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June 20, 2018
Free Prior & Informed Consent in the Extractive Industries (2018)
June 27, 2018

Press Release: Prudhoe community to contest an appeal to their successful land claim

Press Release: Prudhoe community to contest an appeal to their successful land claim

Published by Legal Resources Centre 25 June 2018

For Immediate Release: 25 June 2018

 

On Tuesday, 26 June 2018, the Land Claims Court will hear an application for leave to appeal the order and judgment handed down on 11 April 2018 in Mazizini and 2 Others v The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform and 24 Others. The judgment awarded the restitution of 26 farms to the Prudhoe Community, represented by the Legal Resources Centre in Makhanda. The Prudhoe community are opposing the application.

The 26 farms awarded to the Prudhoe Community in the Eastern Cape include the land on which the Fish River Sun Hotel is located. The claim of the Prudhoe Community was contested by the AmaZizi Community who claimed 85 farms, which include the 26 farms claimed by the Prudhoe Community.

However, the Land Claims Court found that the Prudhoe claimants constituted a community and had a valid claim in respect of all the farms. It dismissed the claim of the AmaZizi.

The Court did, however, find that the AmaZizi Community has a valid betterment claim in respect of certain traditional authority areas, which was not contested by the Prudhoe Community. These traditional authority areas cover a large area of land and the traditional authorities and the occupants have, to all intents and purposes, been their owners for more than a century.

The Prudhoe Community, who do not themselves own any land, lodged their claim in December 1998 in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, claiming restoration of farms between the Fish and Mpekweni rivers from which they were brutally and forcefully removed by the Ciskei government during the late 1980s; ostensibly to make way for large-scale agricultural development.

They were moved to the Prudhoe farm, where they were provided with a vacant piece of land. The community received no compensation from the former Ciskei government for the land they had lost and were not provided with any assistance to rebuild their lives at Prudhoe farm. No bigger portion of land was allocated on which they could continue to earn a living as farmers, as they had done before.  The land they were removed from remains largely unused, save for grazing.

The Amazizi Community is now applying for leave to appeal the judgment on various grounds, including that the court misdirected itself by finding that the Prudhoe Community constitutes a “community” for purposes of the Restitution of Land Rights Act. They assert that the court erred in finding that the Amazizi Community does not have a valid claim for restitution in respect of the farms that it claimed.

In addition to the application for leave to appeal by the Amazizi, a private person who claims to have bought one of the farms awarded to the Prudhoe Community, is also applying for leave to appeal on the grounds that the court erred in finding that he had not opposed the claim in respect of his land. While he filed a notice of intention to oppose the matter, he never filed a plea or led any evidence at the hearing as to why the land should not be awarded to the Prudhoe Community. The farm was purchased from the Ciskei Government in 1994, but was never registered in the purchaser’s name.

Surprisingly, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform has also filed a notice of application for leave to appeal the judgment, arguing that the court should not have granted restitution of this farm to the Prudhoe Community as it offends the individual’s rights under section 25 of the Constitution, amongst other assertions. This is despite the fact that the landowner is not living on the land or using it for agriculture, but rents it out for grazing purposes.

The Minister has also taken up the appeal on behalf of several other landowners and private persons having interests akin to ownership, who themselves elected not to oppose the Prudhoe Community’s claim.

The Minister’s stance, in direct opposition to the interests of a successful claimant community numbering more than 1000 people, is disappointing at a time when land reform and transferring land ownership to communities is being touted as a government priority. 

It is also disappointing that the Minister would appeal a decision of the Land Claims Court when it has taken 20 years for the claim to be determined. One-hundred and nine of the original 124 heads of households have passed away in poverty during the last 20 years, without seeing the outcome their claim. For the remaining claimants and their children, this judgment was the first step in starting to restore the dignity and livelihoods that were lost as a result of the inhumane apartheid-era forced removals. Should the application for leave to appeal be successful, justice will again be delayed and it is unlikely that many of the original remaining heads of households will ever see their land returned to them.

ENDS

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