Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron spent his final official moments on the Bench taking a more than 22-year-old Hilton College land claim dispute with the department of rural development and land reform a step closer to being settled.
Cameron tore into the department, saying it had “manifested and sustained what has seemed to be obstinate misapprehension of its statutory duties”.
“In this case, the department’s tardiness and inefficiency in making land reform and restitution real has triggered what rightly can be called a constitutional near-emergency.
“In cases of extreme rights infringement, the ultimate boundary lies where the court itself continues to control the remedy. If this requires temporary, supervised oversight of administration where bureaucracy has shown itself unable to perform, then there is little choice. It has to be done.”
Cameron said the applicants had lodged claims to acquire the land they were occupying, which the Hiltonian Society opposed.
“But, 19 years later, that is still not the point. The point is that the claims were not referred to the Land Claims Court,” Cameron said in the majority judgment.
“Despite repeated written requests, the department failed to refer the applications. Until the applicants instituted these proceedings, the department had not explained why it had failed in this. The death of two applicants, after timeously lodging their claims, expecting what the statute promised them, paints a poignant picture of the story before us.”
He added that the department had refused to be accountable to those dependent on its cooperation to realise their land claims. “It has displayed a patent incapacity to get the job done.”
Cameron confirmed the Land Claims Court 2016 judgment which saw the appointment of a Special Master with powers to oversee the claims of families that had worked on Hilton College land and were given permission to live on part of the farm in lieu of pay.