Farm workers in Lebowakgomo, Limpopo are facing numerous cases of dismissals which put them at the risk of being evicted. Many farm workers live on the property in which they work. When there is a break down in their employment relationship it also affects their livelihood and housing situation. There are provisions in the law that protect farm workers against illegal evictions however many do not know their rights and find it difficult to source legal advice about how to enforce their rights.
The Mafefe Legal Advice office in Lebowakgomo, under the leadership of Zachariah Thobjenae has an office that dedicates itself to assisting farm workers against illegal evictions.
Farm workers are protected from illegal, arbitrary and unfair evictions under the Extension of Security of Tenure Act, Labour Tenants Act and The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act. Paralegal, Masesi Matseba from the Mafefe Legal advice office outlined the rights of farm workers on Greater Lebowakgomo FM, a show that tackles relevant legal matters every week.
Below is a summary that will help farm workers understand their rights around evictions.
ESTA gives people who lived on someone else’s land on or after 4 February 1997 with permission from the owner, a secure legal right to carry on living on and using that land.
It also specifies that an owner cannot change or cancel these rights without your consent unless there is a good reason for doing so.
As a farm worker, the act allows you to have your family live with you to have visitors but that right must be balanced with the owner’s right to privacy. You are to have access to water, health and education services as well as to receive post and other forms of communication.
The Act gives special rights to long-term occupiers. If you are older than 60 years, and you have lived on the land for 10 years, or if you become disabled or sick while you were employed by the owner, you can stay on that land for the rest of your life.
The following actions are all forms of evictions:
- where the contract of employment is terminated and the person agrees to leave
- taking away somebody’s right to live on land
- taking away somebody’s access to water and electricity, if they are staying on the land
- threatening or intimidating farm workers so that they leave
In order for an eviction to be lawful, the following must have been adhered to:
- The occupier must get two months written notice that the owner intends to apply for an eviction order.
- The owner must send a copy of this notice letter to the local authority and the provincial office of the Department of Land Affairs. This must be done in order to warn the municipality and the Department that they might need to make arrangements for alternative accommodation for the occupiers, and for mediation, if possible.
- An eviction is only lawful if there is an eviction order from a court.
At what point is an eviction unlawful?
- When farmworkers have moved off farms against their will and were not given a court order for their eviction.
- An illegal eviction is where occupiers are removed by force, for example when the landowner changes the locks, or bulldozes or sets fire to the farm workers house to prevent them from continuing to stay on the farm.
- ‘When farm workers leave the farm because conditions have been made intolerable, often through intimidation or violence or cutting off water and electricity supplies.
The eviction can only take place once:
- your compensation has been paid
- the court has set a date by when you must leave.
Who can remove you?
- Only the sheriff of the court or someone under their supervision can carry out an eviction.
- If at any time, the owner forces you off the land, it is criminal offence. They can be jailed or fined for this.