Cape Town - The drawn-out fight for restitution will come to a head in the Western Cape High Court today with the District Six working committee taking on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to finally settle their claim.
At a meeting in Salt River on Saturday, attended by hundreds, the department was warned that ‘“we are coming and coming very soon.” Speakers attacked the department for failing to secure restitution for over 50 years.
“We are coming back to our land and we are coming very soon,” said Shahied Ajam, chair of the District Six working committee. He said the court case was significant as it brought together residents who had never lost hope of returning to the area.
The committee filed a court application against the department's failure to provide restitution to District Six claimants since April 1998. The application was lodged at the Land Claims Court in Randburg.
“These claimants did not just lose their homes in District Six; they lost their possession, they lost their sense of social cohesion, their sense of self-empowerment and their dignity, and the department is going to restore that back to us.”
The committee is seeking two forms of relief. It seeks declaratory relief, which is to provide restitution to the claimants who lodged valid claims by December 31, 1998. It also wants mandatory relief and for the department and the commission to provide details of funding and budgeting and progress reports. In court papers it's stated that the national government and the commission have an obligation in terms of the constitution to fulfil the Bill of Rights. One of those rights is the right to restitution.
“This is a landmark case, as never before has this been done where people have held the government legally responsible and liable for the disaster that has happened with regard to giving back the land.”
Law firm Norton Rose Fulbright director Nicki van’t Riet said: “Norton Rose Fulbright remains committed to seeing that the State adheres to its constitutional, legal and contractual obligations in relation to the District Six claimants - individually and as a collective. Today we seek an order declaring that the state is in breach of its restitution duty, which breach they deny. This denial is despite the fact that 89% of claimants have not received restitution.”
She said the state's plans for resolution of the issue were vague.
“Twenty years after the claims were lodged and six months after the court application has been launched, the state is still unwilling to commit to a concrete plan of action with time frames. Today we therefore seek a second court order to elicit a reasonable plan of action to which the state can be held accountable.”
Matlhodi Maseko, chairperson of the provincial standing committee on human settlements, said: “The DA in the Western Cape will continue to hold the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform accountable for their shameful conduct and massive failures towards redressing the injustices of the past, which brutally eroded the dignity of the District Six community, displacing hundreds of families.”
Deputy director-general of rural infrastructure at the Department of Rural Development, Leona Archary, said in court papers that the department was not aware that the District Six working committee represented claimants.
Archary said the District Six reference group was appointed by the claimants in 2012 as a representative body after concerns were raised in relation to the District Six beneficiary trust. “The state respondents have thus engaged with the reference group as the authorised representative of the claimants and as a means for communication with the larger body of claimants.”
The District Six Beneficiary Trust chairperson, Dr Anwar Nagiah, said: “We want the court to give us direction.
"We were shocked that we were respondents in this matter, but didn't fight it. We want this to run its course.”