Labour Tenants Rising Strong

by Laurel Oettle

As we watched and recorded over 90 Labour Tenants and supporters march to the Land Claims Court in Randburg, Johannesburg, on Friday 29th January, I found myself awash in a whirl of emotions. Hope, elation and anxiety all swirled along with the familiar songs and chants, memories of struggles past of which I had only read, the loud blaring of the police sirens, and the sun already high and holding the promise of the heat of the long day ahead.

As an advocacy-focused land rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) works to empower communities to understand and be able to express and realise their rights, and to voice their stories directly. There remain, however, spaces within which we inevitably find ourselves writing and speaking on their behalf, particularly when it comes to complex legal arguments and Court processes.

It was therefore especially significant to have as many Labour Tenants as we could afford to mobilise come to the Court itself on this day, despite the great distances, high costs, and the need for them to travel through the night without any sleep in order to attend.

Sakhe Mchunu, from the Ravensworth Community in uMshwathi, KwaZulu Natal, comes from a Labour Tenant community that has worked with AFRA at various times over the last two decades as they have searched for solutions to a wide array of challenges. He has attended countless meetings with landowners, Government Departments and AFRA itself to try and negotiate reasonable settlement options, and while he has shared with me his frustrations at the many years of what has sometimes felt like hopeless struggle, he has yet to give up. Speaking to the media outside the Court on Friday he expressed his wish: “Being as we are here, we hope that the Court can assist us to pressurise the Government to bring back the land to the farm dwellers.”

His words express the hopes of around 19,000 Labour Tenant claimants across the country, who have been waiting since 2001 – when the period for submissions under the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act ended – for the Government to process their claims to the land which they, their parents and grandparents lived on and used.

We have written a great deal about the history of the case that has dragged on for a number of years, and you can read more of that history, and the background to the case below:

101 Year Old ‘Struggle’ to Find Restitution

Farm dwellers demand Land Claims Court act against “Contemptuous Minister”

We had hoped to leave the Courtroom on Friday having set legal precedent by persuading Judge Mokotedi Mpshe of the importance and benefits of ordering the appointment of a ‘Special Master’, who would in essence play an independent monitoring role, and be able to supervise the work of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to a much greater extent than the Court has the expertise or capacity to do.

What we left with instead was the reassurance that Judge Mpshe recognises and acknowledged the importance of this case for successful land reform in South Africa, and for realizing the Constitutional rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Judge Mokotedi Mpshe
Advocate Michael Bishop (front) and Judge Mokotedi Mpshe (back) exchanging smiles. Photo: Tom Draper

Anyone working in or observing the land sector knows that progress is often painfully slow and frustrating, and while it was disheartening to hear Judge Mpshe state that we should harbour no illusions that Labour Tenant claims will all be processed before 2020, after 15 years of waiting and three years of negotiation, broken promises and legal tussling, there is certainly still much to be hopeful about.

We will return to the Land Claims Court on the 18th March 2016 with the opportunity to present our legal arguments in greater detail, and we remain firm in our belief that whether or not the Court accepts the importance of appointing a Special Master, they will not continue to tolerate the delays of the late and incomplete reports submitted by the Department as they fall further and further behind on their own implementation plan, and will provide some form of relief to the claimants.

Another hugely positive outcome from the day was the widespread support that AFRA and the Labour Tenants we represent experienced on Friday. From excellent national media coverage ranging from newspapers, magazines, and radio to live television, to passers-by asking what we were protesting about and offering words of encouragement, the support was palpable and welcomed.

We were also hugely appreciative of the numerous social movements and NGOs from across the country who travelled to be with us on Friday, and offered words of encouragement to the Labour Tenants who were there.

From the Tshintsha Amakhaya civil society alliance for land and food justice in South Africa we were joined by fellow members the Southern Cape Land Committee, the Surplus People’s Project, the Nkuzi Development Association, the Women On Farm Project and our greatly-valued partners in the legal case itself, the Legal Resources Centre.

We furthermore had representatives from the Landless People’s Movement, the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council and the Rural Women’s Assembly with us throughout the day.

TA 29 Jan 2016

Aluta Continua!’ we repeat to ourselves and each other, the mantra of many struggles; and the struggle does indeed continue, but not without hope. Victory may not come swiftly, or in the forms we necessarily imagine, but with South Africa’s powerful Constitution on our side, we can continue to say with confidence, ‘A vitória é certa‘- victory is certain.

Labour tenancy claims bring deep history into the present

Published in the Daily Maverick on the 20th January 2016. See the published article here.

Judge Mokotedi Mpshe will be asked next week to appoint a “Special Master” to see that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and Minister Gugile Nkwinti do their jobs. YVES VANDERHAEGHEN reports on a drawn-out case involving labour tenants, bureaucratic neglect and delinquency.

 

Mwelase

Photo: Bhekindlela Mwelase, one of the labour tenants who has taken the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to court to force it to comply with the Labour Tenants Act. (Photo: Tom Draper)

THE past is persistent, its debris strewn across the landscape and through wrecked lives. Thabiso Mbhense spends his hours trying to put things in order, and lives back together. An attorney with the Legal Resources Centre, he is working on 30-odd cases, some big, some small, not all of them making headlines.

The law has always been an obvious tool to fix things, he says. “I was born in Edendale, you know …” he says by way of explanation, letting the ghosts of history and geography fill the ellipsis: Greater Edendale, where Harry Gwala taught, where Moses Mabhida is buried, where Selby Msimang was born, where Nelson Mandela gave his last public speech, and where the Seven Days War between Inkatha and the ANC killed scores of people and drove thousands out of their homes. But the peace that has followed the war has not brought an end to the struggle. Mbhense lists some of the cases he’s fighting.

Down on the Wild Coast, the Xolobeni community is pitted against both an Australian mining company that wants to mine titanium, and traditional leaders they feel have sold them out. The proposed open-cast mine, they say, will drive them off their fields, destroy the graves of ancestors and ruin their health. There has already been blood, and the fight ahead is likely to be long and vicious.

In Eden Park in Johannesburg, a snarl-up of bureaucracy and corruption that cheated nearly 1000 people out of RDP houses they were entitled to, is nearly resolved. That story goes back to 1996, when prospective homeowners put their names on an allocated houses’ list in an RDP project in Ekurhuleni. More than a decade later, in 2010, they realised that even though they were first in line, houses were being given to people who had applied much later, and so they decided to take the law into their own hands and moved in regardless. Threatened with eviction by the municipality, with LRC’s help they went to court and won, eventually. What came out in the process, as Mbhense politely puts, is that provincial and municipal housing lists “weren’t talking to each other” and applications “went missing”, and so legitimate claims and hopes became hostage to fraud and incompetence. All that remains to do now, 20 years on, is for the owners to have their houses put in their names.

Photo: Thabiso Mbhense, the Legal Resources Centre lawyer who is doing battle for labour tenants and AFRA against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. (Photo: Tom Draper)

At Msiza, in Mpumalanga, another of Mbhense’s cases is winding down successfully. This story goes back to 1999, when a group of labour tenants laid a claim, under the Labour Tenants Act, to land they had historically lived on. Initial delays were caused by the, then, Department of Land Affairs, which had to be taken to court to act on the claim, and then came more years of delays and disputes over pay-outs between the farmer who owned the land and the department. Now, 17 years on, agreement has been reached and the final paperwork is being dealt with.

Mbhense’s immediate pre-occupation is with a case much closer to home. He refers to it as the Mwelase case. Polite society is more likely to know it as the Hilton College case, a reference to the private school in the the Midlands favoured by elites, then as now, and who can afford the annual fees of R235,960. Either way, the story remains the same.

It’s a labour tenant claim. It goes back to 2001, the cut-off date for labour tenants to stake their claim to land they had lived on in exchange for their labour. Of course it goes back much further than that, to an era when agriculture was still done by farmers, when land was cheaper than labour and farmers, especially those on stingy land, needed flexible ways to get the work done without having to pay cash, which was in short supply.

Technically, there has been no such thing as labour tenancy for a long time. Partly it withered because of the changing needs of agriculture and capital, which in South Africa’s history meant white capital. The 1913 Native Land Act took its toll, as did the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act. Neither managed to finish it off, and so by the 1950s and 60s, as land became more valuable than labour made redundant by modernisation, labour tenants were evicted on a large scale, their numbers contributing to the four million people cleared from their land under apartheid, and nearly a million more since. While some argue that labour tenancy is dead, others argue that it persists, although it has been adapted to changing times, and no longer goes by the same name. However, the Constitution, given force by the 1996 Labour Tenants Act, sought to give security of tenure to these isolated families stranded on land owned by others, abandoned by government policies that have in the meantime moved on from the Freedom Charter ideals of 1994, and neglected by what used to be a department formed to look after them.

The Mwelase case is given its name by Bhekindlela Mwelase, the first applicant. The other applicants are Jabu Mwelase, Mndeni Sikhakane, Bazibile Mngoma, and the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), on whose behalf the LRC is acting. The respondents are formidable. They appear on the court papers as the Director-General for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Hiltonian Society, which owns Hilton College. It, too, goes far back in history, founded in 1872 on what was originally a Voortrekker farm called “Ongegund”, the Afrikaans word meaning “begrudged”. Bhekindlela Mwelase, who is now 85, has been part of most of that history since he was born on the Hilton College Estate, where his parents and grandparents lived.

It is on that history that he based his labour tenant claim in 2001. The school opposed it, as did most land owners at the time. Fast-forward to 2012. By this stage, the claim had still not been settled. In between, the Department had lost the records of the claim. The dispute had now extended from the school to the Department, which was taken to court to explain why it had not implemented the act, as it was required to do, and referred the claims to the Land Claims Court for a ruling on whether the claimants were indeed Labour Tenants and if so, for the department to grant them their land or negotiate an alternative. Not only had the department not done so in this particular case, but also in thousands of others. The numbers differ, with the department referring to “more than 10,000” in one replying affidavit, and 19,000 in another, although the figure of 22,000 has also been cited.

The Mwelase case has therefore been a class-action case, although the term isn’t used in South African law, and so what the court was asked to rule, and did so, was that the Department provide a list of claims, their status, as well as its plans to settle the thousands of outstanding claims. By last year, in spite of a court order and a series of broken promises recorded in piles of court papers, this had not happened, and so, on January 29, it’s back to the Land Claims Court in Randburg to get the Department to do as it had been ordered. A land claim which foundered on bureaucratic dysfunction (the Department admits to losing claims, but pleads staffing capacity and budget constraints) has now morphed into trying to address delinquency in adhering to court orders.

Mbhense doesn’t believe there’s anything sinister in the Department’s inaction. “To be honest,” he says, “I think the Department is not running properly. It’s just chaos and paralysis.”

Even so, “now we are drawing a line”, says Mbhense. To force the issue, AFRA will be asking Judge Mokotedi Mpshe to appoint a “Special Master” to supervise the department in its implementation of the Labour Tenants Act. If this request is granted, it would be a precedent, and other government departments, such as the Department of Home Affairs, with a history of ignoring the courts, will take note.

And if that doesn’t work? Mbhense admits, “I’m worried. Even if we get the order, what if the Department says we don’t have records. The court can’t order the Department to reopen the process” of collecting claims. And is there a Plan B, or, given all that has already gone before, a Plan Z, if it comes to that?

“Then,” says Mbhense, “we’ll claim for constitutional damages”. Multiplied by about 20, 000 cases that the department is being asked to account for, that’s a lot of money. “It’s time. People have been waiting a long time,” says Mbhense.

Dr Yves Vanderhaeghen is an itinerant researcher.

Farm dwellers demand Land Claims Court act against “Contemptuous Minister”

Minister Gugile Nkwinti and the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform once again find themselves in hot water at the Land Claims Court with South Africa’s labour tenants.

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Mr. Sikhakhane is one of the Hilton residents who has been waiting for the government to act on their promises. He is 96 yeats old. Photo: Tom Draper

The long running legal battle between the Minister and the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a land rights NGO acting on behalf of labour tenant claimants, is set to escalate this month when the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) appears on behalf of AFRA and an estimated 19 000 labour tenants in the Land Claims Court in Randburg, Johannesburg on 29 January 2016.

A fifteen-year wait

Labour tenants are currently mobilising in preparation for a mass picket at the Court to voice their anger at the continued failure of the Minister and the Department to implement the court orders agreed before Judge Mokotedi Mpshe in September 2014. The anger and frustration amongst labour tenants has grown since 2001, which was the cut-off date for labour tenants to lodge their claimant status.

The fifteen year wait has thus far proved fruitless for some of our country’s most marginalised and vulnerable communities. AFRA will be joined in its protest action by representatives of labour tenants and rural communities from throughout South Africa.

Last year, labour tenants from rural areas converged on the Land Claims Court in support of the class action AFRA brought in 2013, seeking to compel the Department to expedite the many thousands of outstanding labour tenant land claims. A settlement was then reached with the Department which entailed the following

  • The parties agreeing that the Director-General for the Depart­ment shall, on or before the 31 March 2015, and at 3 monthly intervals thereafter, file a report with AFRA and the Court con­tain­ing the sta­tis­tics of the cur­rent sta­tus of labour ten­ant land appli­ca­tions,
  • The said progress indi­cat­ing the sta­tus of each indi­vid­ual labour ten­ant land claim, together with a plan for the fur­ther pro­cess­ing of all out­stand­ing labour claims.
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Mwelase is one of the Hilton claimants, alongside AFRA that will be taking the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to court on the 29th of January. Photo: Tom Draper

After missing its initial deadline in March 2015, the Department was ordered to file reports on 31 July, 30 October 2015 and 12 February 2016.  The July report failed to provide all the necessary information detailed in the court order and subsequently the Department completely missed the October deadline. To date, the Department has still not submitted this report.

Plight of 22 000 labour tenants

At the centre of the legal storm is the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, which was passed in 1996. The law derived directly from the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which guarantees secure tenure to people deprived of their rights in terms of past racially discriminatory laws.

The act addressed the plight of labour tenants who had clung to land and the remnants of independent farming by working for landowners without receiving wages despite attempts by successive apartheid laws to destroy this way of life.

It provided for labour tenants to claim ownership of the land they and their parents and grandparents had lived on and used. By the closing date for the lodging of claims in March 2001, about 22,000 labour tenants had applied for land ownership.

The Minister and his Department have “consistently failed to comply with the requirements of the law (Labour Tenants Act); moreover they have shown complete contempt for the law, labour tenants and the Court itself through the persistent refusal to comply with deadlines and directives given by the Court” said Laurel Oettle, AFRA’s Director.

She explained that “AFRA is convinced that the Department has comprehensively and systematically failed to carry out its basic mandate in respect of labour tenant applications by processing and finalising labour tenant claims for acquisition of land. It has also become abundantly clear during our interaction that the Department has failed to maintain accurate records which means that thousands of applications have been lost or cannot be traced.

The scale of this problem suggests something far more troubling than simple bureaucratic incompetence.”

Infographic

What the labour tenants expect of the Court

AFRA will be requesting the Land Claims Court to appoint a “special master” which will set legal precedent in South Africa as an extraordinary measure to oversee the implementation of the existing court order.

A growing movement of rural people are mobilizing in support of labour tenants in their struggle. The movement is convinced that a case of “Constitutional Damages” must also be brought against the Department for its flagrant violation of the rights of labour tenants.

The media is kindly invited to the picket at the Land Claims Court at 10 am, and to a press conference:

Time: 9 am

Date: 29th January 2016

Venue: Outside the Land Claims Court, Randburg Mall, Kent Avenue & Hill Street, Randburg

For information regarding the press conference and interviews please contact:

Tom Draper, AFRA Media and Communications Officer:

tom@afra.co.za  078 754 0700

Please follow us on social media:

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You can also use and search the hashtags:

#ministryofcontempt #ourlandnow #farmdwellers

101 Year Old ‘Struggle’ to Find Restitution

Zabalaza Mshengu is iconic of the plight of many thousands of labour tenants across South Africa. We have told his story before, and we will continue to do so until the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) fully implements the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, and upholds the rights of our citizens. A luta continua!

Tribute to the Legend: William Mnyandu (1933 – 2015)

Tribute to the Legend: William Mnyandu (1933 – 2015)

By: Ndabe Ziqubu

Mr. Mnyandu was a land rights activist who demonstrated his concerns about people’s rights in land while he was an induna at Ekuthuleni and beyond.

Mnyandu

He was concerned about the tenure conditions under which people lived, which proved to be very insecure, and prevailing problems relating to internal boundaries, ownership of plots, access to resources for people to develop themselves.

This drove him to approach the Department on behalf of the community and seek ways of addressing tenure related problems besetting Ekuthuleni community.

He was the architecture of the “Individual Ownership Documents (IODs)” that sought to address the challenges outlined above, which unfortunately, due to a number of reasons, could not be validated.

Realising that his ideas could not be practicalized through the government’s land reform approach, he relentlessly pursued his mission of the invention of documents that would carry the same weight and have the same legal status as the title deeds, but would not subject people to exorbitant amounts as the case is with the process of developing and issuing of a title deed.

This saw him leading a project on behalf of the Ekuthuleni community that involved different government departments exploring ways and means of turning his vision into reality.

His ideas, reflected in the work done at Ekuthuleni, fed into the process of drafting the currently defunct Communal Land Rights Act, which sought to transfer title to individual households within communal tenure systems.

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He featured in many platforms sharing his views and ideas with the view of influencing policy and legislation to work in favour of the marginalized, poor black people.

He fought against legal pluralism and for the rationalization of the legal system which gave rise to hybrid structures, the communal property institutions, in the form of traditional authority structures as custodians of customary land tenure under customary systems of tenure, and communal property associations or trusts constituted in terms of the current land reform legislations; and the inherent contestations of power and limited resources.

He was a proponent of equity and justice, both in terms of the application of the law as well as how government officials conduct themselves.

At the time of his passing away he demonstrated this through challenging the illegal restitution claims by ama-Khosi using the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act 15 of 2014.

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This resulted in an unfortunate incident of the burning down of his property at Ekuthuleni, which led to him contracting illness that led to his life deteriorating until he passed on.

He may be gone but his spirit will always be with us. His passing on is a loss not only to his family but to the black masses who still suffer the injustices and who subscribed to his views and ideas.

Our wish is for his struggle for just land reform laws and policies that talk to conditions prevailing on the ground, as well as equitable access to land for various land use needs, not to be in vain, that we continue from where he left off and ensure that his mission and vision is accomplished.

ALUTA CONTINUA!!!!!

Limpopo, a forgotten province

By Tom Draper

Community members from Newcastle and Dannhauser exhibited shock as we walked through homesteads in Baltimore, in Limpopo. One of the witnesses vowed never again to complain about the living conditions that he faces in his own province of KwaZulu-Natal.

These were scenes as AFRA visited community members in rural Limpopo. In the middle of November 2015 the Nkuzi Development Association, AFRA and their farm dweller community partners, all of whom are part of the Tshintsha Amakhaya alliance, met for a cluster meeting to address similar challenges that they were facing.

Each community member raised issues ranging from electricity, to schools and roads. Glenn Farred, AFRA’s Programmes Manager, guided both the KZN and Limpopo community members to narrow the broad issues they raised down into the three most significant and pressing issues: land, water and housing.

These three ares of need proved to be heavily interlinked to community members, each person seemingly having major challenges around at least one, and it became more and more apparent that the Limpopo farm dwellers faced all three challenges simultaneously.

One of the dwellings visited during the field trip had been waiting for months for the government to finish a borehole and water tank. They had been without water for three weeks.

A temporary settlement in Tolwe has been waiting for seven years for RDP houses. The houses were only now under construction, with 48 houses about to be built.

“Limpopo is definitely a forgotten province, Tolwe and Baltimore especially. It has been neglected. They have forgotten about the schools, healthcare. I don’t think the Councillor even thinks about this area,” said Henry Buys, a concerned community member and the secretary of the SACP.

Buys explained that the many of the land owners are still perpetuating an Apartheid ideology: “They have not moved on, many farmers are still living in the past. They do not value the workers, and when the workers stand up, they hire illegal immigrants from over the border. It’s not right and it’s not fair,” he explained emphatically.

The scenes took time to settle in for many of the KZN community members. However, by the next day the discussions were in full force. The communities established action plans to mobilise the issues they all felt so strongly about.

A WhatsApp group was set up by AFRA so that the Limpopo and KZN farm dwellers could communicate with each other regarding their challenges and successes. Both the KZN farm dwellers face an array of similar and different issues and as they move forward they hope to draw strength and experience from each other.

Farm Dwellers Advocacy Network Unites

When asked, during the second meeting of newly-formed Farm Dwellers Advocacy Network, to choose an animal to represent the struggle that farm dwellers face each day, a community leader replied, “uBhejane”: the rhino. The rhino was used to make the analogy that the people who used to have strength are threatened by poachers – the poachers represent those who infringe on their rights. Much like the rhino, farm dweller communities are often highly vulnerable, and feel that they lose their strength and unity when they are threatened.

Glenn Farred reflecting on issues that people have been facing recently. Photo: Tom Draper
Glenn Farred reflecting on issues that people have been facing recently. Photo: Tom Draper

The Farm Dwellers Advoacy Network gathered for the second time on the AFRA premises on Wednesday 11th November 2015 for a workshop, which included training on rights awareness. Leaders from various farming areas within the uMgungundlovu district assembled as AFRA aim to establish this network in order create a platform of communication where similar issues and means of resolving issues can be discussed.

Glenn Farred, the Programme Manager at AFRA, asked participants to report on pertinent issues that communities were facing. Richmond, Umgeni, Impendle and many other municipalities faced a variety of issues relating to service delivery. Lack of sufficient schooling, road infrastructure, poor electricity infrastructure, were a few of these challenges.

The members of the network where encouraged to try and align the legal framework they were being taught with the everyday challenges they faced. Photo: Laurel Oettle
The members of the network where encouraged to try and align the legal framework they were being taught with the everyday challenges they faced. Photo: Laurel Oettle

A primary concern were people reliant on social grants being unable to access them. A predominant theme was that many people still can’t get ID documents in order to collect their governmental grants. Grandmothers looking after a number of children faced problems in that the mothers are collecting child grants but have abandoned their children.
The workshop primarily focused on rights awareness and how they relate to each person and their communities in a more practical context. Siya Sithole, AFRA’s Lands Rights Advocate, explained the the legal system to attendees, and went on to discuss the notion of what a Class Action lawsuit is and how it can be used.

Each community member left with a full stomach and full mind, as they were asked to contemplate what they had learnt as the Network moves forward into its next stages.

AFRA’s New Logo & Website: Thank You!

Today AFRA has launched their new logo and website, and we would like to express our deepest gratitude to those who helped make this possible: Matthew da Silva and Bridget Young.

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Matthew is a talented young graphic designer from Hillcrest, who volunteered his time to assist the AFRA team in designing a new logo to reflect their current focus areas. He patiently re-worked the logo as, with each staff discussion, we made small adjustments and added new ideas to his fantastic design until we felt it was the perfect representation of AFRA’s work.

South African born, raised and educated, Bridget Young is a Programme Manager working at the NGO Crisis in London, striving to end homelessness. Bridget made a donation in her personal capacity that paid the first year of the cost of having a premium website on WordPress.com.

We asked Matthew to share answer a few questions about himself, and the design of the logo.

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Where did you go to school? Westville Boys High School

What did you study and where? I studied Graphic communication and brand management at Inscape Design Group.

What’s your favourite thing about your job? Being a person with a creative mindset, I really enjoy the fact that my job allows me to harness this ability to create my own personal forms of beauty through different forms of media. It also allows me, in a way, to make the world a more visually appealing place.

What’s your favourite hobby? I enjoy photography, illustrating and drawing, occasionally. However I also do enjoy keeping fit at the gym or going for a run now and then, to clear my head and keep active.

Why did you decide to help with AFRA’s new logo? I admire AFRA’s purpose, and their vision, so I felt that if I could make a difference, through the use of my creative abilities, I would be more than happy to create a strong, bold, symbolic logo to represent AFRA, and strengthen their brand identity and what they stand for.

Thank you so much to Bridget and Matthew for your contributions, and your belief in the importance of the work that AFRA is undertaking.

Hilton land claimants finally get their day in court

17 SEP 2014, Mail & Guardian (read the article online here)

by KWANELE SOSIBO

After 13 years of government stalling, about 18 000 Hilton College Estate labour tenants will have their case heard in the Land Claims Court.

A class action suit by 18 000 labour tenants, which seeks to quicken the labour tenant claims process, will finally be heard on Thursday in the Land Claims Court in Johannesburg.

The primary applicants in this case – referred to as Mwelase & Afra (Association for Rural Advancement) and Others vs the Director General (Department of Land Reform and Rural Development)– occupy land on the Hilton College Estate in KwaZulu-Natal, which stretches from the school to the commercial farmland and all the way south to the Umngeni River. They lodged claims for acquisition of the land in 2000, a process that stagnated after initial negotiations.

The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 was designed to provide security of tenure to thousands of labour tenants spread across South Africa’s agricultural land. Section 16 of the Act empowered labour tenants to apply for acquisition of ownership of the land they were entitled to occupy as labour tenants.

The case has been plagued by delays, with the department of land reform and rural development failing to comply with most of the timelines and extensions granted by the court.

One of the claimants, 56-year-old Thanda Mwelase, said the estate had offered to relocate residents – initially about a hundred families – to Howick. “We prefer our own houses because they’re bigger than the ones we were offered,” said Mwelase. “Those houses [they built] are like RDP houses and don’t even have kitchens.”

He said pressure had been put on the remaining 30 families to vacate the land. “The school, Hilton Intermediate school, was closed because they considered it a non-viable school. There were children going there, we heard it was Hilton that decided it must close.”

‘White people’s land’
“In neighbouring farms, people have cowed to pressure to leave. We didn’t have reference numbers and they didn’t file our sections 16. We found out we needed reference numbers and certain stages of process were not adhered to. If we had meetings, the land reform guys would start at the school, have a long meeting and then come to us and say, ‘this is white people’s land, you have to leave’. Nobody would talk to us about our rights,” Mwelase said.

Siyabonga Sithole, a paralegal at Afra, one of the applicants, said: “When the window to lodge for land tenure rights opened, I don’t think the government foresaw how difficult it would be to process them on individual or per family basis. The process proposes that each family gets a piece of land per farm that they’re dwelling on.

“There might have been the pressure to adhere to Constitutional prescripts but there was no capacity to do so. There is also the issue of no political will, which is very problematic because under the Labour Tenant Act it does not mean that the owner has to leave the property, the people simply revert to the space that they had before 1994.

“But the processes are not necessarily easy to implement. Issuing section 16 and section 17 [which deal with applications of the tenants and the notification of the owners], all those processes involve the landowner; he must agree to recognise the status of the dwellers as labour tenants. If he disputes that, the process is further prolonged,” Sithole said.

Part of the Hilton Estate has been turned into a game farm, which has increased the pressure on them to move, according to the residents.

The department of rural development and land reform did not respond to written questions.

In court papers, the department cited a lack of budget for external professional services – professional valuers and land surveyors – and a shortage of staff that prohibits it from adequately performing its stately functions.

It said that “one of the problems identified with the filing system in the department is the fact that labour tenant files which have been transferred to other land reform programmes cannot readily be identified for statistical purposes. The reason for this relates to the fact that a central register was never compiled at the time, when the labour tenant claims were lodged, being the period between 1996 and 2001”.

Siyaphambili Emajuba Farm Dwellers Association (SEFA)

Training Workshop in Newcastle – Amajuba, 02 & 03 July 2015

By Siyabonga Sithole

Siya facilitating SEFASEFA Workshop

AFRA, through its ICCO-funded Farm Dweller Legal Support Project, plans and carries out training workshops in farm dweller communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) where rights-violations are prevalent. It is the view of AFRA that a right not known is as good as a non-existent right. Farm dwellers need to be capacitated to take control of their own struggle to protect their own rights. AFRA has built and maintained partnerships with community leaders and community based organisations across the KZN province in the quest to give those in the proverbial hole tools to dig themselves out. The youngest of the already mentioned partnerships being the AFRA chaired FARM FORUM; made up of municipal ward councillors in municipalities within the KZN midlands, a representative of CoGTA , FAWU and SEFA.

AFRA organised this training to equip SEFA members with the necessary information to effectively assist farm dwellers in the Amajuba area. 30 members of SEFA were invited to the 2-day workshop held at Majuba Lodge. This group was made up of 10 members from each of the following areas; Bothas Pass, Dannhauser & Utrecht.

The training was facilitated by AFRA’s Siyabonga Sithole and Nokuthula Mthimunye, who designed the programme to deal with specific issues that farm dwellers & workers in Amajuba are faced with. The facilitators adopted a train-the-trainer approach and invested as much time as possible on each item in the programme in the aim to achieve the necessary level of capacity for SEFA to be able to disseminate accurate and relevant  information to clients. The 2-day programme comprised of the following items:

  • The AFRA Labour Tenant Class Action
  • Taking Statements From Clients
  • Relevant Government Departments to Refer Cases to
  • Rights & Responsibilities of Occupiers and Land Owners
  • Agri-Villages
  • Organisational Internal Communication
  • Labour Relations Act
  • Mediation

The workshop was a success as participants showed good understanding of concepts and were actively involved throughout the training. During the last session of the workshop SEFA chairperson Mama Mthembu had the following to say, “It is inevitable that new programmes & projects will direct AFRA to focus on other areas of South Africa and spend less & less time in Amajuba. As much as this is the last thing that SEFA would ask for, we are nonetheless grateful and thankful for all the information that AFRA has passed on to us over the last decade or so. Today we are able to stand as informed and confident leaders of farm dweller communities thanks to invaluable efforts of AFRA representatives such as Thabo Manyathi, Ndabe Ziqubu, Isaac Sibeko, Philip Shabalala, Nonhlanzeko Mthembu, Nokuthula Mthimunye and Siyabonga Sithole.”

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