It has taken 40 years, but an elderly former Eastern Cape farmer has finally been awarded almost R15-million for land he was forced to sell as part of the apartheid government’s homeland scheme.
Although the courts had finally agreed that Ivor Phillips, 82, was forcibly dispossessed of his land without equitable compensation, an earlier settlement offer had been withdrawn on the basis that he was white.
But following the latest ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein, the way has been paved for the Port Alfred retiree to be awarded R14.78-million in compensation after the National Party government forcibly bought three family farms in 1977 to make way for an independent Ciskei.
“This case has been a horrendous ordeal for me and my family,” Phillips said yesterday.
“I am ecstatic that I can finally close this chapter and move on with my life.”
The payout amount excludes interest and legal costs, which could also run into millions of rands of taxpayers’ money.
Several court decisions over the years have been in Phillips’s favour.
However, the state lodged appeals each time, and lost all of them, in the Land Claims Court.
According to the court papers, the government had initially offered a R6.9-million settlement in 2008, but then withdrew the offer and disputed the claim on the grounds that, among other things, Phillips was white.
In his judgment, Judge Eric Leach said: “At first blush, the applicant [government] certainly did change its stance from offering to settle the claim by paying million of rands and later contending that, in fact, no amount at all should be paid.
“The applicant has shown a lack of objectivity and relied on a clearly fallacious reasoning.”
The five SCA judges finally found last week that there was no reasonable prospect of another court finding the Lands Claims Court had erred in its earlier determination.
On May 17 2013, the Land Claims Court found in favour of Phillips.
Its verdict that Phillips had been dispossessed of his land was later confirmed by both the SCA and the Constitutional Court.
Throughout his court battle with the state, Phillips maintained that he had been dispossessed of family land when the properties were forcibly sold in 1977 for R951 300 – a sum that did not constitute just and equitable compensation.
The three farms were acquired by the government from Phillips to be incorporated into the then Ciskei, after the area in which they were situated had been declared a “release area” for occupation by black residents under the Development Act.
Today, the area forms part of the Tsolwana Game Reserve.
A number of farms were taken over by the government at the time, however some owners simply accepted the settlement amount.
Speaking through his Port Elizabeth lawyer, Lunen Meyer, Phillips said it was a great relief that the matter had finally been laid to rest. “I lodged my claim in 1998,” he said. “However, the case dragged on through the Land Claims Court in Randburg, twice in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court for several years.
“It does not make sense to me that I was simply discriminated [against] because I am a white farmer in our democratic country.”
In his submission to the court, Phillips recalled the anguish and trauma he endured when his family was compelled to leave the farms, their home, and a family farming partnership business.
He and his three brothers were forced by the SA Development Trust to sell their farms in the Queenstown and Tarkastad districts to the apartheid government.
Phillips, who was born on a farm that had been owned by his family since 1891, represented his brothers in a farming business, Phillips Brothers Partnership.
“I am grateful to everyone who contributed to this claim finally succeeding,” he said.
He had approached the courts to claim equitable redress in the form of financial compensation as provided for in the Restitution of Land Rights Act.
The two defendants in the matter were Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti and the Eastern Cape Regional Land Claims commissioner.
They had argued In court papers that “as a white farmer he [Phillips] did not fall within the category of people whose human rights were violated because they [white farmers] came from privileged racial groups which enjoyed state support and privileges”.
Nkwinti’s office could not be reached for comment yesterday.