District Six committee threatens legal action over delays

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Phase 3 redevelopment of District Six in Hanover Street
Phase 3 redevelopment of District Six in Hanover Street
  • The District Six Working Committee is mulling further possible litigation against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. 
  • The department initially promised the return of 108 claimants to the completed phase three development back in March.
  • In June, the department said the process of returning to District Six for these claimants will take place from 24 June to 16 July.

The District Six Working Committee, the organisation that spearheaded a court case against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to compel it to ensure claimants return to the area, is mulling further litigation.

This after the department promised the return of 108 claimants to the completed phase three development back in March. The committee says it will apply further legal pressure on the State to speed up its lagging land restitution process in the area. 

Committee spokesperson Karen Breytenbach said the situation has become untenable. 

"The many delays we’ve seen with the current third phase of the District Six restitution project over the past year are not only holding up other parties and parts of the greater restitution process, but are causing grave, repeated distress to the already traumatised claimant community," she said. 

READ | Elation as District Six claimants prepare to move into new homes

Breytenbach added they were deeply concerned and dismayed about the ongoing delays and excuses on the part of the national government. They have since met with their legal team at Norton Rose Fulbright to find a way forward for the claimants. 

"The committee's legal team is writing to Minister Thoko Didiza and her senior legal team to request that they urgently address several previous concerns about the lethargic restitution process in its upcoming progress report to the Land Claims Court which is due next week Friday. The committee and its legal team will be requesting an urgent meeting with Didiza and her state attorney's office."

The department had promised back in June that the process of returning to District Six for these claimants would take place from 24 June to 16 July. Since then, the process has been marred by delays, with the department citing Covid-19 as a reason. 

"The group of 108, for instance, was first told they would move into their new flats in March, then were told to quickly sign and move in in April only to be told those plans were being cancelled a week later, and today six months later they are still in limbo. And when many of them enquired, they were met with unhelpfulness and rudeness - just to add insult to injury," Breytenbach said. 

ALSO READ | District Six: Claimants to return home 55 years after being forcibly removed

The committee was locked in a class action lawsuit against the government over its failure to deliver restitution 27 years into democracy.

A judgment in 2019 found the department had failed to comply with a court order to draft a plan to redevelop District Six.

The department's spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo told News24 they have been in contact with the beneficiaries. 

He said:

Every quarter we have submitted a court report as required by the court order and we are due to submit another report next week Friday. The court would've charged the minister with contempt of court already should we not have submitted these reports. At this stage we have been in contact with the beneficiaries and we have dealt with the appeals that have come through. We are just waiting for the go-ahead for them to move in.

The provincial standing committee chairperson on Human Settlements Matlhodi Maseko said the department has been silent since July about the progress on the return of many elderly beneficiaries who have been unable to return home since their removal more than 50 years ago.  

"I will call for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Settlements in the Western Cape to discuss the way forward. It is time that the Minister stops stonewalling residents, put the people first and communicate on the timelines and expected outcomes for Phase 3 in District 6 as she promised in April," she said. 

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