Extension of Tenure Act has been delayed too long

Solly Phetoe.

Solly Phetoe.

Published Jan 29, 2024


By Solly Phetoe

Cosatu welcomes the government’s announcement that the long-awaited Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment (ESTA) Act will come into effect from April 1.

However, we must register our deep disappointment that this progressive law has been delayed for so long.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development must now move with speed and efficiency to ensure it is fully implemented as a matter of urgency by national, provincial and local government.

While most of the onus for its implementation rests with the department as well as its counterparts in local government and the courts in particular, employers in the agricultural sector too have a critical role to play.

If the law is to meet its progressive objectives, reach ordinary farmworkers and residents and help promote labour market stability in the sector, then the agricultural sector and farm owners must adhere to both the letter and spirit of this progressive act.

Cosatu has been deeply involved in engagements in the act and its legislative processing at Nedlac and Parliament for the better part of the past decade.

We have championed it as an important legislative intervention to help affirm the dignity and protect the rights of thousands of ordinary and extremely vulnerable farmworkers, dwellers and their dependants across the nation.

The act will add badly needed protections to farmworkers, dwellers and their families from evictions from their homes and farms.

It affirms their cultural and familial rights to access their relatives’ graves.

It will establish a land rights management board and committees to resolve disputes and help drive land reform. Organised labour and tenants are to be part of these committees.

The act’s progressive and pro-worker provisions include:

Farmworkers’ families and dependants definition expanded:

The act will further protect farmworkers and dwellers’ families from evictions. It has expanded and clarified the definition of farmworkers and dwellers’ dependent and legally protected relatives to consist of spouses (including unregistered and customary), children (biological and adopted), grandchildren, parents and grandparents who do reside with them on the farm in question.

This is critical as their rights to live on the farms will now be protected as dependants of farmworkers and dwellers.


Relatives have the right to erect, maintain and visit relatives’ graves on farms even if they no longer reside on the farm. Reasonable access must be provided by the farm owner. Equally, such graves must be protected from destruction and afforded the necessary dignity.


Evictions from farms can only take place under the following conditions:

A court order was issued.

The persons being evicted were present and legally represented at that court hearing.

The government is to provide free legal representation for those being evicted.

Mediation should have been attempted first before proceeding to eviction.

The court should have been convinced that mediation will not be able to resolve the matter.

Done during reasonable weather conditions (e.g. not during bad weather).

Land rights management board and committees:

Will oversee conflict and dispute resolution processes, help drive land reform efforts and include representatives of affected stakeholders, in particular organised labour and tenants.

While we welcome the important law, it will not on its own be a magic wand and resolve all issues in the sector, including the important national objectives of promoting land reform, restitution and distribution as well as to support agriculture as the most strategic economic sector in any nation and measures to reduce unemployment and poverty.

In addition to implementing this long-delayed progressive act, much more needs to be done by government to drive land reform and provide support for farmworkers, their families, emerging farmers and this critical economic sector as a whole.

Interventions needed include Parliament finalising another long-delayed law, the Expropriation Bill, which will be a key tool in capacitating the government to accelerate land reform and in particular with regards to idle land that is badly needed for public use.

It’s critical the government prioritise farmworkers and their families in its land reform, restitution and redistribution programmes.

This must include not just giving land and title deeds, but also training, capital, equipment, seed, fertiliser, access to water, functioning rail and efficient ports etc. to ensure emerging farmers can thrive. Otherwise, we will continue to see high rates of failure for emerging and even established farmers.

Equally, such strategic support is needed for established farmers too who battle to compete against heavily subsidised competitors in the US, Brazil and Europe, the effects of climate change, in particular drought, and the devastating impact that the crises at Transnet are having on our ability to export goods to international markets.

This is a sector that requires strategic support from the state if we are to protect and enhance it, and in particular its 900 000-plus jobs and the countless rural towns and communities whose economies are dependent upon a thriving sector.

While Cosatu welcomes and has long championed this pro-worker law over many years, we are deeply aggrieved it took so long.

Engagements were held at Nedlac a decade ago. Parliament passed the act in June 2018 and the president signed it in November 2018. It has taken a further inexplicable and indefensible six years for the department to promulgate its commencement from April 1.

This dereliction of duty would be embarrassing if it was an exception, but sadly it has become the norm across many ministries and departments. It is time the president and Parliament hold offending departments and persons accountable.

Solly Phetoe is the General Secretary of Cosatu.