“It is time to change tactics”
Farm dwellers and labour tenant claimants have vowed to take their destiny into their own hands to achieve secure tenure, end vulnerability and deprivation on farms and complete the long promised settlement of claims. Frustrated with continued government failures and land owner intransigence, representatives of farm dwellers and labour tenants from across the province received and shared updates on the conditions on farms and the progress being made by newly established government structures to address their needs.
Minister Nkwinti was prompted into action after a 2016 precedent-setting class-action case in the Land Claims Court, brought by AFRA and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), forced the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to finally act on approximately 20,000 labour tenant claims that had been languishing for 19 years.
At the KZN Farm Dweller and Labour Tenant Platform, held in Newcastle on 21 – 22 October 2017, Thabiso Mbhense, of the LRC, briefed participants on the latest developments in the case to finally and fully implement the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act No.3 of 1996, whose non-implementation has been dragged on unnecessarily by continued appeals and delays instituted by Minister Nkwinti’s stubborn refusal to accept the findings of several court judgements handed down by the Land Claims Court.
In December 2016, 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. The judgment details the steps to be undertaken to achieve the expeditious resolutions of these 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 enrollment 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 a 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 forums, established across all districts in KwaZulu Natal, which are coordinated by the department.
Reviewing these developments participants heatedly debated the impact of these efforts against their everyday reality. The dire state of affairs on farms was described by one participant:
“In the 19 years since the laws were passed nothing has changed. Today claimants are dying, the department has lost their claims and many farms have new land owners who deny us our rights. Some land owners cut off basic services such as water or lock gates, while the Department seems helpless to do anything…”
Even when the state has purchased farms, conditions have not changed for the better. “Where government purchases land it seems to do so for political reasons, not to benefit the people living on the farm. We do not even know who owns the farms and we as labour tenants continue to suffer”.
Representatives on government structures however could not agree if any meaningful progress has been made, with some expressing the view that Minister Nkwinti’s attempts to set up Farm Dweller and Labour Tenant Forums is merely a weak attempt to capture local leaders and derail the ongoing class action. Others reported that the structures have no power and little has been done.
Representatives of the various organisations committed themselves to improve coordination, increase accountability to farm dwellers and communities and developing a common plan of action to address the challenges. It was agreed to continue mobilising the communities to support the class action and supplement this with local campaigns to secure tenure, protect graves and burial sites as well as improve access to basic services such as water and electricity for those living on commercial farms.
Nokuthula Mthimunye (AFRA Communications Advocate) firstname.lastname@example.org 076 754 7110 or Thabiso Mbhense (LRC Attorney Durban) email@example.com 071 109 9340 or Claire Martens (LRC Communications Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org 082 470 1187.