Research Report on the Tenure Security of Labour Tenants and Former Labour Tenants in South Africa | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
June 2017
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Issues surrounding labour tenancy in South Africa are controversial and complex. The issue is controversial in that that it currently reflects a struggle over access to land and tenure security that spans more than a century. The controversy surrounding labour tenancy derives from the fact that the role players within this scenario often hold widely differentiated perceptions about each other’s rights, duties and respective power relationships. At the one end of the scale, white commercial farmers consider themselves to be the owners of the farms they occupy in the sense of the Roman Dutch Law concept of dominium. In their view, the fact that they have title to the land confers on them absolute powers of disposal. This means that they see themselves as exercising sole discretion over who should reside on the land as well as over the activities of any occupier of that land. In addition, the constraints of modern commercial farming dictate that a farm must be run along the lines of a business where profit margins become the driving force. This can be contrasted with the perception of labour tenants who, in many instances, have enjoyed much longer relationships with the land they occupy than the farmer who legally owns that land. This often spans generations, and in many cases the land was expropriated from African families who had occupied it since time immemorial. In this way, many Africans suddenly found themselves converted from the status of customary owners of the land, to mere occupiers.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Michael Cowling, Donna Hornby and Laurel Oettlé


AFRA is a land rights advocacy non-governmental organisation (NGO) working since 1979 to support marginalised black rural people, with a focus on farm dwellers. We are working towards an inclusive, gender equitable society where rights are valued, realised and protected, essential services are delivered, and land tenure is secure. We work intensively with communities in and around the uMgungundlovu District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and extensively in offering support and advice.

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