Report of the Two-day Mass Action

On the 23rd of May hundreds of Tshintsha Amakhaya constituencies joined labour tenant claimants at the Constitutional Court appealing an earlier judgment, which rejected arguments to appoint a Special Master to oversee the implementation of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act.

The history of this case, impacts and a precedence it could set has been outlined by AFRA at and LRC comrades at our previous gatherings.

Plight of labour tenants have become the subject of court proceedings since 2013 in the Land Claims Court, labour tenants have lodged claims with the DRDLR between 1996 and 2001 – with their cases remaining incomplete.

In 1996, parliament passed the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act, known as LTA, to secure the tenure rights of labour tenants and former labour tenants – including regulating their tenure and prohibiting illegal evictions. However, the implementation of the LTA suffered from a great neglect with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) failing to implement the law since the early 2000s. Just in 2011, upon the closing date of claims lodged with DRDLR – there were around 22 000 claims.

In 2013, our partner – the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) – brought a class action on behalf on labour tenants’ claimants with unsettled claims against the DRDLR for failing to carry out its constitutional mandate. To date, there are about 10 914 labour tenant claims which remain unresolved, meanwhile, a significant number of farm evictions has taken place.

On 8 December 2016, Judge AJ Ncube ruled that the DRDLR was in breach of its constitutional obligations and ordered that a Special Master of Labour Tenants be appointed to process claims. The judgement required the Special Master to report to the Court on progress. However, government appealed the ruling.

In May 29 advocates argued on the day, representing labour tenants, that this is a clear case of institutional failure at every stage and that there have been repeated breaches of court orders by DRDLR, the judgment was reserved.

On May 24 about 300 Tshintha Amakhaya rural constituencies marched to the Constitutional Hill to lodge our demands for a pro-poor programme of land and agrarian reform which fulfils the equitable access to land and the food security and sovereignty for all.

We marched to the Constitution Hill to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Presidency, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), and the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). We also presented petitioned draft moratorium for the Presidency, and the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, to sign an immediate ban on legal and illegal farm evictions and guarantee concessions to be awarded. We also demanded access to information held by the DRDLR pertaining to farm evictions in South Africa.

There are currently over 20 000 people, in the Western Cape alone, threatened by farm evictions. Thousands of unjust and illegal evictions of farm workers and other farm dwellers continue unabated across the country despite the clear protections contained in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (‘ESTA’). As land activists, and members of affected communities, we have been calling on the Presidency to announce a moratorium on any eviction of farm workers and farm dwellers in the absence of the Land Claims Court in terms of Section 19(3) of the ‘ESTA’. We are again calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to honour his promise made in Paarl, in 2014, that there would be a moratorium putting an immediate ban on all farm evictions.

Last year President Ramaphosa assembled a Presidential Experts Advisory Panel on Land Reform. We are concerned about the Advisory Panel’s pro-capital leaning stance. The dominant narrative is largely concerned with preserving the current racially skewed agrarian stricture and is characterised by the dominance of agribusiness, financial institutions such as banks, retailers and multinational companies. TA presented an alternative land reform policy framework that is designed by the rural poor, which contrasts the dominant private sector voices in the Presidential Experts Advisory Panel. Our policy framework, which addresses the gaps and problems in existing policies, including legislation, presents a pro-poor programme of land and agrarian reform, which fulfils the equitable access to land and the food security and sovereignty for all.

We also called for the DMR to place an immediate moratorium on fracking. This destructive practice places a huge burden on affected rural communities; it generates massive volumes of toxic waste, creates hazardous air pollution problems and poses long-term risks to vital drinking water resources. Fracking and other unconventional methods of extracting oil and gas threaten to prolong our destructive dependence on fossil fuels. We believe that South Africa can meet is energy needs through clean and renewable methods.

Our Memo was in twofold:

• A brief summary of core proposals on land reform and descriptive elements of an alternative agrarian economy. And;
• Specific demands made per TA’s constituencies

Accompanying our memorandum as a second annexure was our draft moratorium for the ‘then’ Minister of DRDLR to sign to ban all farm evictions.
Our memorandum was received by Advocate Vele Mngwengwe of DRDLR with a commitment to respond in 30 days. However, noting recent changes at the DRDLR with the appointment of the new minister and the merger of two ministries, we followed with Advocate Mngwengwe to track progress of our memo. In his response, he promised that there will still be a response from the department on the set time. We are currently awaiting that response by June 24.