Division mars De Novo’s future

SOYISO MALITI

Residents of the De Novo farming community on the outskirts of Kraaifontein are deeply divided over who actually owns the land they live on, while community leaders continue to seek a solution to the impasse.

On the sidelines of a walkabout by Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, on Thursday May 19, the leaders of a project steering committee (PSC) rejected claims by a group calling itself an ad hoc committee and claiming to represent residents living in derelict buildings in De Novo.

In last week’s Northern News, the ad hoc committee claimed the Department of Public Works could not lay claim to the land as it had not produced a title deed (“Dead end at De Novo”, Northern News, May 18).

However, the community’s “democratically elected” steering committee disputed both that claim and accusations that the department had tried to force the occupants of the ruined buildings to sign lease agreements.

Bianca Booysen, the PSC’s secretary, vented her anger about the group’s claim, calling them “bogus”.

She said the PSC had written communication from the Department of Public Works and Transport MEC Donald Grant saying they only recognised Ms Booysen’s committee as the liaison channel with the community.

She said she would email this correspondence to Northern News, but, by time of going to print, we had not received it and neither had we been able to verify her her claims with either Public Works or Mr Grant’s office.

However, the DA’s Stellenbosch Ward 19 councillor, Jan Hendricks, said the PSC reported to his ward committee. Asked about the issue between the ad hoc committee and ward committee, he said there had been accusations flying around against the PSC, but he did not recognise the ad hoc committee.

He said he had taken all the problems reported to him to the Stellenbosch council.

Ms Booysen said the rumour that they had brought in outside residents to vote the PSC in was incorrect and that the voting process had strictly included local residents.

She said there had been historical feuds between two old committees, De Novo Vereniging and the Loodskommitee. The committees had dissolved to become the PSC and the “ad hoc committee”, respectively. The names had changed, but the feuding hadn’t.

The ad hoc committee said they had been given a “crown ground letter” by the Union of South Africa — before the apartheid regime — which stipulated that the residents owned the land.

In addition, this letter said one of the buildings could only be rented out for educational purposes, according to supporters and members of the ad hoc committee.

Ms Booysen rejected this, saying that law had been established in 1902 and was inapplicable today. “They don’t want to pay,” she said.

“We have always wanted to work with the (provincial Public Works and Human Settlements) government in seeking solutions. Remember, the land doesn’t belong to us.”

Ms Booysen added that their counterparts wanted “to benefit on the land but they don’t want to pay” because they argue it’s their fathers’ land.

“(Public Works) keeps the electricity on, yet they still bad mouth the department,” she said.

Ms Booysen said the PSC was privy to the department’s budget for De Novo, but declined to reveal the amount.

The PSC leadership said the two committees had come together, along with former City mayor, Peter Marais, in their case during a tribunal hearing in 2014, when the department was told to issue a maintenance plan, remove illegal farmers – who have not been removed – and fix roads, among other things.

According to Ms Booysen, included in the ruling was that residents who had paid their rent, as per agreement with the department for a year after the ruling, would have their historical debt cleared.

Henry Gouws, who said he had represented himself independently at the tribunal hearing, said he had never worked with Mr Marais. He said the department had not adhered to the verdict, which said the defects on the houses had to be repaired.

“The million dollar loophole is that you can’t transfer land to provincial government.”

He said he believed things would have been different had the national government taken over the land. He said the actions of the provincial department had been tantamount to land expropriation.

Mr Gouws said residents’ stay of up to 45 years in De Novo had been completely disregarded by the Western Cape government. His bill had accumulated to over R90 000, despite not being in a contract with the department. He said after the tribunal hearing, he had refused “to sign my life away” on the lease agreements by the department.

John Peters, PSC chairman, said there were legal and illegal residents in De Novo and that most of the latter group had been part of the ad hoc committee. “I know of at least five to 10 households that live there illegally.

“There have been no evictions, but security guards have broken down structures there.”

Mr Peters dispelled talk of the PSC’s illegitimacy, saying they had been elected by the De Novo residents and acknowledged by the Department of Public Works.

During the site visit, Mr Madikizela said the issues would be ironed out in a detailed follow-up meeting on Monday June 6.

“We’ll ask for (the community’s) input, plan and take it from there, but this situation cannot continue like this,” he said.

Accompanied by Mr Peters, Mr Madikizela said: “We have been discussing the issue. It was put on the table two years ago immediately after the second term of this government.”

Heinrich Fortune, vice-chairman of the ad hoc committee, wanted to know why the Stellenbosch mayor, Conrad Sidego, had been part of the visit. Earlier he asked “if it was for a beautiful show for the community” that they had come.

Mr Madikizela said he had invited the municipality to come because they wanted to find solutions together.

The MEC said provincial departments of Human Settlements and Public Works had joined up to tackle the issue.

He said Public Works was the landlord, but his department was going to deal with the housing aspects. At this point, Mr Fourtune asked: “Are you sure?” Mr Madikizela said “yes”.

The tribunal ruled that tenants had to sign the standard lease agreement before March 31 in 2014, said Byron la Hoe, spokesman for the provincial Department of Public Works. Additionally, all tenants had to, as from February 1 in 2014 “and irrespective of whether a lease agreement has been signed, or not” pay rent to the department, which had to submit monthly bills for rent and municipal services to each and every tenant.

He added that, according to the ruling, should “any tenant be unable to pay monthly rent and/or services, such tenants are to approach the department with full particulars of his/her financial situation. However, this does not absolve the tenant from his/her duty to comply with the ruling until another arrangement has been made”.

Meanwhile, Mr Marais took to Facebook on May 10 to comment on the saga.

“Why is it that it is always a ‘white’ DA minister that evicts ‘coloured’ people illegally and without mercy. Is there a race element at play here?

“In 2012, it was Robin Carlisle, then (MEC) of Public Works who got a court order to evict 83 coloured families at De Novo in Kraaifontein who have been living there since the World War II. I defended them before the Housing Tribunal and won the case after more than one and a half years. The tribunal instructed Carlisle to give the people permanent stay and to write off more than one and a half million rand of arrears.”