Land Owners Victory – The Witness

south africa land reform

In a victory for landowners, the office of the valuer-general no longer has the final say with regards to the amount landowners can be compensated by the state to acquire their properties.

This follows a judgment handed down in the Durban Land Claims Court yesterday involving landowners in the Melmoth area of Zululand.

Their attorney, Bertus van der Merwe said: “At last there is some clarification as to what the powers of the valuergeneral are.

“The Property Valuation Act can never oust the court of its jurisdiction to determine the just and equitable compensation to which landowners are entitled,” he said.

The court case was brought by about 20 private landowners and businesses in that area against the minister of Rural Development and Land Reform and others.

Advocates Gerhard Roberts, SC and Elana Roberts argued the matter on behalf of the landowners.

Acting Judge M.P. Canca said this is a matter for the determination of just and equitable compensation that the minister of Rural Development and Land Reform would be obliged to pay certain landowners. It is in respect of properties the minister had agreed to acquire from the landowners.

The judge said it was argued for the state that the minister has no basis for compensating the landowners (in this case) other than with the values determinated by the office of the valuer-general. The state also argued that compensating landowners with other values would result in that compensation being unlawful.

Judge Canca said the state’s case is that the landowners are obliged to relinquish their properties to the state at the amounts set out by the valuer-general (which was reflected in a notice issued to the landowners) without being able to negotiate the price with the minister.

In the judge’s view, the determination of the office of the valuer-general could be used as a guideline by the minister when negotiating the purchase price of any property she intends acquiring from a landowner.

That landowner should then be able to approach the court for a determination of the “just and equitable compensation”, should she or he be unhappy with the value arrived at by the valuer general.

In this matter, both the state valuers and the landowners’ valuers agreed in March 2018 that the properties to be acquired by the minister were worth R760 999 890.

However, after this the valuer-general’s office had issued a notice valuing the properties at R420 000 000.

The judge said this amount was approximately half the agreed amount. In addition, there was no internal appeal procedure provided in the notice issued by the valuer-general.

The judge found that the minister’s decision to use the latter figures affected the landowners’ rights because there are marked differences in the values determined by the two different valuations.

In this matter, the court is now going to determine a just and equitable price for the properties. Expert witnesses will be called to testify on the values of the properties and the court will then decide on the value.

The Property Valuation Act can never oust the court of its jurisdiction to determine the just and equitable compensation to which landowners are entitled.

LRC Guest Contributor – Thabiso Mbhense

Thabiso Mbhense

Thabiso Mbhense is an Attorney currently employed by Legal Resources Centre. He holds Baccalaureus Iuris (B Iuris) Degree and Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from University of KwaZulu Natal. He was employed as a candidate attorney by University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Law Clinic in 2003. When he was employed as a candidate attorney he was specialising in cases involving land reform, eviction in rural areas, domestic violence, child maintenance, divorce, labour, family matters, curator bonis and curator ad litem applications.

He was admitted as an attorney in 2005. He is currently specialising in cases involving rural and urban evictions, land reform, housing, provision of basic services, upgrading of informal settlements, acquisition of land and land claims.

He has appeared in the Magistrates’ Court, High Court, Land Claims Court, CCMA and Supreme Court of Appeal.

Inspired by our history, the Constitution and international human rights standards, the LRC is committed to a fully democratic society based on the principle of substantive equality. The LRC seeks to ensure that the principles, rights and responsibilities enshrined in our national Constitution are respected, promoted, protected and fulfilled.