Land claim a cat among the pigeons in Tshwane

2015-03-16 06:00

A 25?000-hectare land claim has had middle class homeowners in Tshwane in a froth about their property values.

They’re worried that if Bakgatla ba Lekhuleni chief Velaphi Victor Lekhuleni’s multibillion-rand claim – which covers swaths of Gauteng, Limpopo and North West – is successful, banks will reconsider their mortgages.

The claim encompasses diplomatic properties, security estates, farms, old age homes and government buildings.

Even though Lekhuleni’s lawyer insists her client has no interest in taking over occupied property – he is most interested in vacant plots, land and farms – residents are panicking.

City Press found that the average value of residential properties affected by the claim in Tshwane’s north and east, and in the agricultural community of Cullinan, is R1.5?million.

Last Saturday, residents held a meeting in Pretoria to discuss the claim. Some suggested they would sell their homes rather than wait on tenterhooks for the outcome of Lekhuleni’s claim.

Lynette du Plessis, who runs a lobby group for property and landowners, called TLU, said many of its members were potentially affected by the claim.

Their major worry was that financial institutions and banks would refuse to fund disputed land – the claim process takes years to settle and, during that time, any selling, rezoning or property extensions have to be reported to the Land Claims Commission.

Du Plessis said land claims were “a very emotional process on both sides”.

“The biggest concern is the productive farms, which could be left barren. Restitution must be done with great insight into what is going on at the farm – and to get backing from government to carry on with production. This will affect jobs and future investment,” said Du Plessis.

In documents lodged as part of the claim, Lekhuleni said the Lekhuleni tribe, many of whose members were still alive and supported the claim, was removed by the apartheid government between 1958 and 1960, a period during which many black South Africans were dispossessed of their land.

“The communities of Mhwaduba of Bakgatla ba Lekhuleni were forcefully removed from their tribal land by government officials because they were black people,” the chief writes in his submissions.

“The rights lost by the communities through dispossession were rights of ownership, habitation, grazing, crop farming, stock farming, burial rights and traditional rights.”

Lekhuleni’s claim will likely be hampered by a law that forbids the restitution of built-up communities. But this isn’t calming nervous property owners, who Du Plessis said wanted government to “speed up” the claim process.

“This claim is affecting the future of new residential developments and industrial areas, and there is a lot of anxiety,” said Henri Combrink, the chairperson of the Cullinan Farmers’ Union.

But Combrink urged people to get involved in opposing the claim instead of panicking.

Henning Pieters, the principal of Clapham High School in Rietondale, said when he first heard about the claim, he was worried about what would happen to the school’s 1?000 pupils and staff.

The school is close to the department of international relations and cooperation’s headquarters, one of the government buildings that stands on part of the chief’s landclaim.

“But we believe government is taking care of this claim and we will continue doing our jobs. They won’t kick us out of the school as we had thought,” said Pieters.

The TLU is one of several bodies fighting the chief’s claim. Submissions can be made on the claim until June 1.

Vivien de Klerk, Lekhuleni’s lawyer, said their claim had been “thoroughly investigated and we are certain of a successful outcome”.

She urged people not to panic.

“There is no reason for their anxiety because the claim is against government,” said De Klerk.

“All the law provides for is that if you are an affected property owner and you plan to sell or add extensions to your property, you must notify the regional land claims commission in writing, the same thing a property owner would normally do to inform the council.”

De Klerk told City Press the chief was preparing to lodge a criminal and civil case against another group, which has claimed the same 25?000ha since news of his application broke last week.

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