Multimillion sugar cane land claim thrown out of court
Judge raps Elambini community for pursuing claim to KZN land without a shred of evidence
A Durban judge has thrown out a 20-year-old multimillion-rand claim by a rural community on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast for prime sugar cane land owned by the JSE-listed agricultural group Crookes Brothers.
In her ruling on Wednesday, Land Claims Court judge Yasmin Meer had strong words for the Elambini community when she rejected the claim.
The claim on the 1,380ha was lodged by the community – comprising 23 families – in November and December 1998. It was subsequently granted by the commission and endorsed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
But the owners of the 30 sugar cane farms, including agribusiness conglomerate Crookes Brothers and several other farmers, opposed the claims and the matter was referred to the Land Claims Court in 2012. They denied that the families had occupied the land or that they were dispossessed under the 1913 Native Land Act.In his evidence before the court, Clement Dube, 68, chairperson of the Elambini community represented by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, said he couldn’t personally confirm that they had lived on the land since 1913 but that he had heard this from his father and family.
He claimed the graves of their forefathers were on the farms but couldn’t be found because of the farming that had taken place.
However, David Crookes, the great-grandson of Samuel Crookes, the patriarch of the Crookes family and its sugar-farming industry, who has lived in the area for most of his life, disputed the existence of the Elambini community.
He testified that he only heard about the community when the land claim was instituted.
In her judgment Meer said she was upset that the community, which was legally represented at the state’s expense, “could have pursued and persisted with a claim without a shred of evidence to prove their dispossession and use of land”.
She said the community had commissioned a historian to compile a report, which they suppressed when the results disproved their claim.
“The community was further remiss in relentlessly pursuing the claim in the manner they did, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, given that their own expert could not support their claim.”Meer said that based on the evidence by the community, who gave “fragmented recollections of conversations of grandparents and parents which were often vague and contradictory”, she was unable to validate the claim that they lived in the area or that they were dispossessed of the land as a result of the act.
The community had also rejected “settlement offer after settlement offer” despite the best efforts of the landowners and the state to broker a settlement.
They had also rejected the last offer of 100ha, which the parties made known to the court, despite the court repeatedly warning them of the risk of going away empty-handed if they did not prove their case.
Crookes MD Guy Clarke said “It’s a claim that we’ve been trying to resolve for more than 10 years. We’ve always believed that the claim was baseless and when it came to court the judge confirmed our view that there was no basis for this claim.”
Fighting the claim had cost the company several million rands.
Madonsela didn’t respond to queries.