A decades-long wait by hundreds of Paarl residents for the return of land from which they were forcibly removed during the apartheid era may soon be over, the Western Cape government announced on Monday.

About 400 people, known as the "Hockey Field Claimants", were removed from their land during the 1960s, in terms of the notorious Group Areas Act, the province's transport and public works department said in a statement.

The land - extending over two hectares in the centre of the picturesque Winelands town - was later converted into hockey fields for the 148-year-old La Rochelle Girls High School.

The department said the 400 claimants had applied for the return of their land in 2000.

It said a committee acting on their behalf had signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday with the department, the provincial department of education, the national department of land affairs and the Drakenstein Municipality, which would "lead to the land being returned to them".

The department quoted Transport and Public Works MEC Marius Fransman as saying he was thrilled by the agreement.

"It's an historic occasion. What we're talking about here is prime land, more than two hectares in extent, in the middle of the city centre. Its estimated value is R10-million.

"The imminent transfer of the land to the claimants, who applied for its restitution in 2000, will profoundly change their lives," he said.

The statement also quotes Fransman as saying the school had "threatened legal action" on the matter.

Attempts to contact the school for comment were not successful. - Sapa