Rural body stops legal service work

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

Land rights movement, the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra) in KwaZulu-Natal, says the ministers of Justice and Land Affairs must be charged for failing to deliver basic legal services to farm dwellers.

In a shock move, Afra and its partners announced they were shutting down their legal service cluster partnership with immediate effect.

This means that all new land rights cases will now be the sole responsibility of the relevant state departments.

Afra director Lisa del Grande told Sowetan that her organisation, in consultation with farm dweller bodies across the province, were no longer willing to allow the government to shirk its legal duty.

"We are no longer willing to provide the state with an excuse not to provide such a service. We are no longer willing nor able to foot the bill of a legal service that the state must provide.

"Our government, in particular the ministers of Justice and Agriculture and Land Affairs, should also be charged with dereliction of duty for failing to provide the most basic of legal services to farm dwellers."

She said despite the passing of new land laws which give recognition and rights to farm dwellers, the two departments have failed to provide families with the necessary support to give effect to their rights.

"Thousands of families continue to lose what little rights they have on farm land. Instead they continue to endure destruction of their homes and families through evictions.

"They also continue to suffer the erosion of rights through harassment, disputes and growing conflicts with land owners over what their families may and may not do on the farms."

Since 1997 there have been a number of state reviews of the effectiveness of the laws, while research by NGOs indicated the failure of the system, and workshops with farm dwellers, land summits, and ongoing campaigns by farm dwellers highlighted the problems.

A land claims court judgment also ordered the ministers to provide such a service. But 11 years later there is still no affordable and accessible legal service provided by the state to farm dwellers.

"We call on all people and organisations who wish to support the rights of people on farms to exert the necessary pressure on the state to provide this necessary service," said Del Grande.

Afra, in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal's campus law clinic and the community law and rural development centre, have provided support for more than 1600 cases in the past six years.