Ekurhuleni takes property developer to court over land

Mayor Mzwandile Masina wants the city's land back.
Mayor Mzwandile Masina wants the city's land back.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

The ANC-led City of Ekurhuleni in Gauteng is juggling a hot legal and political potato over a piece of land owned by black businessmen.

The city, which is led by ANC Ekurhuleni regional chairperson and a vocal land expropriation advocate Mzwandile Masina, filed papers in the Johannesburg High Court in November last year demanding that the land which was bought from the city be returned to the council.

This after Lapa Property Investments (pty) Ltd allegedly failed to develop the piece of land they bought for R6.3m in 2006.

According to one of the clauses in the sale agreement between Lapa and the city, the land should be transferred back to the council if the company failed to develop it after a decade.

Lapa is owned by B3 Funeral Services chairman Mathews Mogafe, his brothers Jacob, Meshack, property consultant Tommy Pooe and Thozama Reeneth Skosana and Velapi Skosana's trust.

Masina, who has been at the helm in Ekurhuleni since 2016, denied that its legal action was expropriation of black land without compensation.

"It is not about taking the land from black people, it is about upholding the rule of law. As the ANC we can't be seen to be taking the land from black people, but equally we can't be seen to not upholding the rule of law.

"The developer failed to develop the land for over 10 years and that's why we found ourselves with this situation. But there is still a good relationship between us and the developer, that is vhy we, the city manager, the CFO, head of legal and I have agreed to meet with the developer on Wednesday to try to renegotiate the deal," he said.

Jacob Mogafe confirmed that the city had taken them to court.

"Yes, definitely the city filed papers to take the land from us but I can't comment further as the matter is with our legal people," he said.

According to papers seen by Sunday World, Lapa made attempts to have the council to amend some of the conditions attached to the land sale soon after they had taken ownership of it. Their first attempt was in 2008 when they requested that the council reconsider some of the condition in the sale agreement as they felt that economic conditions were no longer conducive for them to continue with the plans they had for the property when they bought it.

Mathews Mogafe
Mathews Mogafe

Council officials declined the request, saying doing so will go against the principles of supply chain management and that will also change the specifications of the tender after the fact.

Documents show that the businessmen then requested an extension of time for the development of the land in 2009, which was then referred to council for debate.

Councillor Bennett Nikani, according to papers, supported the application in 2013 but documents show that council officials dug their heels in three years later, warning that any deviation might open the municipality up for serious legal challenges from others who were bidding for the same land.

When the land was sold to Lapa, it was zoned to construct residential 1 (free standing houses), residential 3 (townhouses) and business 2 properties (small business buildings).

Lapa was expected to rezone the land to provide for the construction residential 2 (duplexes) within 18 months after the date of the registration and commence with the development of the properties.

After all the ping pong between the two parties, the council went to court to pray for the land to be transferred back to it because Lapa allegedly failed to meet the conditions of the sale agreement.

"To date the launching of this present application, the first respondent had not commenced with the development of the property. In the circumstances the applicant seeks a cancellation of the deed of sale albeit it that the conditions of the deed of sale provided for the applicant to have powers to summarily terminate the agreement," read the papers.

X