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

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

work pic

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)


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.”


Government cocks a snook at the courts over labour tenant

By Donna Hornby

April 6, 2013

South Africans disagree sharply about who should own the land. They disagree too about who should be the country’s future farmers and food providers. But few South Africans would disagree that our future as a peaceful, if not prosperous, country depends on respect for the judiciary and the Courts. And yet the sorry case of four labour tenants and an NGO indicates a government happy to push judicial parameters to the extreme in order to avoid implementing the law.

The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 was passed in 1996 to give effect to a clause in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution that a person who had insecure land tenure as a result of discriminatory laws is entitled to secure tenure or comparable redress. It made provision for labour tenants to apply to have the land they lived on and used transferred to them in ownership. By the cut-off date of March 31, 2001, about 19,000 labour tenants had applied for land ownership. But, 14 years later, on March 31, 2015, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had not only failed to process many of these claims, it had, true to form, ignored yet another order of the Land Claims Court. The story, which began in 2011 when four claimants who live on the Hilton College Estate approached the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), a KwaZulu-Natal land NGO, for help to compel the Department to process their claim, constitutes a case of the most blatant disregard for the Courts and the law.

When the Hilton College claimants approached AFRA, AFRA realized that their plight was no different from that of thousands of other labour tenant claimants across the country, and decided to bring a class action against the Department on behalf of all labour tenants in the form of a structural interdict. To this end, it approached the Land Claims Court in 2013 to compel the Department to explain how it intended to process the claims. The Department failed to respond within the time set by the court rules, and applied for an extension, which it subsequently failed to comply with. AFRA and the Hilton College claimants, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), then advised the Department to explain this failure to adhere to the time frames. Again the Department failed to comply and the matter was set down for the unopposed roll in November 2013.

A week before the court date, the Department filed its affidavit explaining why it had been late and applied at the same time for condonation. AFRA and the claimants opposed the condonation and the Court ordered the Department to respond to the objection by a certain date, failing which the Director-General would have to explain why he should not be held in contempt of Court. Once again, the Department failed to comply, and instead wrote a letter to say it would file its response a month later. Again AFRA and the claimants objected, and asked that the Department comply. Again it failed, and the matter was again set down for hearing. A week before the hearing about the condonation, the Department filed its response. In an attempt to bring the focus back to the central concern, namely the Department’s failure to implement labour tenant land claims, AFRA and the claimants agreed to drop the condonation case. A court date for September, 2014, was thus secured to hear the case.

Prior to the hearing, a number of high-ranking Departmental officials contacted AFRA to settle the matter of the Hilton College claimants out of court. At various meetings, the officials agreed to provide AFRA with a list of claimants, the status of the claims and an action plan on how it intended to process the claims. The information was never provided, and AFRA and the claimants decided the only possible remedy would be once again to secure the help of the Court.

On 19 September, 2014, the application was heard in the Land Claims Court in Randburg, and the Department agreed that AFRA and the claimants’ request for information on how labour tenant claims would be processed should be made an order of the court. The Department agreed to provide the information by 31 March, 2015. That was last Tuesday, exactly 14 years after the closing date for the lodging of land claims in terms of the Act. The Department failed again to provide the information. Again, the LRC, on behalf of AFRA and the claimants, has issued a notice requesting the information or an explanation why the Department should not again be held in contempt of court.

For AFRA, and the 19,000 labour tenants waiting for resolution of their land claims, the wait continues. But there are other costs, perhaps more important than the land claims of labour tenants: if the Department, as an arm of Government, can consistently and systematically disregard the rules and orders of a Court that has the same status as a High Court, how can ordinary South Africans be certain that their Constitutional rights will be protected if government chooses to disregard them?

A New Director for AFRA

26th August 2015

Our out-going Acting Director, Mike Cowling, welcomed our new Director, Laurel Oettle, to AFRA last week. We are all excited about the new energy, direction and focus at AFRA, and grateful to Mike for successfully steering the AFRA team through a challenging few years.

Mike Cowling & Laurel Oettle_AFRA

A Struggle In Vain

Zabalaza Mshengu

By Donna Hornby

3 April, 2015

His name means Struggle, and despite turning 101 in January, Zabalaza Mshengu is still struggling to get government to process his legal claim to the land where he hopes to live out the time he has left.

From his derelict home on a commercial farm near Ashburton, Mshengu points across the N3, shaking with emotion at his memory of a precarious life. “This all used to be one farm before the highway came. My mother and father worked there for no wages, and when I was old enough I also worked on that farm. In return, the farmer gave us land to graze our cattle and grow our crops. My father’s grave is there – I don’t know if that owner even knows it is there.”

Mshengu had reason to hope in 1996 when a new law promised to secure his rights to the land he had grown up on. The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act derives from the Constitution, which guarantees tenure to people deprived of it in terms of racially discriminatory laws. The act addressed the plight of labour tenants who, like Mshengu, had clung to land and the remnants of independent farming by working for land owners 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 fathers had lived on and used. By the closing date for the lodging of claims in March 2001, about 19,000 labour tenants had applied for land ownership. Mshengu was one of them.

But 14 years later, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has once again failed to comply with a Land Claims Court order that it explain how it will resolve these land claims. The application was brought in July 2013 on behalf of all labour tenant claimants by the Legal Resources Centre acting for the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) and four labour tenants who reside on land belonging to Hilton College. The Department has, on at least five occasions, either failed to respond to Court orders or has submitted affidavits late. A report on the case by AFRA’s director, Mike Cowling, a former professor of law, states: “The bottom line is that the Department has comprehensively and systematically failed to carry out its basic mandate in respect of labour tenant applications.”

Cowling’s conclusion was once again confirmed last week when the Department failed to provide the information the Court required. Once again, the Department failed to show the courtesy of informing the Court or the applicants that it was unable to comply with its orders. And once again, the applicants’ lawyers have had to request that either the information is provided or that the Department is found to be in contempt of Court. It has until Friday to respond.

Mshengu, understating his exhausted patience, says simply: “Land affairs is taking far too long to settle my claim.”