/ 24 April 2018

District Six claimants take on land reform minister in restitution fight

Forced removals from District Six meant residents in the area were displaced and forced to live in and around the Cape Flats.
Forced removals from District Six meant residents in the area were displaced and forced to live in and around the Cape Flats.

After a breakdown in negotiations, more than 70 District Six land claimants are hauling the minister for rural development and land reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to court for failing to account for them in a restitution process plan.

In total, the Land Claims Commission revealed to the District Six Working Committee, a non-profit organisation which represents the claimants, that 969 claimants had not been included in plans for restitution.

“We actually received a letter from them toward the end of last year which provided us the information we were seeking,” says Nicki van’t Riet, an attorney and director at Norton Rose Fulbright, who is representing the District Six Working Committee.

According to Van’t Riet, the commission told her that in phase three of the District Six restitution process, 108 units were under construction. There are 139 units that have been completed. But, far more claimants have been left unaccounted.

“The last straw was when we said what about the other 969 claimants and they said they haven’t made a plan for them. There is no plan,” Van’t Riet told the Mail & Guardian.

“We thought if we just let this unfold for another 20 years, there will be no claimants left,” she continued.

The 969 claimants account for 80% of the land claims from District Six that were lodged in the 1995-1998 period. This year marks exactly 20 years since those claims were filed. In the past year alone, 13 claimants have died in their elderly age.

Last year, Norton Rose began representing the District Six Working Committee pro bono. From there, discussions began with the land reform department to find out government’s timeframe and planning for restitution in the area near the Cape Town city centre.

But once it was revealed that the land reform minister had not planned for all claimants, court papers were processed and filed on April 3 at the Land Claims Court in Randburg, Johannesburg.

The applicants, who have also cited the Land Claims Commissioner, the City of Cape Town, and Premier Helen Zille as respondents, are seeking a declaratory order from the court that government has failed in its constitutional duty.

They are also asking the court to order government to provide a plan for restitution that will include timeframes, its methodology for allocating units, and its funding.

The 70 claimants

Forced removals from District Six meant residents in the area were displaced and forced to live in and around the Cape Flats. Many of the 70 claimants who long to return home are still living in the Flats, where poverty and violence has increased over the years.

According to Shaheed Ajam, chairperson of the District Six Working Committee, the 70 claimants in the court action are only part of the first phase in the pursuit of justice. Ajam said out of the 969 claimants who have not been allocated any restitution, these 70 are some of the most elderly and vulnerable and were therefore put as applicants in the matter. One of the claimants is already in her 90s.

“If one has regard for why those 70 claimants might be first, importantly, it’s because they are very old. Some are 80, some are 90, some are even older. So, those are the people who suffered the most,” Ajam told the M&G.

“One of those claimants told me: ‘If only I could live for one day in District Six, then God would have answered my prayers,’” he recalls.

District Six has existed as a white elephant in the Cape for decades. From the highway going in and out of the city, commuters driving by can still see the swathes of land which remains untouched and vacant since homes were first torn down in 1966.

According to Ajam, even the construction of the 108 units has now stopped. Ajam said he was told by the project manager last year that funds had run short and the project would have to go to tender once again.

The claimants are now asking the courts to force government to make a plan for them and to report back to the court every three months on the implementation of that plan.

Any respondent who seeks to oppose the case will have to file a motion in the court by the close of business on Tuesday, with papers set to be filed by May 17.

If the matter goes unopposed, it is set to be presented in court on May 28. For the District Six claimants, it will be the first time that they will have the opportunity to make this request of the courts after years of waiting for legal support.

“They have waited for this kind of justice for 20 years,” Ajam said. “For them, it is a sign that they are going home.”