/ 1 July 2009

The battle for Constantia

The Western Cape provincial government is refusing to hand over the title deeds of the 1 000ha of prime land transferred to the newly established state Housing Development Agency (HDA) shortly before the national elections in April.

Premier Helen Zille’s spokesperson, Robert MacDonald, told the Mail & Guardian last week that the provincial government still held the deeds and that transfer of the land could not proceed without them. After the ANC lost to the DA in the province, Zille accused the former ANC provincial government of “asset-stripping” and conducting the transfer of the land — worth about R500-million — in secret.

“The provincial government believes that the transaction is invalid and unenforceable,” Solly Malatsi, media liaison officer in the Western Cape’s ministry of transport and public works told the M&G.

Malatsi said a meeting with the minister of human settlements, Tokyo Sexwale, and the chief executive officer of the HDA, Taffy Adler, was being sought in an attempt to resolve the matter and, failing that, legal action could follow. “The land, including Porter Estate, has not yet been transferred to the HDA. It has been stopped pending resolution of the matter,” he said.

Several prime properties in Constantia, which could have been used for the resettlement of about 80 land claimant families, are included in the land parcels quietly moved to the HDA, which was set up to fast-track housing delivery. Other properties transferred to the HDA are in Mowbray, Parow, Pinelands, Southfield and Philippi.

Constantia land claimants, who fear they may lose out to other beneficiaries of low-cost housing, say they need prompt answers about the land transfer as they are “dying off” while they wait for settlement. Frank Marco (71) said a number of pieces of land, including the sprawling Porter Estate bordering Tokai Forest, had been identified in the past 15 years as sites that could be used for their resettlement.

“Land is lying vacant in Constantia and the land is growing weeds. The situation is pathetic. After all these years of broken promises, still nothing is being done. We don’t know why the ANC transferred the Constantia land, but we do need answers.”

Beverley Jansen, Western Cape regional land claims commissioner, said she was not “formally advised” provincial land would be handed over to national government.

“Gaining access to state land on behalf of our claimants is fraught with challenges for the Regional Commission Western Cape. We do not own any land and have to apply for land from different government departments, including municipalities.

In the case of Constantia, we applied for land for our Constantia claimants. We have completed all our own processes and are waiting only for the Department of Public Works to release land for Constantia and eight other land claims,” she said. Jansen said the claimants were “anxiously waiting” for the release of land.

“In spite of meeting regularly regarding state land, I was not informed of the Constantia matter. We do not need thousands of hectares, just sufficient for about 80 families,” she said. “Some families wish to return to urban farming and others just want a residential property. Our processes require that we give post-settlement support to all our claimants. We are ready to do so.”

The land was signed over by former MEC of transport and public works Kholeka Mqulwana to former unionist Adler of the HDA on May 5 this year. It is believed the valuable land was transferred at no charge by the ANC provincial government on April 21, the day before the elections.

Porter Estate is one of the portions of land mooted by the former provincial government for low-cost houses for the second phase of the government’s N2 project.

Adler refused to comment on the matter and said he was unaware of the Constantia land claimants’ concerns about the transfer. Only project managers from the now technically insolvent government housing agent, Thubelisha Homes, would move over to the HDA, said Adler.

A project management company, Thubelisha has been involved in the government’s flagship Gateway housing project in the Western Cape, which has been fraught with problems, including invasions by landless communities.