Hilton land claimants finally get their day in court

A class action suit by 18 000 labour tenants, which seeks to quicken the labour tenant claims process, will finally be heard on Thursday in the Land Claims Court in Johannesburg.

The primary applicants in this case – referred to as Mwelase & Afra (Association for Rural Advancement) and Others vs the Director General (Department of Land Reform and Rural Development) – occupy land on the Hilton College Estate in KwaZulu-Natal, which stretches from the school to the commercial farmland and all the way south to the Umngeni River. They lodged claims for acquisition of the land in 2000, a process that stagnated after initial negotiations.

The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 was designed to provide security of tenure to thousands of labour tenants spread across South Africa’s agricultural land. Section 16 of the Act empowered labour tenants to apply for acquisition of ownership of the land they were entitled to occupy as labour tenants. 

The case has been plagued by delays, with the department of land reform and rural development failing to comply with most of the timelines and extensions granted by the court. 

One of the claimants, 56-year-old Thanda Mwelase, said the estate had offered to relocate residents – initially about a hundred families – to Howick. “We prefer our own houses because they’re bigger than the ones we were offered,” said Mwelase. “Those houses [they built] are like RDP houses and don’t even have kitchens.”


He said pressure had been put on the remaining 30 families to vacate the land. “The school, Hilton Intermediate school, was closed because they considered it a non-viable school. There were children going there, we heard it was Hilton that decided it must close.” 

‘White people’s land’
“In neighbouring farms, people have cowed to pressure to leave. We didn’t have reference numbers and they didn’t file our sections 16. We found out we needed reference numbers and certain stages of process were not adhered to. If we had meetings, the land reform guys would start at the school, have a long meeting and then come to us and say, ‘this is white people’s land, you have to leave’. Nobody would talk to us about our rights,” Mwelase said. 

Siyabonga Sithole, a paralegal at Afra, one of the applicants, said: “When the window to lodge for land tenure rights opened, I don’t think the government foresaw how difficult it would be to process them on individual or per family basis. The process proposes that each family gets a piece of land per farm that they’re dwelling on.

“There might have been the pressure to adhere to Constitutional prescripts but there was no capacity to do so. There is also the issue of no political will, which is very problematic because under the Labour Tenant Act it does not mean that the owner has to leave the property, the people simply revert to the space that they had before 1994.

“But the processes are not necessarily easy to implement. Issuing section 16 and section 17 [which deal with applications of the tenants and the notification of the owners], all those processes involve the landowner; he must agree to recognise the status of the dwellers as labour tenants. If he disputes that, the process is further prolonged,” Sithole said.

Part of the Hilton Estate has been turned into a game farm, which has increased the pressure on them to move, according to the residents. 

The department of rural development and land reform did not respond to written questions. 

In court papers, the department cited a lack of budget for external professional services – professional valuers and land surveyors – and a shortage of staff that prohibits it from adequately performing its stately functions. 

It said that “one of the problems identified with the filing system in the department is the fact that labour tenant files which have been transferred to other land reform programmes cannot readily be identified for statistical purposes. The reason for this relates to the fact that a central register was never compiled at the time, when the labour tenant claims were lodged, being the period between 1996 and 2001”.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

Related stories

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

The promised land? Lack of access to finance hinders farmers

The agricultural sector has grown this year, but an absence of collateral is preventing black farmers from making a go of their business

Ramaphosa reiterates support for emerging farmers

On the back of the announcement that the government would allocate more land to be leased by emerging farmers, President Cyril Ramaphosa says that beneficiaries will also be trained in financial management and enterprise development

State to lease more land to emerging farmers

Land reform minister announces an intensified programme to allocate arable land to emerging farmers

All mahala say claimants in R1-billion Mala Mala land claim

Endless court cases and threats plague community of South Africa’s most costly restitution settlement

Rich vigilantes have no fear of consequences

The City of Cape Town tacitly condones it when wealthy landowners behave illegally, something that is not the case if you’re poor
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.

SA justice delays extradition of paedophile to UK

Efforts to bring Lee Nigel Tucker to justice have spanned 16 years and his alleged victims have waited for 30 years

Former state security minister Bongo back in court

Bongo and his co-accused will appear in the Nelspruit magistrate’s court in Mpumalanga over charges of fraud, corruption and theft
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday