is of the view that any forum of non-governmental organisations that may be established on 29 July 2016 will be constituted unilaterally by the Minister and is in no way related to the negotiations that were conducted in terms of the court order.

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 enroll the matter with Land Claims Court, as provided for in the Court Order of 24th May, to be heard on 10 – 11th October 2016. The persistent and repeated failures of the Minister to implement the law cannot be allowed to continue.

The Legal Resources Centre, on behalf of AFRA, yesterday requested an urgent written response from the Minister confirming the cancellation of the meeting that will take place on the 29 July 2016. AFRA has three staff members – Siyabonga Sithole, Zondani Mthalane and Nokuthula Mthimunye – at the venue of the Forum Meeting today in order to engage with fellow NGOs, answer any questions, and discuss the best way for Comrades in the sector to move forward in the best possible way to ensure that labour tenants rights are realised.

For more information, please contact:

Laurel Oettle, AFRA Director

Email: laurel@afra.co.za                                 Tel: 033 345 7607

2016 07 29 Zondani and Nokuthula

Zondani Mthalane and Nokuthula Mthimunye from AFRA outside the NGO Forum meeting venue this morning, 29th July 2016

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