Councils must service farms

MSUNDUZI Municipality and two other municipalities have to start prioritising the rights of farm occupiers and labour tenants.

A court order to this effect was granted in June last year. However, Msunduzi applied for leave to appeal the order and because of this it was frozen. The order was also granted against the uMgungundlovu District Municipality and the uMshwathi Municipality.

Yesterday, Pietermaritzburg high court judge Piet Bezuidenhout ordered that the June 2019 order should continue to operate until the outcome of any appeal process in any other court.

Laurel Oettle, director of the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra), said in court papers that it represents labour tenants and farm occupiers who do not have access to basic services such as water, sanitation and refuse collection. They have never had access to services provided by the three municipalities, she said.

“There are no decent toilets. Some of the occupiers and labour tenants have dug pit latrines next to their homes. However, these makeshift toilets are smelly and attract flies and vermin.

“They pose a danger to children who might fall and be injured or die.”

Oettle added that some farm occupiers and labour tenants are forced to go to the nearest bushes to relieve themselves, making the environment all the more toxic. In addition, the surroundings of the homesteads are filthy with rubbish everywhere, due to the absence of refuse collection, she said. The farm occupiers have never enjoyed the benefits of democracy, said Oettle, adding that the only thing that changed for them was “getting a right to vote and being visited during election time for campaigns”.

Regarding Msunduzi’s appeal, she questioned how a constitutionally mandated municipality appeals an order that seeks to ensure that “no one lives in their own country of origin as a third class citizen who is forgotten”.

Oettle said all three municipalities were asked to provide the labour tenants and farm occupiers with access to water, sanitation and refuse collection. When this did not happen, the court ordered the services to be provided, she said.

“The Msunduzi Municipality now seeks an application for leave to appeal, to yet again render the community voiceless and vulnerable. This cannot be accepted,” she said.

THE court order has given these people hope, Oettle said.

If the operation of the order is stayed as a result of Msunduzi’s appeal, the dignity that has been restored and the hope given will be reversed, added Oettle.

The order last year was granted by Judge Jerome Mnguni.

He instructed the municipalities to install sufficient water connections to supply 25litres per person a day or six kilolitres per household a month to farm occupiers and labour tenants living in their jurisdictions. He also stipulated that the water flow must not be less than 10litres per minute. Water user connections have to be within 200 metres of a farm occupier’s household.

The municipalities were also told to supply the people with access to basic sanitation by installing ventilation improved pit toilets for each household.

Refuse collection also had to be provided.

Judge Mnguni had emphasised that the court was not imposing new or unforeseen obligations on the municipalities, but rather requiring them to implement duties imposed by the legislature.

The application had been brought by Msunduzi labour tenant Zabalaza Mshengu, who died in August 2018, Thabisile Ngema, a farm occupier in uMshwathi and Afra.

  • The Witness
  • 21 Aug 2020
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