In the past few months more and more black farmers have spoken up about being evicted by Government from land on which they were farming, often very successfully. The question is, are there legal grounds for these evictions?
Well, it depends, says Prof. Elmien du Plessis, a leading Constitutional law expert who joined the Farmer’s Inside Track podcast to talk about the land reform implications of cases like these.
“It depends from farmer to farmer,” says Du Plessis. “You need to have a look at the agreement and whether there was a breach of the agreement that leads to the cancellation of the contract.
“In my opinion they cannot just be evicted from the land,” she says. “It’s not possible for the department to just come on to the land and serve eviction orders. There are processes to be followed.”
According to Du Plessis we often see instances where people are being put onto the land, often without written contracts which makes their tenure insecure. Or there are written contracts, but there is no explanation given on how to formally cancel the contract.
These situations are not legal, she says.
“By speaking up they encourage other farmers to speak up, which is a good thing,” says Du Plessis. “That forces the department to make sure that when they do want to cancel contracts, they do it in terms of a legal process.”
When land is allocated for people to live on there should be an insistence on a legal document in the form of a contract from the government.
The plight of 39 black farmers who run profitable commercial enterprises in Mpumalanga and who now face eviction, highlights the fact that without clear legislation, land redistribution is but a pipe dream, she says.
Du Plessis says she hopes to see a future where we have decent redistribution legislation in place. A future where these allocations are done in a way that gives people more secure rights than just an agreement that is often not in writing and often not given to people.
Is seamless land reform possible?
“It is difficult to say what a seamless land reform process looks like,” says Du Plessis. “At the moment there are a few legislative gaps.”
We do need redistribution legislation, though, she insists. She has proposes four steps that we can take to do this:
- Firstly, we need an act that will tell officials how they must exercise their discretion when they allocate land to people in the redistribution program.
- Second, we also need to look at what happens after the settlement of people on the land, she says. And that is difficult to answer while we don’t have a clear idea of what the vision is for land reform.
- Third, we need to clear up policy, so that the policies used to implement land reform is clear, published and deliberated upon. Then we can all understand what the policies are and hold government accountable.
- Lastly, we need to ensure that our institutions are working properly, so that there is a well-functioning land reform process.
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