The Constitutional Court (the “Court”) handed down judgment in an application for leave to appeal regarding the question of whether or not the Land Claims Court is empowered to adjudicate matters under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (“PIE”).
In or about May 1996, the Mamahule Community together with several other communities lodged claims in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 (the “Restitution Act”) for the restitution of 5 (Five) farms in the Limpopo Province. The farms included Kalkfontein 1001 LS (the “farm”).
Despite a settlement agreement being drafted in accordance with the provisions of section 42D of the Restitution Act, the agreement was never signed, as the second applicant approached the Land Claims Court to contest the beneficiaries in the claimants’ verification list.
Whilst resolution was pending, the communities started demarcating and allocating plots on the farm. This precipitated an application in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Division, Pretoria (the “High Court”) by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform (the “Minister”) against the communities.
The Minister sought orders interdicting the demarcation and allocation of plots; declaring that the members of the communities were unlawful occupiers as defined in PIE; and accordingly evicting the communities from the farm. That application was settled with the communities making an undertaking to desist from their conduct, however, the demarcation and allocation of plots continued.
Accordingly, the Minister brought another application against the communities before the Land Claims Court for substantially similar relief. The Land Claims Court held that while it did not have jurisdiction under PIE, it had jurisdiction under the Restitution Act to grant the interim relief pending the final determination of the land claim in respect of the farm, which was declaring that the communities have no legal right or title to take occupation of the farm or portions of it; declaring that the communities are an unlawful occupier as defined in PIE; and ordering the eviction of the communities from the farm.
In addition, the Land Claims Court interdicted the communities from engaging in any activity involving the demarcation and allocation of sites on the farm and any other related activity pending the final determination of the claim in respect of the farm.
Applications for leave to appeal brought before the Land Claims Court and Supreme Court of Appeal were unsuccessful.
Before the Court, the communities argued that the Land Claims Court had no jurisdiction to declare that it was an unlawful occupier in terms of PIE as the definition of “court” in section 1 of PIE, states that declarations of rights under PIE are within the exclusive realm of the Magistrates’ Court and the High Court.
The Minister conceded that PIE does not empower the Land Claims Court to make a declaration of unlawful occupation under PIE. However, he submitted that the Land Claims Court’s declaration was made in terms of the Restitution Act and that sections 6(3), 11(7), 22(1)(cA) and 22(2) of the Restitution Act does empower the Land Claims Court to make the declaratory order on the lawfulness of the communities’ occupation.
In a unanimous judgment, the Court held that while the Land Claims Court has no authority under PIE to declare a person an unlawful occupier, it is empowered, under Section 22(2)(b) of the Restitution Act, to issue the declaration of unlawful occupancy.
The question of whether or not the applicants are unlawful occupiers is sufficiently connected to the dispute pending before the Land Claims Court regarding who the deserving beneficiaries should ultimately be.
The Land Claims Court’s declaration ensures that its eventual resolution of the pending claim will not be hamstrung by the site demarcation and allocation and resultant occupation of the farm.