Man, 104, dies without his land being rightfully transferred to him

For almost two decades, 104-year-old Zabalaza Mshengu waited to know whether his right to a piece of land he grew up and lived on had been settled. But it was a dream that he would never see being realised. Mshengu died on Monday.

The centenarian was born on a farm in Ashburton, just outside Pietermaritzburg. His father, a labour tenant, worked on the farm in return for the right to live on the land. Mshengu also grew up to work on the land under the same conditions.

The labour tenant submitted his land claim in June 2000, along with 19 000 others, to the Department of Land Affairs (now the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform) under the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996, land rights NGO Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) programmes manager Glenn Farred told News24.

Farred said the NGO had been assisting Mshengu to get his land since he submitted his claim.

In 2007, the Land Claims Court ruled that Mshengu was a labour tenant in terms of the act, Farred added.

The case returned to the court in 2011 after no progress was made towards settling Mshengu's rights to the land on which he lived. The judge ordered that should an agreement not be reached and the land returned to Mshengu by December 2011, the matter should be referred back to the court.

Left in limbo

Farred said Mshengu's long wait for the land of his forefathers had contributed to his long history of poor health.

"What was meant to happen from there onwards was that a settlement agreement needed to be undertaken, and the land which he was claiming needed to be surveyed and purchased by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and title that portion of land to him," Farred said.

"Unfortunately, the department did not do this and Mr Mshengu was left in limbo," Farred said.

Farred said there had been various orders by courts, with the matter going back and forth with no success for Mshengu.

He said under a recent order the owner of the piece of land Mshengu was claiming and the director general of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform were meant to appoint land evaluators. Farred said this was not done.

"The attorney had sent the necessary notice to the state attorney to get them to comply with the court order, and the department failed. What was then necessary was that we needed to lodge an application in terms of rule 32(5) against the DG (director general) of the department…" Farred said.

Hope for justice

"We believe that the landowner was willing to come to an agreement, but the department failed to take the necessary steps," he added.

The department said it could not immediately provide comment to News24 and would respond at a later stage.

Farred said Mshengu's case was an extremely unfortunate one given his age. He said it was devastating for his family that he had died without getting confirmation that the piece of land was rightfully his.

"All he ever wanted was to die in peace, knowing that little bit of land, that is his, would be given to him, because it was his dying wish to know that his grandchildren would be secured on that land where his mother is buried," Farred said.

He said it was fortunate that his claim did not die with him and it would be continued by those left behind.

"We sincerely hope that his children and grandchildren will get justice in obtaining their father's land," Farred said.