Court returns land immediately to Beaufort West land reform beneficiaries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CAPE TOWN: 05 March 2024

Court returns land immediately to Beaufort West land reform beneficiaries

On Monday, 4 March 2024, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) successfully represented three Beaufort West farmers at the Western Cape High Court. The farmers, previous beneficiaries of the state’s redistribution programme, obtained an order to urgently restore possession of portions of lands on which they have been farming since 2017. An interdict against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to stop the Department from allocating any portions of the farm to any person was also secured, pending the finalisation of an application to review, and set aside a decision not to award a 30-year lease to the farmers.

In 2009, the then Department of Rural Development and Land Reform allocated five farms in the district, collectively known as Plateau Farm, to more than 80 beneficiaries as part of its land reform project. The applicants were among these beneficiaries. All three are children of former farm workers in the Beaufort West area and regarded access to this land as a means to eradicate the discriminatory land ownership patterns that prevailed under apartheid.

Their sheep farming operations became highly successful, and in 2020 as well as 2023, their wool obtained the highest average price for the Beaufort West region at the national wool auction in Gqeberha.

In December 2019, the Department placed an advertisement in the newspaper, calling for applications for a 30-year lease agreement over Plateau Farm. The applicants, who had formed a farming entity called Nuveld, applied, interviewed, and were recommended by the National Land Acquisition and Allocation Control Committee (NLAACC) as the preferred candidates for the lease.

Despite this recommendation, in September 2020 the Acting Chief Director: Western Cape Provincial Shared Services decided not to award the lease to Nuveld, for reasons that the Department refused to disclose to the three farmers. On 4 April 2023, the farmers filed an application in the Western Cape High Court to review and set aside the decision.

Despite this ongoing litigation, officials of the Department recently decided to unlawfully, and without following any of the Department’s policies and procedures for land allocation, allocate two portions of Plateau Farm to two disgruntled former beneficiaries despite them never even applying for such access. On 17 January 2024 and 7 February 2024, an official accompanied the two former beneficiaries to the farm, cut off Nuveld’s locks on the access gates to the farm and forcibly took possession of the land. The court found that these actions amounted to the unlawful dispossession of the land and immediately restored the farmers’ possession.

Redistribution of state land is governed by section 25(5) of the Constitution which requires reasonable legislative and other measures to be taken to ensure equitable access to land. The Department has over the years developed several cv policies and procedures to be followed in the allocation of such land. Those policies and procedures were simply ignored in this case.

The application was opposed by the Department as well as the two people placed on the farms by the Department.

 

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The Legal Resources Centre is an independent public interest law centre with offices throughout South Africa. We work with partners and marginalised communities to harness the power of the law to promote social justice, fight for equality and realise the human rights enshrined in the South African Constitution.