Labour tenants want more than expropriation
'This is not only about getting our land back. What about the many years I worked from the age of 13 as a domestic worker at the white farmers’ house, cleaning the house, looking after their children, doing their laundry, and working in their garden for six months every year, mostly without pay unless the white farmer was in a good mood, and he would pay me R10 at the end of six months?’
University of the Western Cape PhD candidate Sithandiwe Yeni says this question has been asked several times by former labour tenants at the convening of former labour tenants by the Special Master, who was appointed after the Constitutional Court ruling in August 2019 to oversee the processing of about 11 000 land claims that remain incomplete.
Writing in the Mail & Guardian, Yeni notes the origin of the labour tenancy system was a consequence of land dispossession and forced removals.
Labour tenants were subsequently forced to work for white farmers, who had acquired the ‘swindled’ land, for six months a year with little or no pay, in return for the right to use a small portion of the land for their own purposes.
Their views on land expropriation without compensation is that they must get their land back and receive compensation for their material losses and suffering.
They reject the idea of the state paying compensation to white farmers who are beneficiaries of their dispossession.
‘Today, the former labour tenants continue to live under similar inhumane conditions on white commercial farms under this democratic government. Their current concerns and historical experiences have featured minimally in debates about land redistribution and land expropriation without compensation. Instead, emphasis has been on whether the private farm owners should be compensated and on agricultural production, thus centring commercial farmers and silencing the questions of historical dispossession and redress.’
Yeni says labour tenant’s insistence that we centre them in redress needs to be reckoned with by those making decisions about transformation through land redistribution.
‘The former labour tenant land claimants are not asking for favours from the government; they are asking for justice,’ she adds.
Article disclaimer: While we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide final legal advice as facts and situations will differ from case to case, and therefore specific legal advice should be sought with a lawyer.