Mixed emotions as massive Joburg land claim gets underway

2016-11-24 21:07
Deputy chief land claims commissioner Thami Mdontswa (Netwerk24)

Deputy chief land claims commissioner Thami Mdontswa (Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg - Attendees of a meeting on what is believed to be the biggest land claim in Johannesburg to date expressed mixed emotions as they gathered in a conference room at Emperor's Palace on Thursday.

The land claim affects hundreds of individuals and companies in Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni.

Thabo Lucky Mogagabe lodged the claim with the commission on behalf of the Bakwena Ba Mare a Phogole on May 19, 1995. It was gazetted, along with a list of affected properties, on November 4.

Those affected include individuals and entities such as the SA National Roads Agency Limited, the Red Ant Relocation and Eviction Services, Thomas Maponya Hospital, the national and Gauteng governments, the Rand Water Board, Hoërskool President and the Glenvista Country Club.

They have until February 2 next year to submit their representations.

On Thursday the commission held its first public meeting with the aim of calming the fears and worries that had begun to spread across the affected neighbourhoods.

2 of 7 stages complete

Deputy chief land claims commissioner Thami Mdontswa told more than a hundred people gathered at the meeting there was no need to panic as the commission was only at its third stage of processing the claim.

There were seven stages involved in processing a land claim with the commission. The first was to lodge the complaint, then conduct a preliminary investigation, followed by gazetting the claim and giving notice to the public. This was where the commission currently was.

The steps to follow would include further investigation, claimant verification, negotiations, a settlement or referral to court and the implementation of a settlement or a court order.

Mdontswa told those in attendance that the Restitution of Land Rights Act required that in settling claims the commission avoid major social disruptions. This meant that successful claims over already-developed land would be settled by providing alternative state-owned land or money.

Amongst those in attendance were homeowner associations from housing estates in the south of Johannesburg including Bassonia, Eagles Nest and Aspen Hills. Other parties present were the AfriForum and a number of representatives from churches and schools in the designated area.

During the four-hour meeting most questions put to the commission officials were centred around evidence proving that the Bakwena were indeed in control of the piece of land during the time of their dispossession. Others also asked what proof they had that the land they were claiming was as large as they were alleging as well as whether property owners would be expected to contribute financially if the claim was considered successful.


A public meeting on the Bakwena Ba Mare a Phogole Community land claim which will affect thousands of individuals and businesses was hosted by the Land Claims Commissioner in Gauteng. (Mpho Raborife, News24)

Uncertainty

Shortly after the hearings ended a Brackendowns resident and lawyer representing some of the affected parties, including the Glen Vista Country Club, told News24 that residents were panicking due to the lack of information surrounding the matter.

"People are panicked but I think they're starting to settle down as more information comes through," Marque Fontes said.

"Right now, most people want information. There were a lot of unanswered questions; there is a lot of uncertainty about what exactly are the affected properties...."

He said he had attended a meeting for affected property owners and that about 400 people had showed up with concerns, with most worried about the claim affecting property prices in the area. Most of the residents had resolved to get more information from the commission and to submit their objections and representations on the matter. The deadline for submitting representations was February 4.

"I'm hoping that two things happen, I'm hoping that if there is a legitimate claim, I hope it gets settled. That people who suffered under past racial laws get settled [and secondly] I hope that legitimate properties who shouldn't be subject to the claim, that the commissioner issues a notice withdrawing [those] properties from the claim," Fontes said.

Meanwhile, a representative of the Bakwena said the meeting was a long-awaited step in the right direction.

"We are very much happy that at least we are entering into a different phase into our claim on our ancestors' land," Abisael Mogagabe told News24 after the meeting concluded.

'No regard for pain and suffering'

"Previously we've gone through quite a lot of disappointment, we've gone through hurtful moments through the hands of the officials of the Land Claims Commission and for us it's a great relief that at this stage we are talking about the issues relating to the gazetting of the land."

However, Mogagabe, who is secretary general of the Bakwena, said it had been disheartening for him and others representing the Bakwena to only hear about the rights of the current and affected property owners.

"At one stage while we were sitting and listening to everybody talking, we noted that the rights of everybody had been mentioned but the rights of the claimants have never been mentioned.

"All the landowners and affected parties who have been making statements in this room today, none of them had any regard to the pain and suffering that the Bakwena have suffered. It's a bit disturbing," Mogagabe said.

He said the Bakwena, who consist of three main branches, have between 20 000 to 30 000 members scattered across the country.

He said although they were breathing a sigh of relief that their claim was now being addressed, what was more important was what compensation would they receive as a result.

"For us...most important is that the wealth that we have lost through many generations, we will at a particular stage be able to [re]build it.

"It might not be as big as it would have been [if] the land had not been taken [but] at least we will be able to start that phase where we ensure that every descendant of Mare a Phogole is wealthy going into the future."

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  land claims

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