South Africa: Why the President Is Now Talking About Labour Tenants

Phillippi Farms - The Philippi Horticultural Area is known as Cape Town’s Food Basket.

Government says there are 20,324 labour tenant claims waiting to be processed. Of these, 11,000 are in KwaZulu-Natal and most of the remainder in Mpumalanga. President Cyril Ramaphosa stated in his responses to questions about his State of the Nation Address that labour tenants would be one of three categories targeted for expropriation without compensation. DONNA HORNBY provides context in a series of four articles on why labour tenants were selected.

Hundreds of labour tenant cases have gone before the courts. Their definition, their right to land, their history have been fought over and courts have made decisions. Which land, what value, how much compensation? Now President Cyril Ramaphosa wants the land they are claiming expropriated without compensation. But what is a labour tenant and why are they suddenly so central to the land question?

In a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in 2008, Judge Belinda van Heerden describes labour tenants as "a vulnerable section of society and almost always impecunious, unsophisticated and unschooled". The impact of this vulnerability on actual relations on farms, the judge says, raises questions about consent: "One should not lose sight of the power imbalance in the relationship between the farm owner and the labour...

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