The postponement of the KwaZulu-Natal rural land case against Ingonyama Trust Board will prolong the vulnerability of residents who are forced to pay rent under a lease agreement, said Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac).
Casac issued a statement on Thursday complaining about KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie’s decision to postpone the case that was due to be heard at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday but has since been moved to an unspecified date in 2020 and would be heard by a full bench.
“As the applicants in the matter, we were not consulted in this regard nor were we afforded the opportunity to make representations regarding the postponement,” said Casac in a media statement.
The Casac had in November last year through the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) approached the high court looking to stop the trust’s long-term lease, which it alleged was a means to collect rent from poor rural land occupants.
The Casac believed that for the Ingonyama to charge rent from rural residents living under the trust are human rights and women’s rights violations.
Casac secretary Lawson Naidoo told Independent Media that he had expected Jappie’s office to provide reasons for the postponement.
“We expected that we could have been given an opportunity to make representations to the judge as well.
“We were not invited to make a representation, and it was a decision that was taken by the judge president without consulting us,” he said Naidoo.
Besides Casac, Naidoo said LRC also represented Rural Women’s Movement and seven individual applicants.
He said when he heard of “the very last minute” postponement travel arrangements had already been finalised for the complainant’s lawyers to travel from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg to participate in the hearing.
He said the LRC now had a responsibility to inform other complainants about postponement.
“We are concerned because the judge has already been assigned to this case, the date had been set down many months ago and the postponement had been announced at the very late hour without providing us with the opportunity to make representations, or consulted and given a reason as to why this decision has been taken now,” he said.
He said his other concern was that the delay in finalising the case would prolong the vulnerability of the people who were living on trust land.
“The issue is that people whose customary rights have been converted into lease agreement will now have to continue paying rent until this matter has been settled by the court.
“Many of those people are very poor and they will be paying money that they cannot afford,” he said.
He estimated that there were thousands of people who had already signed the lease agreements, and were now compelled to pay rent.
“We have to get that information from Ingonyama Trust itself. Beside Rural Women’s Movement and seven individuals applicants. we believe that there are other people who have been affected by conversion to lease agreement but we cannot put numbers on that because we don’t know how many lease agreements have been concluded,” said Naidoo.
Office of the Chief Justice spokesperson Nathi Mncube said he was not in a possession to provide reasons for the postponement.