Labour tenants still in limbo as government ignores court order

02 April 2015 - 11:36 By Ernest Mabuza
FORTHCOMING ATTRACTION: A barn on the property is being transformed into a guest house
FORTHCOMING ATTRACTION: A barn on the property is being transformed into a guest house

It has been 14 years since about 19 000 labour tenants applied for rights to the land they live on and now, government has failed to comply with a court order to explain how they will deal with the unprocessed claims.

The Legal Resources Centre on Wednesday sent a notice to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform asking it to comply with a Land Claims Court order to report on the labour tenant claims. The deadline was March 31.

Labour tenants, who work for farmers in return for the right to live on and use land on the farm, could apply for rights over the land they occupy, including ownership rights, under the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act.

About 19 000 such tenants made applications before the March 2001 deadline. They hoped that their applications would be processed speedily and that they would be given secure tenure over the land which their families had lived on for generations.

Fourteen years after the deadline for lodging applications lapsed, thousands of labour tenants are still waiting for the determination of their claims.

The failure by the department to process the labour tenant applications have resulted in some being evicted from the farms where they lived, and in some cases assault and abuse by farm owners.

Disappointed with the department’s failure, four labour tenants and the Association for Rural Advancement, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, approached the Land Claims Court in 2013. They asked the court to compel the department to process the applications. They also sought an order directing rural development director-general Mduduzi Shabane to process or refer these applications within one year.

Bhekindlela Mwelase, 84, one of the tenants who approached the court, said he was born on the KwaZulu-Natal midlands farm, owned by Hilton College, where his parents and grandparents lived.

He said his parents and grandparents kept livestock and grew crops on the farm and also provided labour to the farm owners. Mwelase said his parents did not get paid for their labour, but were instead granted rights to use land on the farm.

In September last year, the court ordered the director-general to file a report to the court and the tenants before March 31 containing statistics that show the current status of all labour tenant applications. The court also required the director-general to outline plans for the further processing of all outstanding labour tenant claims.

LRC attorney Thabiso Mbhense said on Wednesday that the department failed to meet the deadline imposed by the court to file the report.

“We have sent a notice, giving the department five days to comply with the court order,” Mbhense said.

The department's spokeswoman Linda Page said the department was busy compiling the information for the report and had instructed its lawyers to ask the Land Claims Court to grant it an extension.