Transforming labour tenants: A critique of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act of 1996

Williams, Gavin
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In 1996, Parliament approved the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act of 1996 despite vocal opposition to some of its key provisions from the Natal and South African white agricultural unions (1). The objectives of the Act are twofold: To provide for security of tenure of labour tenants and those persons occupying or using land as a result of their association with labour tenants; and to provide for the acquisition of land and rights in land by labour tenants;... It sought to protect the rights of labour tenants to existing rural livelihoods and to create new ways for them to acquire land for smallholder farming. Labour tenancy contracts embody a range of obligations and expectations, implicit as well as explicit, on the part of the owner of the land, their tenants and the members of the tenants' families on whom the burden of providing labour has often fallen. Contracts vary in their terms from farm to farm, and from district to district, and have changed significantly over time. Labour tenancy arrangements have different meanings for the parties involved. What for the farmer is a way to secure a supply of labour is for the tenant a means of acquiring land and keeping cattle. Attempts to transform labour tenants into wage workers, or to restrict their access to grazing or the number of cattle they may keep, have been a repeated source of bitter contention. The rights of landowners to use their property as they choose and to decide who may have access to it, and on what terms, conflict with the claims of workers, tenants, and their families to a place to live and to land to grow crops and graze animals.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 30 September 1996
Land reform. Law and legislation. South Africa.