After waiting for almost 20 years to have their land claim adjudicated, the Land Claims Court yesterday awarded restitution of 26 farms to the Prudhoe Community in theEastern Cape, including the land on which the Fish River Sun Hotel is located.
The Prudhoe Community was represented by the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown.
Explaining the case in a media statement, the LRC said the Prudhoe Community lodged their claim in December 1998 in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, claiming restoration of 26 farms between the Fish and Mpekweni rivers from which they were forcefully removed by the Ciskei Government during the late 1980s. The forced removals were effected by the former homeland government, ostensibly to make way for large-scale agricultural development.
They were moved to the Prudhoe farm, where they were provided with a vacant piece of land.
“The community received no compensation from the former Ciskei government for the land they had lost and were not provided with any assistance to rebuild their lives at Prudhoe farm. The land they were removed from remains largely unused, save for grazing,” the LRC said.
The claim of the Prudhoe Community was contested by the AmaZizi Community who claimed 85 farms, which include the 26 farms claimed by the Prudhoe Community. However, the Land Claims Court found that the Prudhoe claimants constituted a community and had a valid claim in respect of all the farms and dismissed the claim of the AmaZizi in respect of those farms. The Court did, however, find that the AmaZizi Community has a valid betterment claim in respect of certain tribal areas, which was not contested by the Prudhoe Community.
The case has a protracted history and first came to the attention of the courts in 2010. In 2010, the Fish River Sun hotel was awarded to the AmaZizi Community without any consideration of the Prudhoe Community’s competing claim. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) rescinded the order, and ordered that the Land Claims Court reconsider the merits of all the claims over all the land and determine which community has a valid claim.
The case before the Land Claims Court took more than seven years and was plagued by various delays. In a scathing judgment handed down yesterday, Barnes AJ lamented the role of the Regional Land Claims Commission in the Eastern Cape in adding to the delays in the case. She commented on the poor quality of the referral reports in which the Commission recommended that the Fish River Sun farms be restored to the AmaZizi Community without articulating the basis for it.
In relation to the Prudhoe claim, the Commission declined to express a view on the validity of the claim, despite its own referral report supporting the claim. The Commission furthermore refused to admit that the Prudhoe Community was “a community” for purposes of the Restitution Act, despite the findings of a research report commissioned by the Commission.
The Land Claims Court found that the Commission had failed to uphold the standard set in section 195 of the Constitution, in which organs of state are expected to act in accordance with democratic values and principles, including a high standard of professional ethics and the effective and efficient use of state resources.
The Court ordered that the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform restore the land to the Prudhoe Community (except for one farm which was purchased by a black African farmer in 1994 from the Ciskei Government) within six months of the order, and that the community’s rights be adjusted to full ownership of the farms.
“This will significantly improve the socio-economic circumstances of the community, who were severely impoverished by the forced removals in the 1980s,” the LRC said. “Many of the original land claimants have already passed away due to the length of time it took for the claim to be decided. But, for the remaining claimants and their children, this judgment is the first step in starting to restore the dignity and livelihoods that were lost as a result of the inhumane apartheid-era forced land removals.”
Gladman Tom, chairperson of the Prudhoe Community Land Claim Committee, said he was thrilled with the judgment.
“We have been waiting for justice for so long. Finally it seems to have arrived,” Tom said. “We are also grateful to the Legal resources Centre for all of their hard work over the past eight years. They have worked tirelessly for us in our community and in the courts.
“If you consider the comments of the Judge on how the Commission delayed and opposed our claim, I believe that, but for the tireless work of the LRC, we would still be without land.”