Victory for land tenants

2019-08-21 16:11
(Alani Janeke)

(Alani Janeke)

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Labour tenants around Hilton and Ashburton could soon be the proud owners of acres of prime land in the suburbs, including the prestigious Hilton College.

This follows yesterday’s Constitutional Court ruling ordering the fast-tracking of the tenants’ land claims in the areas.

The tenants that the court ruled in favour of include Ashburton resident Zabalaza Mshengu, who died last year at the age of 104, while waiting for land he had lived on for decades as a labour tenant to be transferred to him,

Handing down judgment, outgoing Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron said the courts have a duty to step in and oversee the processing of the claims as the Land Reform Department has failed to assist the tenants.

The case was lodged by the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra) and the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) in 2013 following the department’s failure to process the labour tenants’ 11 000 land claims.

The matter ended up in the Constitutional Court after the department successfully challenged an earlier Land Claims Court ruling for a special master to be appointed to oversee the processing of the claims, some of which had been lodged as far back as 2001.

In its court papers, the department asked the court to uphold an earlier Supreme Court of Appeal ruling allowing it to deal with the labour tenants’ land claims.

Allowing the courts to oversee the processing of the tenants’ claims, the department argued, would undermine the separation of powers principle enshrined in the Constitution.

The court, however, dismissed the department’s argument. “In the view of the majority of this court, the Land Claims Court directed itself properly and scrupulously to the facts for it in appointing the special master.

“These showed failing institutional functionality of an extensive and sustained degree that cried out for a remedy,” Cameron said.

According to the department’s definition, a labour tenant is someone who works on a farm in exchange for the right to live on that farm and work a portion of it for themselves.

The ruling will benefit 35 families who have been living on land owned by the Hiltonian Society, on which the prestigious Hilton College is located.

Afra spokesperson Nokuthula Mthimunye said the Constitutional Court’s ruling represented a major victory for the poor. “It’s an exciting time for labour tenants who waited for many years, with some dying while still waiting for their claims to be finalised.

“As Afra we are happy that people’s rights are finally being secured,” she said.

While the ruling will cover labour tenants across the country, the case was initially lodged by the 35 families living on land owned by the Hiltonian Society.

Land Reform Department spokesperson Phuti Mabelebele said the department would study the court judgment before issuing a statement.

Hilton College, which admitted that four families have lodged labour tenant land claims against the school, denied any knowledge of individuals who had been labour tenants at any of its properties.

The Constitutional Court ruling came shortly after the Pietermaritzburg high court ordered the Msunduzi and uMgungundlovu municipalities to provide labour tenants in the area with access to basic services such as running water.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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