Court orders appointment of special master to fast-track labour tenants' land claims

Johannesburg - The Land Claims Court has ordered that a special master be appointed to assist labour tenants to make claims for portions of the land they have worked and lived on, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) said on Friday.

In what some have described as a "historic" judgment, on Thursday Judge Thomas Ncube found that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had not complied with its own time frames or provided accurate information on how far its collation of labour tenants claims has progressed.

This was partly because the reports had not been filed timeously in accordance with the department's implementation plan. There had also been a lack of compliance with other aspects of the plan and a lack of information, he said.

This meant that effective relief was "undoubtedly" required by the many thousands of vulnerable labour tenants, he said.

Ncube found that Minister Gugu Nkwinti and his director general had acted inconsistently with sections of the Constitution and ordered that a special master of labour tenants be appointed by no later than March 3, 2017, to supervise the director general and the department on pending labour tenant claims.

The matter was brought to court in 2013 by the LRC and the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra) when 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.

Judgment to have 'dramatic impact' on claimants

On Friday Afra director Laurel Oettle said they were pleased with the outcome.

"We are extremely pleased today for the thousands of labour tenants and their families whose patience, determination and struggle have been rewarded."

She said the labour tenants' rights had been upheld by the Constitution and that the department's systemic failures to address these rights could now be corrected through the appointment of a special master, improved implementation by the department and proper co-ordination with the court.

"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," she said.

Thabiso Mbhense, an LRC lawyer who has been working on the case alongside Afra, described the judgment as 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," he said.

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