Constitutional court lets farm eviction stand

The Constitutional Court today dismissed an appeal against an eviction order, against the children of a retired worker living on a Stellenbosch farm.

- Advertisement -

Farm owner Laurence Juta originally brought an application in the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court to evict some members of his former domestic worker, Magrieta Hattingh’s family. Juta agreed to allow Hattingh to live in two adjacent units of a labourer’s cottage on his farm. Hattingh’s two adult sons and her daughter-in-law later moved into the cottage with her. Hattingh’s youngest son, Ricardo also moved in with her.

Juta wanted Hattingh’s two adult sons and daughter-in-law evicted from the cottage, because he required part of the cottage to accommodate his farm manager. Hattingh is an occupier according to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), in terms of which an occupier has a right to reside on land which belongs to another person. In terms of ESTA, an occupier has “a right to family life in accordance with the culture of that family”. The applicants resisted the eviction proceedings on the ground that their mother has a right to family life in terms of ESTA and that this entitled them to live with her on Juta’s farm.

The Magistrate’s Court held that the applicants were entitled to live with Hattingh on the farm in terms of ESTA. Juta appealed to the Land Claims Court, which overturned the judgment of the Magistrate’s Court and granted an eviction order. The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the decision. 

- Advertisement -

In the Constitutional Court the question turned on the interpretation of ESTA. In a unanimous judgment, Judge Raymond Zondo held that there was no need to define the term “family” since families come in different shapes and sizes and cannot be limited to the nuclear family and that it was unnecessary for the purposes of deciding the matter to determine the meaning of the term “in accordance with the culture of that family”.

He concluded that section 6(2) of ESTA required that the right to family life of an occupier be balanced with the rights of the landowner. Therefore, the right to family life allows an occupier to enjoy as much of a family life as possible when this will not be unjust and inequitable to the landowner. Zondo said this will depend on the facts of each case. In balancing the two rights, Zondo found that it would be just and equitable that the applicants be evicted. 

Read the full judgement