Funding approved for Shortts Retreat settlement

2012-08-14 00:00

THE provincial government has provisionally approved funding to the tune of R75 million to buy 12 properties at Shortts Retreat for Msunduzi Municipality to provide permanent housing for the informal settlers living there.

This is according to a letter before the high court in Pietermaritzburg yesterday. Indications are that the move — which must still be finally approved by the MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works — will bring an end to ongoing court battles that have raged between the illegal settlers, Msunduzi Municipality and the private owners of the land, Daisy Dear Investments Pty Ltd, Hassim Ally and Zainab Ally, since 2006.

The land is zoned as industrial land.

Advocate Piet Bezuidenhout, representing the landowners, told Judge Kevin Swain yesterday that his clients were not averse to selling the property if they were offered a “realistic” price, which was not offered by Msunduzi Municipality in the past.

He said his clients wanted some “concrete” assurances that funding for the expropriation of the land would be forthcoming.

In those circumstances, they would not pursue their application to evict the illegal occupiers.

They also would drop a contempt of court application against Msunduzi Municipality for failing to provide the then 1 065 illegal occupants with temporary housing in terms of a court order made by Judge Anton van Zyl on April 7, 2011.

Explaining the reasons for the failure in an affidavit filed earlier this year, Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said that when the municipality put forward the option to house the settlers in emergency housing at Ambleton, it was operating in severe financial circumstances and was under the control of an administrator.

“It was always made clear that the municipality could not accomplish the move to Ambleton without the full, and especially financial assistance of the provincial government,” he said.

He said that before the court order was granted, an official from the provincial Department of Human Settlements confirmed that financial assistance with the relocation would be forthcoming from the province. However, this was no longer the case.

Another obstacle to providing emergency housing at Ambleton was that the area first required an environmental impact assessment by the Department of Agriculture which would cost R80 000 and take about 18 months to complete.

Nkosi said municipal officials had met head of Human Settlements, Gabi Gumbi-Masilela, on January 27 this year, who believed that “relocation was not a feasible option”.

At that stage, she indicated that she was aiming for a solution that would involve the expropriation of the properties and planning for a “multi-use, mixed-use township”.

A letter sent to Msunduzi, dated July 30 and signed by Human Settlements manager C.A. Robinson, shows that the MEC has approved funding in the “provisional amount of R75 million” for the purchase of the properties.

Attorney Sundeep Singh, representing the illegal occupiers of the Shortts Retreat land, told Judge Swain that the settlers were “ecstatic” about the proposal.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness said it was important that housing developments were near to industrial areas to alleviate the need for people to travel long distances to and from work. She said one has to be mindful of the industrial land stock. “We don’t have a great deal of land for industrial development,” she told The Witness.

The case is likely to return to court at the end of November.

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