Dying for Dignity

The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) extends its heartfelt condolences to the family of Mothiwa Ngubane, whose tragic killing has deprived them of a son, father, brother and friend. The entire community is shocked and angered at this tragic and unnecessary loss of life at the hands of Philip Solomon on 30th December 2017.

The confrontation between Solomon and mourners at a burial on his farm led to Ngubane’s death. Solomon’s arrest and subsequent bail application has highlighted many of the underlying tensions that continue to exist on farms, not only in Kwazulu Natal, but across the country. The sad truth is that these events are only the most recent and extreme example of what is occurring on an almost daily basis on farms.

Burials are essential part of human existence and all South Africans are entitled to bury their loved ones in accordance with their cultural, traditional and religious practices. Burials are important events within the belief and value system which honours our ancestors and respects our cultural practices. Unfortunately, when such burials occur on commercial, privately owned farms, tensions often arise. The farm dwellers who have sought assistance from AFRA report that land owners often withhold permission to bury on farms, desecrate the graves on the farms or refuse permission for the graves to be visited by the family for traditional ceremonies.  This occurs despite the provisions of both the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) and provincial ordinances, which attempt to ensure fair and reasonable measures are in place to regulate on-farm burials.

As is irreplaceable as the loss of Ngubane’s life is, especially to his family and friends, it provides an opportunity to ensure that such events do not happen again – on this or any other farm. This case has highlighted the slow pace of land reform by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, which includes non-resolution of restitution cases (in this case one that was lodged back in 1998 but remains unprocessed) as well as the complete failure to process the vast majority of labour tenant claims over the past 20 years. At least 11 000 labour claims remain unprocessed by the Department, despite numerous Court orders and judgements instructing it to expedite these claims. In respect of restitution claims, AFRA was part of a successful Court action brought by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) which compels the Department to resolve all outstanding claims within a two year period before embarking on instituting new claims.

The failure of the Department and the Land Claims Commission to discharge their legal and Constitutional duties has harmed relations on farms between claimants, farm dwellers and land owners – often contributing to conflict such as the one experienced between the Lembethe claimants and Phillip Solomon which has had such a tragic outcome. AFRA calls on the Department and the Commission to abide by the legal framework and various Court judgments in executing their duties in an accountable and transparent manner to prevent unnecessary conflict and loss of life on farms.

The widespread condemnation and public outrage at Ngubane’s killing has highlighted the unequal power relations that still exist on commercial farms and in rural areas. Despite Solomon’s arrest, many in the community have highlighted that the SAPS behaved unequally in responding to crime and conflict on farms. Their failure to be present at the burial is cited as a contributing factor to the situation which led to his death, despite their undertaking to do so prior to the funeral. It is also alleged that the SAPS responded to farmers more sympathetically than it does to farm dwellers and workers, and that land owners have greater control and influence over the police.

These concerns and the perceptions they create need to be urgently addressed. AFRA will continue to engage with SAPS and right institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to intervene proactively in order to ensure that the laws are applied even-handedly and ensure that all are treated fairly.

We support the calls made by the community to deny Solomon bail, not only for his own safety but also to prevent him from interfering with and intimidating witnesses. It is not in the interest of justice that Solomon, accused of such serious crimes, be granted bail. The Court must ensure that the law becomes an instrument of justice contributing to healing society through restoring dignity to the victims, and affording the opportunity for rehabilitation to the offender.

AFRA will continue to support farm dwellers and their efforts to be heard and fully engaged by decision makers and institutions of state. Farm dwellers and workers are no longer willing to remain silent and invisible in the face of injustices perpetrated against them; nor are they willing to continue to be ignored by policy makers and politicians. Promises and public outcries of sympathy are not enough to bring about the systemic change on farms and in rural communities. All stakeholders have a role to play in create positive and lasting solutions on farms, which recognizes the dignity and fundamental human rights of all.

For further information please contact: Laurel Oettle  AFRA Director on laurel@afra.co.za  / 076 127 5270  / 033 345 7607. 

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