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Durban – A landowner on KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast who acquired his property via the land reform process is battling a local municipality that allegedly expropriated the property without his knowledge for a low-cost housing project.

The matter was set down for argument in the Durban High Court on Wednesday.

Represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), 45-year-old Bhekie Dlamini is fighting the KwaDukuza Local Municipality (Stanger area) for the return of the 3 1351 hectares of land it expropriated, allegedly without Dlamini’s knowledge, which has been in his family for generations.

Alternatively, Dlamini is seeking “fair and just compensation” for the property.

He is also seeking an order that section 12 of the Expropriation Act 63 of 1975 is declared unconstitutional, as it is inconsistent with section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Dlamini’s property – previously owned by the state - was registered in his name in September 2002. 

The transfer was part of land reform undertaken by the then Department of Land Affairs, which first contacted Dlamini’s mother in 1999 to alert her to the issuing of title deeds.

“Towards the end of December 2013, I heard rumours circulating around Groutville that the property had been expropriated by [KwaDukuza Local Municipality]. I then decided to make enquiries at [their] office … and was advised by an official that they would compensate me for the sum of R117 000 for the expropriation of the property,” said Dlamini in his founding affidavit.

“I asked the official to provide me with the necessary documents proving that the property had indeed been expropriated and that I would be compensated. The official did not have the relevant documents,” said Dlamini.

Dlamini was one of about 50 residents who had their land expropriated to make way for the Charlotte Dale Housing Project, which is set to supply homes and basic services to those living in informal housing 

Dlamini says the estimated value of the main house on his property is R555 000. He started to build a second house but ceased when he heard about the expropriation.

The land is being used to grow maize, but Dlamini said that future plans include crops of "madumbes and sweet potatoes". His mother and grandparents used to grow and sell sugarcane on the land to support the family, he says.

It was the LRC that eventually managed to source the documentation proving that Dlamini’s land had indeed been expropriated.

Dlamini said he had never seen the expropriation notice, which was published in a regional newspaper in February 2012 and officially gazetted in March 2013. The amount being offered for the land was recorded as R108 900 in the notice.

Dlamini contends he was not served with a notice of expropriation and was not made aware of any public meetings about the expropriation, although the municipality says it convened “no fewer than four meetings” with the affected communities.

He also wants to know why the municipality never engaged with him to ascertain if it could purchase the land “on reasonable terms”, as laid out in the Housing Act.

The LRC wrote to the municipality in March 2016, told them the prescribed expropriation procedure had not been followed and asked them to withdraw the expropriation.

But the municipality insists Dlamini knew about the expropriation and did not lodge a formal objection within the stipulated time period. 

Dlamini is contesting this assertion, saying he could not obtain relevant information from the municipality in order to lodge a complaint. 

He is asking that the court condone his late objection.

The municipality contends that due process was followed throughout the process and that the housing project will have an impact on poverty reduction. It argues that landowners will be paid market value for their properties and solatium (compensation for the inconvenience or emotional strain caused by the expropriation).

The matter was postponed to 19 February and moved to the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

African News Agency (ANA)