File picture: Itumeleng English/Independent Media
Johannesburg - A 290-hectare piece of land between Alexandra, Marlboro and Kelvin has been lying undeveloped for 27 years following continued disputes between, among others, the City of Joburg, Wits University and nearby residents.

The dispute is set to continue in another round of fighting this year because the city is now threatening to expropriate it for housing for Alex residents, but the university wants to develop it to bring in additional money for poor students.

Adding to the fray are residents who claim only educational institutions may be built on the land as it was donated with the condition that it be used only for educational purposes.

The land, which is close to the Marlboro Gautrain station and Linbro Business Park, was donated to the Colony of the Transvaal by Sir Alfred Beit, a mining magnate, in 1905 to be used for "education in perpetuity" through a deed of gift.

After years of disputes and court cases, Wits last year called for proposals, inviting expressions of interest for the possible sale, development, partial sale and development of the land. Several submissions were received.

In October the city took a decision that the mayor should engage with the university, the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements and the national Department of Land and Rural Development “with a view to acquiring the land, failing which the mayor is authorised to explore expropriation processes in terms of the Expropriation Act”.

In its resolution the council said the nearby Setjwela land (next to Frankenwald) should be developed for “other uses and not human settlement”. Setjwela is an informal settlement on the banks of the Jukskei River. The city wants to relocate Setjwela residents to Frankenwald, as the conditions under which they live are terrible.

Taffy Adler, the director of Wits’ property portfolio, said the Frankenwald Estate was last year made available for development.

“In June, Wits vice-chancellor and principal Professor Adam Habib announced that the development of this land should provide Wits with an additional and alternative income source that will benefit the university and its poor students in particular, currently and in the future.”

The university council approved recommendations from the appointed Frankenwald Task Team and established Wits Governance Committees, in terms of which the bidders listed below were approved to further participate in the request for proposals stage of the project, said Adler.

The short-listed companies are Waterfall Management and Operating Company (Pty) Ltd; Calgro M3 Developments Ltd; Sifiso Learning Group (Pty) Ltd; Investec Property (Pty) Ltd; and the Eris and Century City Property Development Joint Venture.

“The Wits council had also opted to hold over any offers received for the outright purchase of Frankenwald until such time as the appointed Frankenwald task team had completed its evaluation of development proposals to be received from the above-listed shortlisted bidders,” he said.

It is envisaged that the development documents will be made available to the approved bidders this month for a recommendation to be made in June.

“Wits University’s objective is to maximise revenue from this project to support Wits’ long-term sustainability and academic vision, including creating greater access and support for students.

“We are not looking at expanding our campus. We are looking at a mixed-use development with public open spaces which will benefit the community. We are in discussions with the mayor of Joburg.”

Adler said the land was donated by Beit to the government with the restrictions and that when the government transferred the land to the university in 1922, there was no such clause.

Jim Powell of the Frankenwald Development Forum (residents from Buccleuch, Alex and Kelvin) said neighbouring residents had not been consulted sufficiently.

“The land should be deve- loped for the benefit of the whole community. We, as residents and property owners, have vested interests in the area and need more consultation. It was left with conditions on the title deeds and these should be respected,” he said.

Over and above proposals for science techno centres, low-cost housing and a huge shopping centre, Frankenwald made world headlines in 2000 when the Maharishi religious order made an offer to Wits of R133.5 million to build the world’s tallest building. The deal included a $1m non-refundable deposit. The deal was never concluded despite the deposit having been paid.

The Star