The Department of Agriculture will transfer the Fish River Sun land to the Prudhoe Community. This concludes a process that has taken 22 years and comes after the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by a rival land claim group, the Mazinini.
In a statement explaining the significance of the appeal judgment, lawyers for the Prudhoe Community, the Legal Resources Centre, said the case dated back to December 1998 when the Prudhoe Community lodged their claim under the Restitution of Land Rights Act. They had claimed the restoration of farms between the Fish and Mpekweni rivers from which they were forcefully removed by the Ciskei government in the late 1980s, ostensibly to make way for large-scale agricultural development which had never materialised.
“They were dumped on a vacant piece of land called ‘Prudhoe farm’, and received no compensation from the former Ciskei government nor assistance to rebuild their lives there,” the LRC said.
Of the original 124 heads of households of the claimants, 109 had since passed away.
The Mazizini community claimed that Prudhoe was not a community but was comprised of individual farmers with no claim to the land that includes the former Fish River Sun resort territory and farms.
The SCA stated they were “satisfied that the findings by the LCC that the Prudhoe Community was a community as envisaged in section 2 of the Restitution Act and was dispossessed of rights in the disputed land as a result of discriminatory laws after 1 June 1913 was correct”.
In the matter of Mazizini and Others v The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform and Others, the Land Claims Court awarded restitution of 26 farms to the 300 households that make up the Prudhoe Community. The Minister and the Mazizini community appealed to a full bench of the Land Claims Court, but their leave to appeal was dismissed on 3 August 2018.
The Mazizini Community then petitioned the SCA directly for leave to appeal, which was granted. In March this year, the Legal Resources Centre appeared in the Supreme Court to oppose this appeal.
The Mazizini Community that brought the appeal claimed 85 farms, including the 26 awarded to the Prudhoe.
On 2 June the SCA judgment was handed down dismissing the appeal.
In response to questions from Grocott’s Mail following the appeal judgment, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development said it would not challenge the ruling.
“The Minister and the Department will abide by the court’s decision,” spokesperson Trevor Hattingh said this week. “Note that in respect of land restitution our mandate is to solicit, investigate and attempt to resolve land claims through negotiation and or mediation, or otherwise refer them for adjudication to the Land Claims Court.”
As to the future of the resort, Hattingh said the Department had been in the process of advertising the Fish River Resort with the intention of sourcing an operator whilst awaiting the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment.
“Now that a judgment has been dispensed the Department will abide by the court’s decision and therefore transfer the land to the Prudhoe community. The Department will engage the Prudhoe community on post-settlement plans and how the facility will be operated going forward.
“At present the facility is used by the Provincial Department of Public Works as a Quarantine Site for people infected with Covid-19. A meeting was held between our Department and the Provincial Department of Public Works who indicated that they want to continue using the property for this purpose.”
The Resort is currently under the management of the Mantis Group.
General Manager of the Mantis Group Ashley Palm declined to comment on the judgment or the future of the resort.
“The Mantis group can’t comment on this. We’re just there in a caretaker role,” Palm told Grocott’s Mail. “The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform owns the land.”
In their statement, the LRC said the SCA’s judgment “exposes the Land Rights Commission’s unwavering and irrational support for the disingenuous claim of the Mazizini Community”.
“So far it has taken 22 years for this claim to be determined. 109 of the original 124 heads of households claimants have passed away – many in extreme poverty – without seeing the outcome of their claim. It is hoped that the Mazizini Community will not appeal to the Constitutional Court and delay justice further.
“Land dispossession is a blight from our country’s history since colonisation, and exacerbated during apartheid. The failure to fix the system and to realise land rights has been compounded by rampant state corruption and maladministration, which has decimated provincial land-reform budgets, prioritised disingenuous land claims and ushered in the industrial sector’s access to land for profit.
“The prevailing reality is that the vast majority of poor and lower-income black South Africans continue to be denied access to the right to security of tenure and the right to a sense of self-worth and dignity,” the LRC said.