THE Land Claims Court has ordered a farmer to restore the grazing rights of a labour tenant family after they were denied the right to graze their livestock on land they have lived on for decades.
The judgment by Judge Zak Yacoob in December, came in the wake of growing reports of arbitrary eviction of farm dwellers and violation of the rights of farm workers.
Petrus Moeleso and his family were granted permission to continue accessing grazing land for their livestock in Bethlehem, Free State Province.
This follows the court’s order that the respondents, Loskop Langoed Boerdery, WA Pieters and Riaan Pieters acted unlawfully in reducing the grazing land available to the four applicants, Moeleso and three others.
According to Moeleso, the respondents took away their access to the second camp where they grazed their cattle in 2017 and evicted them from the farm in April 2018.
However, in their defence, WA Pieters and Riaan Pieters claim that the camp was overgrazed hence the necessity to move the applicants to another camp where there is sufficient water supply. They also claim that they supplied enough fodder to the applicants in times of extreme winter.
In addition, the respondents submitted that they obtained a report that stated that the camp was overgrazed, which was shared with applicants after which Moeletso and his family claim they were subsequently asked to “remove their cattle from the farm”.
It turns out that the said report does not evaluate the entire farm but only the designated areas that the expert was instructed to examine.
According to court documents, the respondents do not disclose when exactly winter fodder was provided, in which years and how this relates to the reduction of grazing that may have been available to the applicants.
Moeleso and his family were limited to a maximum of three cows and two calves each. They were also required to pay R25 and R35 rent for each adult animal.
In his ruling judge Zak Yacoob said although the respondents have produced a report which may justify moving the cattle from the disputed camp (which is denied by the applicants as they say it is a different camp), it does not on its own justify the reduction of the grazing area made available to the occupiers.
“There is nothing on the papers which justifies this,” said Yacoob. “There is no assertion that there is nowhere else on the farm on which grazing can be provided, yet respondents have reduced the grazing provided and have the ultimate aim of removing the livestock completely.”
Yacoob’s judgment recognises that the farm owners lean heavily on the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), which recognises the applicants as occupants in line with the act.
However, he rejected the farm owners’ actions and the tactics they used to evict the farm dwellers.
ESTA protects the tenure of farm dwellers and provides clear guidance to the landowner’s actions should they wish to evict them.
Even though the respondents (the Pieters’s) cite the ESTA and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 43 of 1983 (CARA) which provides control over the use of agricultural resources in order to promote the conservation of “the soil, the water and the vegetation and the combating of weeds and invader plants; and for matters connected therewith”, the judge found their case unpersuasive.
“On the facts of this case, then, I find that the actions of the respondents in reducing the grazing area available to the applicants do amount to an attempt to evict in terms of the definition of ESTA, and therefore that their doing so without judicial oversight is inconsistent with ESTA and unlawful,” said Yacoob.
“The respondents are ordered to restore to the applicants the right to graze on a camp of at least similar capacity to the camp from which the applicants’ livestock has been removed, on the farm known as Barnea 231 in the District of Bethlehem, Free State Province. The applicants are granted leave to institute action proceedings to determine their entitlement to winter fodder,” Yacoob said.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) states that farmworkers face several challenges. The SAHRC has over the years highlighted concerns over farm worker’s employment conditions and housing.
The court also ordered Loskop Langoed Boerdery to pay the costs of the application, jointly and severally. – Mukurukuru Media