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Labour Tenancy

What is a labour tenant?

A labour tenant is someone who works on a farm in exchange for the right to live on that farm and work a portion of that farm for themselves. For a more detailed definition, see Section 1(xi) of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 or 1996.

Labour Tenancy timeline

The Native Trust and Land Act aims to eliminate independent African tenants on White-owned land by restricting their residence on White land to labour tenancy or wage labour, and prohibits African land ownership outside of the reserves.

Labour tenancy is seen as a barrier to the rapid modernization of White agriculture. Calls to abolish it escalate, and widespread evictions ensue.

The Freedom Charter declares that the land shall be shared among those who work it.

Abolition of the six-month system whereby a labour tenant and his sons and daughters work six months of every year to secure the tenancy contract. Labour tenants now have to work all year round.

Over 1.1 million people are evicted from farms.

Labour tenancy survives in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State, particularly in marginal agricultural areas.

The South African Constitution is adopted. It protects property rights but also requires that those people with insecure tenure as a result of racially discriminatory laws are given secure tenure or comparable redress. The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 or 1996 is passed to give effect to this provision.

A survey finds that 4,2 million people, including labour tenants, have been displaced from farms between 1984 and 2004, with just over half displaced after 1994.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform adopts new policies that no longer transfer ownership to land reform beneficiaries including labour tenants, but leaseholds on state owned land subject to productive use. However, the Labour Tenants Act, which provides for labour tenants to claim land ownership, has not been amended.

Donna Hornby, who prepared this timeline, has also charted labour tenancy developments in 2015. See:

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