‘Illegal’ house owners win case, but council vows to fight on

2013-01-16 00:00

MSUNDUZI Municipality will not give up the fight to stop illegal houses being built by rich people on land earmarked for low-cost housing for the poor at Ambleton and Slangspruit farms in the Thornville district.

This was the message yesterday from municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi after he admitted the municipality had “well and truly lost” its initial high court case against the illegal occupiers on “legal technicalities”.

Loud clapping and cheering greeted yesterday’s decision by Judge Yvonne Mbatha to discharge an interim interdict relating to the luxury houses that have been built on the land owned by the municipality. According to court papers, more than 350 families are living there. The court was told that the number could be even higher.

Judge Mbatha agreed with submissions by attorney Sundeep Singh, who represented the house owners, that the municipality had failed to properly serve the court papers on the alleged illegal occupiers and that the case had not been shown to be urgent.

She said photographs of the houses in question showed that “this is an old settlement”.

Advocate Judy Singh submitted that the application had been brought on an urgent basis by the municipality late last year and said the fact that a judge had granted an interim order in chambers at the time indicated acceptance that it was urgent.

However, she agreed that the wording of the court order did not reflect this. She submitted that the urgency was created by the fact that the illegal occupiers were continuing to build houses on the land, which is earmarked for phase three of a low-cost housing scheme.

Phase one and two are already complete.

None of the illegal occupiers had applied for or been granted planning permission, she said. They had simply disposed of signage erected indicating that this was municipal land and ignored the intervention of a ward councillor and others who informed them that what they were doing was unlawful.

“Court action was the last step when the municipality had run out of options,” she said.

Singh added that it was of concern that Msunduzi’s low-cost housing development was being jeopardised by “wealthy people” taking over land earmarked for the “poor and needy”.

When giving her ruling, Judge Mbatha said the court did not condone land invasions, but courts had a duty always to have regard for the Constitution.

Speaking amid his waving and cheering clients outside the court later, Sundeep Singh said justice had prevailed.

“It’s high time that our local municipality follows correct procedures in these matters,” he said.

He said the ruling meant that there was no court order in place preventing anyone from building or continuing to live on the land in question.

However, Nkosi said later that he had issued immediate instructions to the legal team to correct any flaws in the original procedures followed and to bring a fresh application in court as soon as possible.

“The fact is that this land belongs to the municipality and is being occupied illegally … We have to remove these people in order to proceed with the low-cost housing project.”

Nkosi said many people had been on a waiting list for low-cost housing for a long time and it was “unfair for people with lots of money” to illegally take over their land and build on it.

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