Answer to a question from a reader

We have been told that the tribal authority did not have the right to sell land to us. What will happen to us?

The short answer

Even if an eviction order is granted, you cannot be evicted until after lockdown. You may need legal assistance if you want to be recompensated.

The whole question

Dear Athalie

We bought land from the tribal authority in Polokwane and built houses on the properties. Now, the High Court has ruled that the land belongs to the Lepelle Nkumpi Local Municipality because the tribal authority did not have the right to sell it.

The long answer

As far as you yourselves are concerned, you cannot be evicted from your property without a court order, under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act (the PIE Act). PIE will have different procedures for private owners and organs of state, like the municipality.

You must be given a copy of the application for a court order and the date of the hearing. You should attend the hearing and give your side of the story. The municipality will also have to tell the court whether it can provide alternative accommodation or not. The municipality will have to obtain a court order to evict you, but the eviction order cannot be carried out until the lockdown is lifted.

As the High Court judgment in favour of the municipality shows, the land in question has been in dispute between the tribal authority and the municipality for years, and the municipality has had plans to develop the land to benefit local communities. Now that the municipality has been found to be the rightful owner, it is likely that the court will grant an eviction order. It would be important to tell the court that you paid for the property, believing that the tribal authority had the right to sell it, and to ask the court what remedy is open to you to recover your money from the tribal authority, and/or to recover what you spent on buildings and improvements from the municipality, as you honestly but mistakenly believed that you were the legal owner of the land.

In South African property law, there is something called a "lien" or a right to claim for expenditure on the property of another person, which you believed to be your own property. The type of lien which may apply to you is the enrichment lien, which may, in turn, be a salvage lien (that is, preventing damage or deterioration) or an improvement lien (that is, making useful improvements to the property that increase its value). 

If you brought a case to court to be compensated for the improvements you have made to the property, you would have to show proof of expenditure and receipts, and the court has the power to decide if this applies.

It would be good to find out from a lawyer what your rights might be in this case. As far as claiming your money back from the tribal authority, you would also need to consult a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can approach Legal Aid, which is a means-tested organisation that must help people whose income falls below a certain level. These are their contact details: 

Tel: 0800 110 110 (Monday to Friday 8am – 4pm)

Send Please Call Me: 079 835 7179


Fraud and Ethics Hotline: 0800 153 728 

Wishing you the best,

Answered on Aug. 27, 2021, 1:15 p.m.

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