Property & Wealth

Transformation in property rights on farms takes major step forward

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While many of the country's chapter 9 institutions tasked with assisting the democratising process ring in the changes, it is the courts that are setting both the pace and the height of the bar in the track and field events of transformation.

It is a fact that the disparity between the haves and have-nots in South Africa is most prominent in the agricultural sector. It is also true that this sector was at the turn of the 20th century the backbone of the Afrikaner community’s transition from a ‘second class citizenry’ to a dominant economic player in the post-Second World War era.

It is against this background that land rights activists applauded the Constitutional Court (Con. Court) for, in essence, ruling that the eviction of a (male) farm worker should not automatically leave his wife and family homeless – even if he had agreed to leave a farm and accept a gratuity for doing so.

Stellenbosch’s Women on Farms project

The fact that the wife of a farm worker recently won the right to stay on a farm after her husband had been evicted, is only the first step in these activists’ end goal of achieving a total ban on arbitrary farm evictions.

In this particular case the Con. Court upheld an appeal by seasonal farm worker Elsie Klaase who had lived on a farm in Citrusdal with her husband and family for more than 30 years.

Her husband had started work on the farm in 1972 and, when she and her husband had a child, the farm owner built them a cottage. They married in 1988 and still live in the cottage with their three children and three grandchildren.

The problem arose when her husband was fired in early 2010 and in a settlement agreement accepted R15 000. He also agreed to vacate the cottage. When he did not do so the farmer, understandably, commenced eviction proceedings. A magistrate duly issued an eviction notice which, in turn, was upheld by the Land Claims Court.

The Con. Court found that the Land Claims Courts findings that Mrs Klaase occupied the premises 'under her husband', wrongfully subordinated her rights to those of her husband and demeaned Elsie's rights to equality before the law and to human dignity.

This judgment in effect means that if farmers want to evict occupiers of their property, they have to approach the court with valid and lawful reasons that will ultimately have to meet the bar set by the Con. Court.

This is not only a victory for the wives of farm workers, but a major step in advancing the transformation of rights to land, especially in rural areas.


What has happened in this particular case, illustrates that South Africa’s transition to a full-blooded democracy with a fair balance between the rights and interests of all its people, is not yet complete. Neither would it be realistic to expect that it could be achieved overnight.

We will also not achieve it and build a peaceful and prosperous nation with radical, disruptive, populist actions like land invasions.

As we have reported before, there is also still the outstanding matter of what is effectively a feudal system operating in so-called tribal land, irreconcilable with a modern economy driven by a dispensation of equal opportunities and the instruments to facilitate the building of personal wealth.

But under the constitution we have the network of chapter 9 institutions and an independent judiciary in place to map the way towards the end goal in an orderly, peaceful, just and balanced way.

Also read: Nkandla not Zuma’s property, should he pay?

                  Fixation on agricultural land sees opportunities slip by

by Eve van Basten

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