Stadium show must go on

Mpumalanga’s provincial government is threatening to reverse a R63-million land claim settlement unless the farmworker beneficiaries agree to surrender a prime portion of their ancestral land for just R1.

The land, just outside the provincial capital of Nelspruit, is the site of Mpumalanga’s flagship R1-billion 2010 World Cup stadium.

Provincial authorities started building the stadium on the 118ha piece of land two years ago without actually owning it.

Last year the “Matsafeni” community of land claim beneficiaries — people living on the land — protested. Nelspruit’s Mbombela municipality then secretly negotiated a sales agreement with their representatives, the Matsafeni Trust, granting the land to government for just R1.

The R1 deal was signed by the city’s 2010 coordinator, Differ Mogale, but he failed to declare his relationship with a former chairperson of the Matsafeni Trust, Terry Mdluli. Mogale, together with former Mbombela mayor Justice Nsibande, is a member of a tourism company called Blue Nightingale, of which Mdluli is board director.

An independent commission of inquiry has recommended that criminal charges be laid against Nsibande and Mogale for failing to declare their interests.

Both national Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana and the national land claims commission warned at the time that the sale was illegal because it violated clauses built into the title deed to protect the community. Xingwana also said that Mpumalanga had failed to obtain her written permission for the sale as required by law.

Lawyers acting for the community say that the trustees failed to call the required special general meeting needed to get 75% community approval of the deal.

Last month the Pretoria High Court replaced the Matsafeni trustees who made the deal with nine new community representatives.

The jubilant community asked lawyer Richard Spoor to tell government that it doesn’t want to derail Mpumalanga’s 2010 preparations but does want a fairer sales agreement to be negotiated.

“We would all be delighted to resolve the sale and [we] have been waiting for weeks to start discussions. But government appears to be refusing to deal with the new trustees or the community itself,” said Spoor on Thursday.

Instead, Mpumalanga’s cabinet and Mbombela municipality sent a terse, two-page letter to Spoor, saying that they regard the original R1 sale as legitimate and will therefore transfer the land ownership from the community to government.

The letter, from Kruger-Moeletsi Attorneys, says that any attempt by the community or Spoor to resist the transfer will provoke a response from the provincial treasury, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and national government to “safeguard” the tens of millions of rand already spent on the stadium.

The letter further warns that the entire land claim is being reviewed by the National Department of Land Affairs. This review includes an examination of the award of the land to the community, the title deed restrictions and the “restrictive conditions” imposed on the land as part of the settlement to protect the Mdluli clan, farmworkers and other residents who live on it.

“We also have instructions to inform you that [government], after due investigation, has information at hand that your demands are being fuelled and financed by an outside party. Such information shall and will be made available in any court proceedings to the detriment of such party,” the letter says.

“Lastly we have been instructed to inform you that any application brought by yourself, which obviously cannot be on behalf of the Matsafeni, will be opposed and a punitive cost order will be requests against the party deposing the affidavit and yourself.”

Spoor said the letter is “outrageous intimidation” and that the Matsafeni community would bring an urgent interdict before the Pretoria High Court on Friday to freeze the transfer.

“I have signed mandates from the founder of the trust, Phineas Mdluli, six of the nine new trustees plus 750 of the Matsafeni beneficiaries. I take instruction directly from them alone and act for the beneficiaries and not anyone else,” said Spoor.

National land spokesman Godfrey Mdhluli said on Thursday he was not aware that the ministry supported Mpumalanga’s bid to transfer the land, while national land claims commissioner and acting land affairs director general Tozi Gwanya said on Thursday he had not been briefed about the matter.

Mbombela’s executive mayor, Lassy Chiwayo, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday. — African Eye News Service

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Justin Arenstein
Justin Arenstein works from Africa. Investigative journalist & #CivicTech strategist. Manages innovation fund tech labs across Africa. Founder @afriLEAKS @Code4Africa @AfricanCIR @HHAfrica Justin Arenstein has over 7519 followers on Twitter.
Gcina Ntsaluba
Gcina Ntsaluba works from Johannesburg. Investigative journalist, Researcher, Writer

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