After trying for 22 years to lay claim to a portion of SA’s most expensive and prestigious school, labour tenants from KZN have taken their fight to the Constitutional Court, says a Business Day report.

The Legal Resources Centre presented arguments to the top court for the reinstatement of a Land Claims Court order to appoint a special master to oversee claims by families who laboured on farms in lieu of payments and permission to live on a portion of the farm.

At the heart of the arguments at the Constitutional Court will be a portion of Hilton College’s 1 762ha property, which includes farmland, plantations and a game reserve. This portion of land has been the subject of a land claim by labour tenants for 22 years. But the private school is disputing the claim that excludes the school buildings and sports fields.

In 2016, the Land Claims Court found the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform to be in contempt of court orders and in contravention of the provisions of the Labour Tenants Act of 1996, and found in favour of the labour tenants’ application to have a special master appointed to oversee the processing of labour tenant claims. However, the department opposed the appointment of a special master, and in 2018 the SCA set aside the Land Claims Court’s judgment in favour of the appointment of a special court master.

The case for the appointment of a special master was brought by the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra), a Pietermaritzburg-based land rights advocacy NGO, and the Legal Resources Centre in 2013 as a class action on behalf of labour tenants whose claims have not been processed.

When the Legal Resources Centre approached the Constitutional Court yesterday, it was armed with the dissenting judgment from the SCA’s Judge Connie Mocumie and her colleagues, Judges Ashton Schippers and Willie Seriti.

In her dissenting judgment, Mocumie said the effect of the SCA order, invalidating the appointment of a special master, was that the same department that ‘has failed labour tenants for over 22 years should still continue with the role of developing an implementation plan on the application of labour tenants’.

The Business Day report notes Mocumie went further: ‘The Land Claims Court had tried ordinary court supervision which had failed; there was a need for effective relief for the many thousands of vulnerable labour tenants ... (as) the department has thus far experienced grave difficulties in proving this ... The size and complexity of the task alone supports the appointment of a special master to inter alia assist this court to meaningfully monitor implementation.’

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