Land News

Farm dwellers betrayed – space for new pathways?

By Donna Hornby

21 December, 2016

December 15, 1995, was a Friday. My office phone rang. “There’s a family on the side of the N3 with their livestock. They’ve been evicted. They don’t know where to go.” It was 4 pm on the last working day before Christmas holidays. A violent thunderstorm was brewing outside AFRA’s offices in Pietermaritzburg. With a sinking heart, I called every lawyer I knew. The answers were the same. “Not much we can do at this time of the year, especially on a Friday. Sorry.” My final, feeble effort was a church. And then I went home to begin celebrating the festive season.

This case was not unique back then. But the rainbow over the nation was the recently promulgated, far-reaching new Constitution. The Bill of Rights entrenched a range of new rights for all citizens, including secure tenure to those who had been previously deprived of it or comparable redress where secure tenure was not possible. Citizens now also had rights to housing, water and health care, which the state was obliged to progressively realize, as well as rights to adequate food and equitable access to land. The following year, with pressure from land rights organisations and a sympathetic Department of Land Affairs (DLA), the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act was passed, giving labour tenants secure tenure over the land they lived on and used, and the possibility of claiming ownership. In 1997, the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) was passed to protect the tenure and way of life of people living on farms they didn’t own. Farm owners could now only evict under tightly regulated conditions, with a court order, and only after an investigation had been conducted by the DLA.

We had good reason to hope that the horror of evictions – and the acrimonious relations that led up to them – was a thing of the past. We also had reason to hope that the government’s commitment to a developmental state would be extended to people living on farms. We were wrong.

More evictions took place between 1995 and 2005 than in the decade preceding the new Constitution. The rights of labour tenants to keep livestock and grow crops to supplement paltry salaries were further eroded, and these small farmers who exchanged their labour and the labour of their children for access to farmland were systematically transformed into wage labourers. The ferocious struggles against cattle impounding, reduced land for cropping, deprivations of water and firewood, and ploughing of graves couldn’t gain political traction because of their isolated nature. What the Nationalist Government had failed to do was finally being achieved under a democratic government. How had this happened? Continue reading

Labour tenants, Land News

[Press Release] BREAKTHROUGH IN SOUTH AFRICAN LAW: Special Master Appointed in Land Claims Court

Unprecedented Judgment Signals Historic Victory in SA Land Struggle

On the 8th of December, a historic judgment was handed down in the Land Claims Court in the protracted legal battle between labour tenants and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (the Department).


Labour Tenants protesting outside the Land Claims Court. Photo: Tom Draper

This has been a battle that started more than three years ago. It was brought by the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) and four labour tenants, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC).


Judge Thomas Ncube presiding over the Land Claims Court. Photo: Tom Draper.

On the 8 December 2016, the Land Claims Court granted an order appointing a “Special Master of Labour Tenants”. The task of the Special Master will be to produce a plan to implement labour tenant claims to facilitate ownership of farm land in terms of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, no. 3 of 1996.  The plan must be developed in collaboration with the Department, which has been refusing to implement the law since the early 2000’s.

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