Give me three more months, land minister tells District Six claimants

Land reform minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the Cape Town High Court on Friday May 17 2019.
Land reform minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the Cape Town High Court on Friday May 17 2019.
Image: Stender von Oehsen

Land reform minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane arrived in the Cape Town High Court on Friday, a month after missing a mandatory District Six hearing.

The minister was there to explain why she should not be held in contempt of court and also to explain where the department stands with a plan for the restitution of District Six.

She admitted she was partially at fault for the delay. "I humbly submit that I have done what I could to comply with the [November] court order," she said. "But I have not given the full effect of that order."

Nkoana-Mashabane was adamant that budget restraints were the main reason an official plan had yet to be finalised.

Once the holistic plan developed by the department and consultancy CNdV was deemed "sellable" by various government departments and stakeholders, she said, it could be introduced to potential investors to help cover the costs.

The minister said the department was still willing to provide only R351m of the potential R11bn the tentative plan could cost, and nothing more. "As we sit here, that is all we have."

The plan remains incomplete and unofficial without an idea of where these funds will come from.

Geoff Budlender, representing the District Six Working Committee, pushed the minister to admit the department did not fulfil a court order from November 2018 to come up with a restitution plan in three months. She refused to take complete blame.

"I do not accept this as my personal responsibility," said the minister. "I did not wilfully ignore my responsibility."

Nkoana-Mashabane said the department needed additional three months to confirm the plan. But acting judge Thembeka Ngcukaitobi questioned if the department would abide by this self-imposed time constraint. The minister confirmed it would.

She said the department has to focus on restitution of land countrywide, and District Six remains one of the toughest cases because it was destroyed under apartheid.

"Unless you had pictures, you wouldn't know what it looked like," said Nkoana-Mashabane.

She did attempt to empathise with the claimants. "I know how it feels," she said. "Restitution]is about justice and dignity for the people. The developments around this case have never escaped my attention."

District Six claimants demonstrate outside the high court in Cape Town on May 17 2019.
District Six claimants demonstrate outside the high court in Cape Town on May 17 2019.
Image: Stender von Oehsen

The courtroom was packed with about 100 claimants listening intently. Nearly 1,000 claimants have been waiting since 1998 to return to District Six.

Claimants picketed outside the high court nearly two hours before the case began, holding signs and singing.

Sharifa Davids, one of the first supporters to arrive, demanded answers from the minister.

"She must state her case why injustice is still going on toward District Six," she said. "She must come with positive things today."

Claimant Sadia Adams said the day was important to her as she had been waiting to return since she was forcibly removed in the mid-1970s.

"We are wishing and we are praying that we will be returning to District Six," she said. "We've heard enough stories, more than enough stories."

The matter was due to continue on Friday afternoon.

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