Stellenbosch wine farm owners' 'land invasion' eviction case postponed

2018-10-25 19:11
Supporters at the Stellenbosch "land invasion" case, at the Western Cape High Court. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Supporters at the Stellenbosch "land invasion" case, at the Western Cape High Court. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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The long-awaited application to evict hundreds of people living on a vacant plot owned by a Stellenbosch wine farming family trust was postponed on Thursday with the expectation by the court that the municipality will use the time to mediate the impasse.

"It is regretful that this matter has to be postponed again," said Acting Deputy Judge President Siraj Desai. 

"It creates uncertainty regarding the housing of many people."

Desai wanted to know why the issue of the alleged illegal occupation had not been resolved by the Stellenbosch municipality yet. 

Counsel for the municipality, advocate Deneys van Reenen, said the municipality had "budgetary difficulties", which made Desai snort. 

"Budgetary difficulties? It's the wealthiest part of the country," he commented. 

Deadlock over relocation

Van Reenen conceded this but repeated that the municipality does have this problem. 

Desai heard from the occupants' lawyer, Ayanda Gladile, that he is from a small law firm, so it had taken long for the complex work of ascertaining the individual circumstances of the people living there now. 

The land that people moved onto from May is owned by the four applicants – Wynand Smith, Pieter Steenkamp, Manie Malan and Esme Smit – who are trustees of the WS Smit Watergang Trust.

Watergang is next to the Louiesenhof wine estate, which is associated with the family. The winery's website says it was founded in 1701.

The alleged illegal occupations gained attention during an impasse over a temporary relocation camp planned by the Stellenbosch municipality.

It wanted to move residents of Kayamandi block-by-block to allow upgrades in the area and then return them to their original homes. The residents felt the council could spend its money better by simply buying them vacant land to settle on so that they don't have to rent in backyards. They were also afraid that they would lose their original homes. 

Support outside court

The occupations gained traction in August and the plot was quickly renamed "Azania" by the people who had erected hundreds of shacks by then and refused to move. They cited severe affordable housing shortages in the area. 

The voices of around 100 people singing outside the court in support of Gladile, who they hired through community contributions, carried into the courtroom during the brief hearing on Thursday. 

Supporters outside also held up banners that read: "We not grabbing the land we took the land was grabbed by the white (sic). 

Another banner called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene.

The lawyer for the landowners' trust, advocate Lawrie Wilken, said he had received Gladile's replying affidavits too late to prepare and needed time to study them.

Van Reenen indicated that the municipality was in a similar position. 

Gladile explained: "It has been a very difficult process to consult with such a large scale of people." 

The case was postponed to December 6, but not without Desai adding that the court also expected the municipality to try and mediate. 

In the meantime, Parliament is expected to debate whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation between November 26 and 28.

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