LAND CLAIMS COURT CASE
– 31 January 2018
The LRC made an application for contempt of court on behalf of the LRC’s client, the Wildebeestkuil Land Claim Committee, against the chief and headman, who have been selling their land in spite of a court order preventing them from doing that.
In 1925, approximately 95 families, who lived on the Wildebeestfuil farm, bought the land and began managing it as a collective. In 1950, the apartheid South African government gave a portion of their land to the South African Defence Force. The government forced the families who lived there to leave behind their church, schools, houses, and fields, and to move to another part of the farm where others already lived. That portion became overcrowded with families and cattle died because they lacked sufficient land for grazing. The South African Defense Force began allowing other people to build informal settlements on their portion of the land.
In 1998, the Wildebeestkuil Land Claim Committee successfully lodged a claim with the Land Claims Court for the old portion of their land. In 2001, the Regional Land Claims Commission informed the informal settlers on that land that they could not build more housing. However, the chief and headman, who had been appointed during the apartheid years to administer the land, allocated land to outsiders, sold portions of the land, allowed mining to take place, and gave permission for powerlines to be erected. The community wrote to the Commission in 2003 in protest, but nothing was done. In 2009, the Commission invited the claimants to a meeting in Pretoria, but no action was taken. In 2010, the Commission informed the community that they must opt for compensation, but the community pressed instead for the return of their land.
By 2014, the Wildebeestkuil Land Claim Committee decided to ask the LRC for help. In 2015, the chief and headman agreed to stop allocating land and a surveyor’s report was conducted, which estimated that the size of the settlement land under dispute involved about 200 acres and the grazing land involved about 2,100 acres. The Committee agreed to receive compensation for the land used for informal settlements, but they wanted the grazing land returned to them even though the land has been overgrazed and eroded. But in 2016, the chief and headman continued to allocate portions of land to outside people.
In September of 2016, the LRC took the chief and headman to court, which resulted in a successful interdict against their actions. The LRC also asked the courts to review the Regional Land Claims Commission’s earlier decision not to restore the land to the community.
Sadly, this case is not an isolated one. Although 8.2 million acres have been successfully claimed by communities since the end of apartheid, only 4.7 million of those acres have been transferred successfully to the beneficiaries. Many communities with successful claims are waiting for their land, vulnerable in the meantime to traditional leaders and illegal occupiers.