District Six claimants take on land reform minister in restitution fight

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.”

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

‘Frustrated’ police resort to force

Regulation uncertainty leaves slap-happy police and soldiers to decide when people should or shouldn’t be allowed on the streets

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders