Africa Land Forum 2020: Mainstreaming Land Governance in the Agenda 2063

In this paper AFRA Director, Laurel Oettle provides a perspective from South Africa on what the impacts of COVID-19 and the lockdown that accompanied have exposed about our food system. This includes the contribution of small-scale (or family) farmers, how rapidly hunger can rise, and what could be changed to bring citizens back from the margins into the heart of a more inclusive, democratised, and recalibrated food system.

The paper was presented at the Africa Land Forum 2020 held in September. Can a crisis allow us to recalibrate?


Photo Narrative: Women and Time Poverty

Women farm dwellers are heavily engaged in domestic chores including collecting water and firewood, processing and preparing food, travelling
and care-giving. This domestic workload often leads to “time poverty” which is the main reason why women are marginalised in farm economies and why young women migrate to urban areas in search for a better life. It restricts their opportunities to education, farming, off-farm employment and development processes and limits the income that they can bring in and have control over at home. These factors undermine women’s participation in decision making at home and in the community and perpetuate the inequitable balance of workloads between men and women.

Photo Narrative: Women and Time Poverty 

#Commonwealth #cfgrants

Women’s grassroots collective organising, mobilising and advocacy

This case study seeks to illustrate that women – especially poor, farm dweller women – are invisible, often marginalised, and their voices are missing in land discussions. Furthermore, it documents the establishment of Qina Mbokodo, a group of women living on farms in the uMgungundlovu District, and how they are strengthening the voice of women farm dwellers.

Case study: Women’s grassroots collective organising, mobilising and advocacy

#Commonwealth #cfgrants

South Africa: Generations of Farm Dwellers Face Eviction

Residents of a farm in Mpumalanga say they endure unbearable working conditions and routine abuse from the farmer, despite having lived on the land for decades.

A farm in ward 15 of the Msukaligwa Local Municipality in Mpumalanga stretches for thousands of hectares. The farmer has diverse interests, but specialises in forestry, mielies, hay and livestock.

His family has been on the farm for decades and employs many of the descendants of the original black landowners. Some are now speaking out, saying the farmer has enforced harsh working conditions and routinely threatens to evict them.

Most of those who live on the farm depend on the farmer for employment. They used to live on bigger plots on the farm, where they were able to keep livestock and undertake small-scale farming. But in 2013, the farmer began harassing those who no longer worked for him, saying that only registered employees were allowed to live on the farm, according to the farm dwellers.

He gave them an ultimatum. If they wanted to remain employed, they had to relocate to a smaller area on the farm closer to the main road. The farmer promised to provide water and electricity. But the more confined area meant the farm dwellers would no longer be able to keep livestock.

It took the farmer about five years after most of the dwellers had relocated to install electricity. They say he charges them exorbitant amounts, some pay R150 for 40 units of electricity. Part of what they pay is an instalment of R50 a month for a meter, an arrangement to which the workers did not consent. For some – like Peter Mthokozisi Sibanyoni, 27, who has been working as a gardener for the past seven years – a quarter of their R2 000 salary goes to electricity, which they are only allowed to buy on a Thursday.

The farmer charges the dwellers for losing odd items on the farm, too. He decides what the value of the missing item is and then adds this amount to the electricity tariff or deducts it from their wages. In one instance, when a microwave went missing, he informed the community that he was going to deduct it from their salaries. However, it was later discovered that the microwave had been thrown in a dustbin after it was assumed to no longer work. He subsequently changed his mind.

Forced to withstand difficult labour conditions

Farm dwellers who work as drivers for a freight company in which the farmer has a stake say they are forced to endure exploitative working conditions because they don’t want to leave their ancestral land.

One of the drivers, Jacobs Mkhize*, says the farmer once sat them down for an entire day at work to explain how he wants things to be done on the farm. “[Even] today he was telling us that whoever no longer works for him should bear in mind that they don’t have a place to stay.”

Mkhize has been a driver for more than a decade. He and his colleagues are not registered in the bargaining council, he says, and are not provided with a number of benefits to which they are entitled, such as overtime pay and a food allowance.

“We are in a difficult situation. If he asks me to leave the farm, I will ask him to dig all the graves of my ancestors because I can’t leave them here. I want my offspring to know their forefathers. All I want is peace and freedom.”

Truck rolled over his knee

Vusi Mathebula, 54, is a father of eight. He says he can’t recall the exact year he started working for the farmer’s family. “I started working for his father. I was in construction where we were building houses, including the one that he resides in,” he says.

Around 2011, he was injured at work, when they were tasked with burning firebreaks near the forests. “The firefighter truck reversed and rolled over my left knee,” he said. He was sent to Piet Retief Hospital. The fracture was severe and his knee split apart. The doctors recommended that his leg be amputated.

When his condition worsened, the farmer sent him to a hospital in Pretoria. While there, he discovered that his medical file claimed that he wasn’t at work when he got injured. It said he had asked for a lift from the firefighters’ truck. “I was shocked to discover this,” Mathebula says.

He suspects that the farmer misconstrued the facts to escape paying what is due to him. It took Mathebula two years to recover. “While I was recovering, he only paid me R300 for a couple of months and then stopped. When I left his company, I was empty-handed, without any benefits. The farmer said he’d call me for us to talk, even to date, nothing. It’s been almost over 10 years since I was injured,” he says.

“If I wasn’t financially supported by my wife, I would have died out of hunger. The farmer said I must come back to work while walking on crutches. I realised that he was disrespecting me,” says Mathebula. “This saddens me a lot because he’s never bothered to pay out what is due to me. Even now, I am working in the forests and the leg gets terribly sore.”

On the verge of eviction

The farmer has now told all those who no longer work for him to leave the farm, without following legal procedures or involving the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation.

Janenkemba Masilela, 46, is a father of four. He started working for the farmer in 1993. He grew up on the farm, as did his parents. But in 2012, “the farmer just said the job is finished without any explanation”. All he received were a few months of Unemployment Insurance Fund payouts.

Masilela says the farmer ended his employment because he was one of the few workers who was not scared to speak up about wrongdoings when the farmer held community meetings. “You do get fired for speaking out the truth, especially when you criticise him. I was sold out by the residents here. When the farmer gets angry for asking the truth, the locals would say I am a warmonger,” he says.

The farmer has told Masilela to leave the farm. “I am devastated and heartbroken because of this treatment. I really did not want to leave this farm as I grew up here.”

Unaware of their rights

The Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 provides protection for farm dwellers in cases where a farmer might want to deny residency, according to Nokuthula Mthimunye, a media officer for land rights advocacy organisation the Association for Rural Advancement.

“What we’ve seen [is that] people in farms are not empowered enough and don’t know the rights they have; they would not use the legal way. In most cases people have been evicted illegally,” says Mthimunye. “Even with an eviction, you are supposed to be taken somewhere, the court will determine the value of the house, your livestock, and will consider your previous rights in order to determine the new rights you are supposed to get.”

She adds that the farmer is in the wrong by evicting the dwellers without fairly compensating them, providing alternative accommodation or organising resettlement through the human settlements department.

Stha Yeni, a doctoral candidate at the University of Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, agrees with Mthimunye. “There are a lot of abuses [on farms] and human rights violations are a norm because they are remote … Sometimes the farm owners act like the people are property.”

Weak implementation of laws

Yeni continues: “Whenever the government puts in place legislation that seeks to address this racial history of discrimination, the response by the commercial farmer is to evict people. These evictions are illegal and don’t follow court procedures and take advantage that people are vulnerable and aren’t literate. While there are so many evictions that have gone through without court orders, not a single farm owner has been arrested. This shows you that when it comes to implementation of these laws, you see who the winners and losers are.”

When prompted after no response for a week, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said, “Let me check with these guys from the media if they got the response, as they were supposed to get a response.” He has not answered subsequent calls or responded to text messages.

‘This land belongs to us’

Although some have relented and agreed to relocate to the smaller area, other farm dwellers remain defiant. Ephraim Muggibelo Simelane, 59, is one of them. “I have been working for the family for about 40 years,” Simelane says. Despite giving more than half his life to the farm, he fell ill once and his contract was terminated.

The farmer has told Simelane to leave the farm. “I told him that I am not leaving, that is not going to happen, not now and not ever. Personally, I don’t see the reason why I should leave the farm. He has to do whatever that he wants,” he says.

Simelane says the farmer has complained about the number of goats he keeps. “For me to be able to keep livestock helps me a lot and it is my source of survival. People like me who have worked for this farmer for decades, we should be very far in life. But look at my life now, there is nothing to show for it.”

Phumaphi Elliot Thabethe, 71, is one of the oldest residents on the farm. He, too, remains defiant. His forefathers settled on the land long before it was incorporated into the current farm. Thabethe says that in the early days, the current owner’s great-grandparents would lend the farm dwellers their oxen to cultivate the land.

“There were no forests. It was plain land when we came here,” he says. “His father used our assets to farm, he exploited us. His great-grandparents found us here. This land belongs to us.”

Thabethe says that over time the family began pointing to vast amounts of land, saying it was theirs. As a result, they assumed ownership during the apartheid era, dispossessing Africans of their land. “He keeps saying that his forefather bought the land, but from who? Did they pay for the land to the government or us, the people they found here? They stole this land from us,” he says. “Freedom in this farm is non-existent. If he wants me to leave, himself, too, must go.”

Thabethe says they tried to lodge a land claim many years ago with the then department of rural development and land reform. But nothing has materialised.

Water in a pandemic

Msukaligwa ward 15 councillor Thenjiwe Motha has told New Frame about some of the challenges she faces to provide services on farms. “Issues of farm dwellers are most traumatising, especially when you are a councillor that visits your areas,” she says.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Motha received a number of water tanks from the local government. She sought permission from the farmer to install one of the tanks there so that the farm dwellers would have enough water, as the borehole water becomes dirty when the tap is overused. And it is often overused, because more than 20 families depend on it.

According to Motha, the farmer told her: “Councillor, listen, the land is mine and I am the one that pays for it. Those people are mine. If they have issues regarding services, I have a committee. I don’t want the Jojo [water tank] because it would bring crime. As a matter of fact, I want nothing that comes from government.”

Describing her understanding of the relationship between the farmer and the farm dwellers, Motha says: “It is a mess that I have never seen. When you listen to him, you’d think he’s kind, but he is a vicious snake. The dwellers struggle a lot and they reside in an apartheid prison.”

Numerous attempts were made to contact the farmer for an interview about the living conditions of the farm dwellers. He said, “I am not interested in talking to journalists because I’ve done that before and it came out very skewed and totally not true.”

A week later, he was offered an opportunity to respond to the farm dwellers’ version of the story, in writing. He did not respond.

Article originally published in New Frame 

The Land Claims Court approves implementation plan for the settlement of outstanding Labour Tenants Land Claims

This morning, the Land Claims Court approved the implementation plan prepared by the SPECIAL MASTER FOR LABOUR TENANTS for the resolution of outstanding labour tenants land claims. In his judgment Judge Meer said: “I am happy to approve the plan so that the work can begin.”

The Land Claims Court ordered in 2016 that the Special Master collaborate with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (Department) to develop and submit to court by 31 March 2020 an Implementation Plan setting out:

  • “The total number of claims lodged to date, and the number which have not yet been processed and finalised;
  • An assessment of the skill pool and other infrastructure required for processing labour tenant claims, and to what extent such skill pool and infrastructure is available within the Department;
  • Targets, on a year to year basis, for the resolution of pending labour tenant claims, either by agreement or by referring the claim to the Court;
  • A determination of the budget necessary during each financial year for carrying out the Implementation, including both the Department’s operating costs for processing claims and the amounts required to fund awards made pursuant to applications in terms of section 16 of the Act;
  • Plans for co-ordination with the Court to ensure the rapid adjudication or arbitration of unresolved claims referred to the Court in terms of section 18 (7) read with section 19 to 25 of the Act; and
  • Any other matters which the special master may consider relevant.”

Labour Tenants have been waiting far too long to have their claims to land settled, and now there is finally a plan for their rights to be realised. This comes after a protracted court battle that started in 2013 when the late Bhekindlela Mwelase and three other labour tenant claimants, who live on the Hilton College Estate, in the Natal Midlands, approached AFRA to provide support in getting their claim to land ownership settled. As similar labour tenant claimants continued to report their matters to AFRA, the decision was taken to bring a Class Action lawsuit to ensure that all labour tenant claimants in South Africa would be resolved. AFRA, working with the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), therefore went to the Land Claims Court in 2013 to seek systemic relief for the many years of disregard and neglect of labour tenants’ claims by the Department.

AFRA and labour tenants are happy that the Special Master and the Department were able to work collaboratively in producing the labour tenant implementation plan as the court ordered, and that the Department has made available resources, including a budget for the acquisition of land, for labour tenant applications. AFRA will continue to monitor the effective implementation of the plan, and ensure that the Constitutional rights of labour tenants are realised.

Court order:



Issued by the Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA).


For more information, please contact

AFRA Programmes Manager: Siyabonga Sithole – 064 957 7767

AFRA Communications: Nokuthula Mthimunye – 076 754 7110


Media Statement: Land Claims Court to consider Implementation Plan for the settlement of Labour Tenants Land Claims on Thursday, 03 September 2020


This Thursday, 3 September, in a virtual hearing the Land Claims Court will consider an implementation plan prepared by the SPECIAL MASTER OF LABOUR TENANTS in collaboration with the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (the Department) to supervise, monitor and oversee the functions of the Department in the resolution of outstanding labour tenants land claims.

In August 2019 the Constitutional Court confirmed an order that had earlier been made by the Land Claims Court, which declared that the Department’s failure to process labour tenant applications is inconsistent with the Constitution. The court ordered that a Special Master for Labour Tenants be appointed, and defined an appointment process. It ordered the Special Master to prepare, in collaboration with the Department, and submit to court by 31 March 2020, an implementation plan for the settlement of the labour tenant applications by the Department, under the supervision of the Special Master. The court would thereafter consider any objections to the plan, and approve it with or without amendments.

Consequent to the order of the Constitutional Court, the Land Claims Court appointed Professor Richard Levin as the Special Master of Labour Tenants for a period of five years. He assumed his duties on 2 January 2020. The implementation plan was submitted to the Land Claims Court for the settlement of labour tenant applications on 29 May 2020, after being delayed by the declaration of the national state of disaster and regulations thereto.

A hearing to consider the implementation plan was held on 19 June 2020, and the Land Claims Court ordered that a new implementation plan be developed by the Special Master in collaboration with the Department. The revised plan was delivered by 31 July 2020 to the Department and AFRA (the applicant), who filed the report with their inputs in August.

AFRA and labour tenant claimants across South Africa anticipate with excitement that the Land Claims Court will approve the plan tomorrow, resulting in a long awaited and hard fought for effective implementation plan that will finally foster the restoration of land and dignity to thousands of families living on farms across the country.


For more information, please contact

AFRA Programmes Manager: Siyabonga Sithole – 064 957 7767

AFRA Communications: Nokuthula Mthimunye – 076 754 7110



Put women at the centre

THE lockdown has had shocking consequences for the poor. Though important to contain the spread of the Covid-19, it has significantly reduced women’s economic activities, increasing poverty and food insecurity.

According to the United Nations report on the impact of Covid-19 on women, the majority of women’s employment is in the informal economy. To earn a living these women often depend on public spaces and social interaction which were restricted to contain the spread of the pandemic.

This was the case for most small-scale farmers, who were stuck with a surplus of fresh produce because there was no market for them to sell their products. On the other hand, the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey report showed that almost half of the country’s population went hungry in April, with 47% of households running out of food as a result of job losses. Women, especially mothers, are at the forefront of the hunger crisis, with many going without so their children can eat.

The Solidarity Fund rolled out food parcels to 250 000 families but many families have been unable to access these food parcels.

As the government grapples with feeding a growing number of desperately hungry people, there have been many remarkable community efforts, most led by women who have been holding their communities together for years.

In uMgungundlovu, a group of women from farms, Qina Mbokodo, partnered with the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra), a land-rights advocacy organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, as part of a food systems research and small farmer support intervention initiated by the Land Network National Engagement Strategy of SA. This intervention sought to map out small-scale farmers, local bakkie traders and pupil transporters, and households in need of food in the uMgungundlovu District. Based on the research, the intervention then set out to buy food from small-scale farmers in the district and to pay local transporters to convey the food to households in urgent need. According to Qina Mbokodo, this intervention supported them, as well as households in need. The research that was undertaken was then used to map the local food system so as to provide support in the longer term. This will include supporting small farmers to gain access to government disaster relief funding and to purchase farming inputs. Although small, the project has had a measurable impact and provides a foundation for this work to expand. A total of 30 small-scale farmers benefited through the purchase of their produce, and through the receipt of farming inputs, including seedlings, layer hens and feed, more than 200 households benefited through food parcels, which in addition to the fresh produce procured by the project, included goods such as rice, maize meal, tea and sugar. The transporters also benefited through securing income that was otherwise lost.

While there are many initiatives across the country, it is depressing that there is no functioning national system to end hunger. However, what we are learning about these initiatives is that we need to produce food locally to meet local needs, and that community and household food gardens build food security in both the immediate and longer term, rather than the provision of physical food items which represent a shortterm solution only.

Since the outbreak, gender-based violence (GBV), particularly domestic violence, has intensified. Economic stress has also put women at a greater risk and psychological support was provided by Afra to Qina women during the lockdown.

Access to health and social services was more difficult in the first stages of the lockdown, which meant that women were trapped in their homes with abusive partners. People defaulted on their chronic medication and it was difficult for women to access reproductive health services. The Solidarity Fund approved R17 million for GBV support services, however, much more needs to be done to care for survivors and change the social norms that allow for GBV.

Psychological support is also important at this time and the public health service must provide better mental health care. Covid-19 response plans, including managing resources and gender impacts, must include women at the heart of them. Women have always been the backbone of our families and putting them at the centre will drive more sustainable development outcomes for all.

Published in The Witness on 25 Aug 2020

Written by Nokuthula Mthimunye, AFRA


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.

Court Order:


  • The Witness
  • 21 Aug 2020

‘Counting in’ Farm Dwellers: Using Record-Keeping to Realise the Rights of People Living on Commercial Farms

Farm dwellers – that is, people who live on commercial farms owned by someone other than themselves – are a heterogeneous social group whose socio-economic rights, including those to land, continue to be violated and neglected. Little progress has been made in realising the constitutional rights farm dwellers have to housing, water, sanitation and security of tenure. A key reason for this is that farm dwellers are not ‘legible’ to the state: there is no data available that enables the state to plan and implement programmes targeting them.

To address this, the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO, implemented a pilot project in 2018 to record the rights of 850 farm dweller households in the Umgungundlovu District in KwaZulu-Natal province. Each household was issued a record with a GPS location, property description, household members, and land and service rights. This ‘put farm dwellers on the map’, allowing them to be ‘counted in’. It facilitated progress on a farm dweller programme to address their legal rights and inclusion in the district IDP.

The pilot shows the importance of basic geo-referenced records with demographic data in realising a range of socio-economic rights for people who live in off-register contexts, such as commercial farms and urban shack settlements. It also points to a possible role for civil society organisations in spaces where state authority has little traction.

Click link to read Feature on page 15 – 20