In 2016, AFRA regained prominence by driving a precedent-setting class-action case in the Land Claims Court to force the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to act on approximately 20,000 labour tenant claims that had been languishing for 15 years. The Department’s systemic failure spurred AFRA to seek further redress, believing that a Special Master would be the only mechanism powerful enough to oversee the implementation of the Labour Tenants Act. During the course of 2015 and 2016, AFRA mobilised labour tenants from across the country to attend hearings at the Land Claims Court. Despite a variety of logistical challenges, the #LabourTenants movement became widely publicised in print, radio and televised media as well as social media.
In landmark judgement on 8th December 2016, Judge Thomas Ncube of the Land Claims Court found in favour of the appointment of a “Special Master of Labour Tenants”. In his judgement he noted:
“Regrettably reports were not filed timeously in accordance with the implementation plan and there was non-compliance with other aspects of the plan and furnishing of information required…From the history of the litigation, it is apparent in my view, that the Department has not been able to comply with its own timeframes or to provide accurate information on how far the collation of labour tenants claims has progressed…Effective relief is undoubtedly required by the many thousands of vulnerable labour tenants”
Judge Ncube found that Minister Nkwinti and the Director General acted in manner, “inconsistent with Sections 10, 25 (b), 33, 195 and 237 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa” and that a, “Special Master of Labour Tenants” shall be appointed by no later than the 3 March 2017 to supervise the Director General and the Department in respect of the pending labour tenant claims under Sections 16, 17 and 18 Act. The judgment details the steps to be undertaken to achieve the expeditious resolutions of these claims, including a determination of:
- The total number of claims lodged and the number which have yet to be processed and finalised;
- The skill pool and infrastructure required for the processing of labour tenant claims within the Department;
- Targets on a year-to-year basis for the resolution of pending labour tenant claims;
- The determination of the budget necessary during each financial year for carrying out the Implementation Plan, including both the Departments’ operating costs for processing claims and the amounts required to fund awards made pursuant to the applications;
- Plans for co-ordination with the Land Claims Court to ensure the rapid adjudication or arbitration of unresolved claims;
- Any other matters which the Special Master may consider relevant.
AFRA welcomed the judgment and placed on public record its long held view that we seek:
“….to constructively engage with the Department on the appointment of the Special Master and the finalisation of the Implementation Plan. AFRA is committed to ensure the success of the Implementation Plan and will support the Special Master and the Department to achieve the processing and finalisation of labour tenant claims.”
The Department and the Minister lodged an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which was granted. The record was filed with Supreme Court of Appeals on 03 July 2017 and an application for urgent enrolment also submitted to the Supreme Courts of Appeal. We are now awaiting the finalisation of the Court date.
While the wheels of justice have slowly turned, the DRDLR established dedicated Labour Tenant Project and the project manager was appointed in March 2017. At the start of 2017 the DRDLR also established National & District labour tenant fora established across all districts in KwaZulu Natal, which are coordinated by the department. AFRA believes that these, potentially positive developments, is a direct result of the class action and will hold a consultative provincial workshop for KZN labour tenants & farm dwellers in October 2017 to update them on class action and share strategies to impact on the processing and finalisation of outstanding claims in a manner which supports improved livelihoods and economic opportunities for labour tenants and their communities. This workshop will bring labour tenant and farm dweller representatives from across the Kwazulu-Natal province and will be hosted jointly with the Legal Resources Centre.
Watch Special Assignment, The promised land, which documents the #LabourTenant class action case.