Stellenbosch protesters claim luxury developer broke promise over houses

Cape Town – Police were monitoring a protest near the multi-million rand Longlands luxury estate development near Stellenbosch on Friday amid claims that a developer had reneged on a promise to build low-cost houses for farmworkers who lived on the land before it was sold.

"This office can confirm that "[SAPS] members monitored the protest from early this morning," said police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk.

Tourist spots

He said the police had at no stage fired any shots at the protesters and there had been no reports of injuries or damage to property.

"At this stage no one has been arrested," he said.

Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said the protest took place on the Stellenbosch Arterial/Polkadraai Road opposite Vlottenburg and Longlands Estate.

The road, which feeds many of the popular tourist spots in the Cape Winelands, was blocked with burning tyres on Friday morning, with people urged to use alternative routes.

Deal subject to land transfer

Carmen Louw, co-director of the Women on Farms Project which supports the workers, told News24 that the protest was related to a promise made in 2008 after the original farmland was sold to a developer.

It was rezoned for luxury homes costing millions each with the proviso that the farmworkers would also get houses.

Louw said the new owner, Francois Smith, (also described in some documents as Francois Smit) promised farmworker families who had been living on the land 106 low-cost housing units as part of the overall development.

Comment was not immediately available from him.

Utilities infrastructure

Louw said the undertaking to the supposed beneficiaries of the low-cost housing project was that it was subject to transfer of ownership of a portion of the land to the Stellenbosch municipality to enable the activation of various government housing subsidies and allowances as well as utilities infrastructure.

Louw said that there had been many delays, which included an attempt at a court interdict to prevent the farmworkers from protesting over the delays. That interdict was suspended.

Land resold

She said the first and third phases of the housing development had gone ahead – the luxury housing with properties on offer for millions of rand, and a BP garage and convenience store, but the low cost-housing aspect stalled.

She said that the farm workers expected the actual building of the houses to begin at the end of November 2017.

During a call to check on progress, residents say that they discovered that the land had been sold again without their knowledge and they believe that the owner and municipality was negotiating with the protesters in bad faith.

Municipal manager

"He (the old owner) agreed that by the end of October documents would be ready for transfer so that the municipality could sign and the municipality could get the land," said Louw.

"Now it has transpired that he sold the land and the new owner has met the municipal manager," she said.

Louw said a meeting with the municipality has been scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the issue and they understand that the actual deed of sale to the new owner has not yet been finalised.

"We do not know what is going on," she said.

Help from municipality

According to the minutes of a Longlands Homeowners Association (LHA) meeting of June 14 2012, residents were told that low cost housing project "is currently being delayed by an NHBRC (National Homebuilders Registration Council) decision. It was also explained that this project will not share any facilities with the main development, other than service connections".

The facilities in the main development of the estate included security and telecommunications connections.

Stellenbosch municipal manager Geraldine Mettler told News24 that the owner was supposed to build the houses.

"The owner of the Longlands property had to build the houses on Longlands and not the municipality. However, when he failed to fulfil his obligation, the municipality realised the community's predicament and having met the community members many times, the municipality investigated possible solutions".

Build the houses

She said the municipality may only build on land owned by the municipality and therefore asked Smit to transfer the land to the municipality. "Until today, the land has not been transferred; instead the owner apparently sold the land and transferred his rights to someone else," said Mettler.   "The proposed new owner indicated that he is prepared to now build the houses and the municipality is making every effort to assist him to do so. 

"The municipality has always acted in good faith and was even prepared to take over some obligations of Mr Smit in order to assist the community. 

"The municipality is committed to do everything within its legal framework to get these houses built. We sincerely hope that the new owner will fulfil his promises and build the houses as agreed".

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