Cape Town 160616- The arboretum on Kirstenbosch Drive is one of erven gifted to the claimants of Protea Village. Picture Cindy Waxa.Reporter Lindsay/Argus

Cape Town - A 21-year-long battle by claimants of Protea Village to return to the area now known as Bishopscourt may soon become a reality.

On Saturday, a signing ceremony will take place at the stone cottages across from the Church of the Good Shepherd on Rhodes Drive, to officially mark the start of the development of houses for 86 restitution claimants.

A developer has been appointed to assist in developing two erven on either side of Kirstenbosch Drive.

David Wilson, a claimant and a member of the Protea Village Communal Property Association (CPA) said the claimants - whose ancestors built the church - were excited to finally have reached this point in the protracted process.

“It is the real thing. No more backtracking. It is going to be a historical day for us who have struggled for 21 years.”

The handover ceremony of the properties which were owned by the city council and the Department of Public Works, took place almost 10 years ago - on Heritage Day in 2006.

According to the restitution agreement, the city council would provide the bulk services while the claimants would develop the land at their own costs.

None of the original residents of Protea Village are alive anymore, but their families took up the cudgels to have the land returned. Most of them are settled in suburbs on the Cape Flats including Manenberg, Lotus River, Lansdowne, Steenberg, Retreat and Heideveld.

“We are doing our best to assist the 86 claimants who moved together as a community and grew up together, to return,” said Wilson.

While there were plans on how the houses would be laid out on the properties, a large portion would remain vacant for other developments which he did not want to specify.

Wilson said the CPA was still ironing out financial matters related to developing the properties. According to the request for proposals issued by the Regional Land Claims Commissioner, applicants had to indicate how the property would be developed and managed.

In addition, a business model had to be provided suggesting ways to generate continuous income for the CPA which could include a village organic market and environmentally-oriented facilities.

Any development plans would be open to public comment from the surrounding Bishopscourt and Fernwood communities, Wilson said.

The claimants have, in the past, successfully fended off two legal challenges from residents’ associations.

In 2009, the Bishopscourt and Fernwood residents, led by prominent Cape Town attorney William Booth, sought to have the restitution deal nullified, but lost.

Booth, at the time the owner of an adjacent property, argued that residents had servitude rights in respect of the arboretum, a green public space with a spring.

Restoring the erf would lead to an invasion of privacy and increase noise levels, they argued.

They also complained they were not consulted as interested parties by the then Land Affairs Minister and the Land Claims Commissioner, before the land was donated to the claimants.

In 2011, the residents appealed the ruling and lost again.

On Thursday, Booth said after living in Bishopscourt for 17 years that he had sold his property last year.

His decision to sell was not related to the restitution process, he added.

While he was not against the restitution, he believed the process had to be open to public participation.

Green space also had to be maintained for public use.

“Anything like this should be debated. The residents’ associations were excluded. There is so much development going on in the city and we need open space too.

“Those people were evicted under awful circumstances. We want to make it great for everybody.”

Originally, there were over 130 claimants, but in 2002, 46 of them opted for financial settlements of R17 500 each.

Protea Village was the dwelling place of former slaves of the Protea Estate predating 1835.

When Bishopscourt was established in 1848, it was incorporated into the area governed by the Anglican Church.

The majority of the claimants lived in cottages built in the 1880s to house the men and their families who built the road from Groote Schuur to Hout Bay. The forced removals began in 1965 and by 1970, they were all moved out.

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Cape Argus