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Press Release: Court orders Spe­cial Mas­ter for labour ten­ant land claims

For Imme­di­ate Release: 09 Decem­ber 2016


Yes­ter­day, a his­toric judg­ment was handed down in the Land Claims Court in the pro­tracted legal bat­tle between labour ten­ants and the Depart­ment of Rural Devel­op­ment and Land Reform (the Depart­ment).


This has been a bat­tle that started more than three years ago. It was brought by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Rural Advance­ment (AFRA) and four labour ten­ants, rep­re­sented by the Legal Resources Cen­tre (LRC).


On the 8 Decem­ber 2016, the Land Claims Court granted an order appoint­ing a “Spe­cial Mas­ter of Labour Ten­ants”. The task of the Spe­cial Mas­ter will be to pro­duce a plan to imple­ment labour ten­ant claims to facil­i­tate own­er­ship of farm land in terms of the Land Reform (Labour Ten­ants) Act, no. 3 of 1996. The plan must be devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Depart­ment, which has been refus­ing to imple­ment the law since early 2000’s.


The case began in 2013 when Mr Bhekindlela Mwe­lase and three other labour ten­ant claimants, who live on the Hilton Col­lege Estate, a pri­vate boys’ school in the Natal Mid­lands, approached AFRA to pro­vide sup­port in get­ting their claim to land own­er­ship set­tled.


AFRA, the fifth appli­cant, went to the Land Claims Court in 2013 to seek sys­temic relief from “the many years of dis­re­gard and neglect of labour ten­ants’ claims” by the Direc­tor Gen­eral, the Min­is­ter and the Depart­ment of Rural Devel­op­ment and Land Reform.


The sys­temic relief involved a struc­tural inter­dict (com­monly known as a “class action” case) to set­tle the 10 914 claims which, by the Department’s own admis­sion, “have not been set­tled”.  The grant­ing of the Spe­cial Mas­ter means that although par­tic­u­lar labour ten­ants were involved in the case, the impli­ca­tions of the judg­ment apply to the entire class of labour ten­ants.


The pre­sid­ing judge in the case, Judge Thomas Ncube, noted in his judg­ment that:

“Regret­tably reports were not filed timeously in accor­dance with the imple­men­ta­tion plan and there was non-compliance with other aspects of the plan and fur­nish­ing of infor­ma­tion required…From the his­tory of the lit­i­ga­tion, it is appar­ent in my view, that the Depart­ment has not been able to com­ply with its own time­frames or to pro­vide accu­rate infor­ma­tion on how far the col­la­tion of labour ten­ants claims has progressed…Effective relief is undoubt­edly required by the many thou­sands of vul­ner­a­ble labour ten­ants”


Judge Ncube there­fore found that Min­is­ter Nkwinti and the Direc­tor Gen­eral acted in man­ner, “incon­sis­tent with Sec­tions 10, 25 (b), 33, 195 and 237 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Repub­lic of South Africa” and that a, “Spe­cial Mas­ter of Labour Ten­ants” shall be appointed by no later than the 3 March 2017 to super­vise the Direc­tor Gen­eral and the Depart­ment in respect of the pend­ing labour ten­ant claims under Sec­tions 16, 17 and 18 Act.


The judg­ment details the steps to be under­taken to achieve the expe­di­tious res­o­lu­tions of these claims, includ­ing a deter­mi­na­tion of:


  1. The total num­ber of claims lodged and the num­ber which have yet to be processed and finalised;
  2. The skill pool and infra­struc­ture required for the pro­cess­ing of labour ten­ant claims within the Depart­ment;
  3. Tar­gets on a year-to-year basis for the res­o­lu­tion of pend­ing labour ten­ant claims;
  4. The deter­mi­na­tion of the bud­get nec­es­sary dur­ing each finan­cial year for car­ry­ing out the Imple­men­ta­tion Plan, includ­ing both the Depart­ments’ oper­at­ing costs for pro­cess­ing claims and the amounts required to fund awards made pur­suant to the appli­ca­tions;
  5. Plans for co-ordination with the Land Claims Court to ensure the rapid adju­di­ca­tion or arbi­tra­tion of unre­solved claims;
  6. Any other mat­ters which the Spe­cial Mas­ter may con­sider rel­e­vant.


AFRA and the LRC wel­come the judg­ment and looks for­ward to con­struc­tively engag­ing with the Depart­ment on the appoint­ment of the Spe­cial Mas­ter and the final­i­sa­tion of the Imple­men­ta­tion Plan. AFRA is com­mit­ted to ensure the suc­cess of the Imple­men­ta­tion Plan and will sup­port the Spe­cial Mas­ter and the Depart­ment to achieve the pro­cess­ing and final­i­sa­tion of labour ten­ant claims.


“We are extremely pleased today for the thou­sands of labour ten­ants and their fam­i­lies, whose patience, deter­mi­na­tion and strug­gle have been rewarded. The rights of labour ten­ants have been upheld by the Court and the sys­temic fail­ures of the Depart­ment in address­ing these rights can now be achieved through the appoint­ment of the Spe­cial Mas­ter, improved imple­men­ta­tion by the Depart­ment and proper coor­di­na­tion with the Court,” said Lau­rel Oet­tle, Direc­tor of AFRA.


“The hard work of resolv­ing these claims and trans­fer­ring land to those work it, begins now in earnest. I urge all landown­ers and labour ten­ants to par­tic­i­pate in the process of resolv­ing claims in a pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive spirit. We believe that for­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, who signed the Labour Ten­ants Act into law back in 1996, would wish to see South Africans united to achieve his­tor­i­cal redress and a bet­ter life for those work­ing and liv­ing on farms.”

The LRC attor­ney on the case, Thabiso Mbhense, said he is, “very happy about the out­come after so many years of work” and he hopes the Spe­cial Mas­ter will ensure that labour ten­ants finally have their claims to land own­er­ship set­tled. He added that, “this is a his­toric moment for the land rights move­ment and we fore­see its imple­men­ta­tion hav­ing a dra­matic impact on thou­sands of labour ten­ants wait­ing for their land”.







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