Two landmark judgements on two consecutive days have given new hope to South Africans grappling with respectively the rights of labour tenants and government’s land redistribution policy.
On Wednesday, 4 September 2019 in the Gauteng High Court, Limpopo farmer David Rakgase and his son, Mmofa, finally gained ownership of land. This after he took the department of land reform and rural development to court in a desperate attempt to force the state to sell him the land his family was promised in 2002. Rakgase signed a 30-year lease to the 179-hectare farm with the previous regime in 1991.
A day earlier, the Legal Resources Centre said the dignity of four labour tenants were restored after a milestone judgement by the Land Claims Court on government’s practice of providing long-term leases for farms. In this matter, a settlement agreement was reached between tenants in the Mwelase land claim against the Hiltonian Society.
Although all four of the initial Mwelase claimants are deceased, their families will now be able to own their own piece of land, which will be passed on to future generations as well, says the Legal Resources Centre.
North-West University law professor Elmien du Plessis says the Rakgase case shows the disjointed decision-making process and overlap of the levels of government in decision-making, and how this contributes to the failures of land reform.
She further explains that the poor implementation of land reform policy is also because of the lack of an overarching legislative framework to give guidance and to provide beneficiaries with clear and enforceable rights. Du Plessis adds that this is was also highlighted in the recent report by Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s advisory panel on land reform and agriculture.
Judge J. Davids, sitting in the Durban High Court, said the department’s decision not to sell land to an African farmer who qualified for a grant amounted to a breech of government’s Constitutional obligation.
The Rakgase’s have been farming with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and game on their Nooitgedacht farm in Northam in the Waterberg district for 28 years. All they wanted was to own the land that they’ve been working, fair and square.
Speaking to Food For Mzansi, a delighted Rakgase says, “I feel very happy, and I’m so relieved after fighting for all these years. This judgment means we can progress because my children were born into agriculture and now we can keep the family legacy going.”
He adds that he hopes that winning this case is also a win to the many other farmers in similar situations in Limpopo and the rest of South Africa.
Instead of title deeds, mostly black farmers have been given long-term leases from government – a move many says have hampered their growth. In the Rakgase case, they qualified to buy their farm in 2002 for R1,2 million under the Land Redistribution of Agricultural Development programme. The government would give him R400 000 as a grant and he would pay the rest, but he has waited 28 years for the wheels to turn.
DA shadow minister of rural development and land reform, Annette Steyn, says she’s extremely relieved for the Rakgase family. Steyn, who played an instrumental role in this case, explains that when she started working with the family six years ago, she thought they had no case against the state.
“Mr Rakgase kept all his original paperwork which made a big difference, because although the family agreed to buy the land from government 16 years ago, they signed a lease agreement with the state since then,” Steyn adds.
Furthermore, Du Plessis believes the Rakgase case opens the possibility for farmers who find themselves in similar situations to take the decisions pertaining to their land on review.
“Hopefully the judgement will spur the department of land reform to revisit the leases and offer the land for purchase for people in similar situations.” – PROF. Elmien du Plessis
In the Mwelase land claim, the state has now finally agreed to offer them alternative land that shall be transferred to them to be held communally. The new land shall be located within 40km from Hilton and “sufficiently close to schools (and) it shall be sufficiently large, and of an adequate quality, to permit cropping, grazing and the continuation of a rural lifestyle”.
The Hiltonian Society furthermore undertook to assist the claimants to erect houses, provide transport from the alternative land to Hilton and assist the families to transport their cattle and goods to the alternative land. The families will only be required to move to the alternative land once the houses have been built there and there is provision of water, electricity and sanitation on the alternative land.
LRC attorney Thabiso Mbhense says they are pleased with the order. “It has taken many years for us to reach this point and justice is now within reach.”
Christo van der Rheede, deputy executive director of Agri SA, says, “This landmark ruling exposes the ANC’s failure in terms of land reform. It’s not our Constitution that impedes land reform and delays social justice, but consecutive ANC ministers and officials mandated and paid huge salaries footed by taxpayers to execute this all-important task.
“For almost 30 years, Mr Rakgase has been leasing a farm from the previous and ANC governments. I’m really so sick and tired of the cheap politics peddled by people who purport to be on the side of the poor and downtrodden.”