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Human Rights Commissioner and former ANC Western Cape chairperson Chris Nissen on Wednesday slammed the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Esta), saying it facilitated the smooth eviction of farm workers and dwellers.

The SA Human Rights Commission held its public exploratory hearing into land and the impact of rural land use and ownership patterns in South Africa at its head office in Braamfontein.

Nissen, who was chairing the hearing, said Esta, which gives occupiers ownership rights to their residences which they occupy on farms, was not working to protect farm workers and dwellers.

“Esta is not helping people. It is facilitating the smooth eviction of farm dwellers.”

He said even police officers did not protect people unlawfully evicted from farms, but in some cases, assist in the illegal eviction of farm workers and dwellers, with security companies hired to assist in farm expulsions.

According to Nissen, the commission had the instruments to hold the government accountable. He said the report to be compiled after the hearings must be accompanied by action from the commission.

Nissen told the hearing that little had been done to improve living conditions of farm workers and dwellers despite the existence of laws to protect them. “How can people drink water where animals are drinking 24 years after democracy?”

Nissen, flanked by Professor Ruth Hall of the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies and the commission’s senior researcher Dr Shanelle van der Berg, said the commission must hold the government accountable as a Chapter 9 institution.

Hall said it was unclear if the government’s existing programmes passed the constitutional muster in terms section 25(5) of the Constitution.

According to section 25(5), the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.

Ahmed Mayet from the Foundation for Human Rights, told the hearings that the government should consider amending labour laws to cater for seasonal farm workers.

The Star