Victory for De Novo residents

SOYISO MALITI

The De Novo project steering committee (PSC) believes it has achieved victory after the Department of Public Works agreed to give land to 85 families in the area and relinquish the day-to-day management of the property to the Department of Human Settlements.

The announcement comes after months of disagreement between residents and leaders about the state of rental units in De Novo and land ownership.

The departments met with the residents on Monday June 6, at De Novo. John Peters, chairman of the PSC, told the Northern News it was a victory for De Novo residents, but stressed that there were still “loose ends to be tied”.

Mr Peters said the Department of Public Works would hand over the running of De Novo to the Department of Human Settlements “over time”.

“We were quite surprised, we didn’t know what to expect. We had gone into the meeting guessing Public Works would hand over De Novo to Human Settlements. Obviously the details still have to be ironed out,” said Mr Peters.

The chairman described the meeting as “tense but calm and peaceful”.

Mr Peters said they were also told by the MEC that the rental units’ debts would be written off “so that the people of De Novo would start afresh”.

He also said they were promised new developments in De Novo, including revamped roads, various services for backyard dwellers, in conjunction with the PSC, Departments of Human Settlements and Public Works and the Stellenbosch council, which has jurisdiction over De Novo.

Mr Peters said the decision to transfer the management of the land would make it more convenient for the Department of Human Settlements to attend to housing issues at De Novo.

Most of De Novo residents had been living in the community for over 40 years.

Mr Peters said they had been demanding to be given the land and that the Deaprtment of Human Settlements also takes care of backyard dwellers but as yet there were no plan for those people.

“It’s a victory for the PSC, for De Novo and the people. For the first time, we saw the government was actually serious about looking after the poor of De Novo.”

He said the commitments were made in a packed meeting and hoped that the two departments don’t go back on their word.

“We cannot claim credit alone. Before us, there were people who fought this battle. We acknowledge them. We just ran the final lap.”

Asked what would happen to illegal occupants and those who were forced to rent in a rundown building in De Novo, Mr Peters said the PSC would negotiate with the Department of Human Settlements. He added that the illegal occupants at the building could not just be kicked out as some of them were long-time residents in De Novo.

“It’s easy to say they’re illegal, but they’re also children of De Novo. Some of their great-grandfathers lived here. But some of the occupants sneaked in here,” he said.

Zalisile Mbali, spokesman for MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela, confirmed the meeting, saying over the last two years, the two departments had been engaging with the De Novo community regarding the property and the maintenance of the rental units.

He said the meeting, headed by Mr Madikizela and Donald Grant, MEC for Public Works, was specifically called to address ownership of the land and future developments of the property.

“Both (MECs) addressed the meeting and confirmed that the intention of the provincial government was to transfer the existing properties into the names of the current tenants.

“Furthermore, it was confirmed by (Mr Grant) that the internal roads and the street lighting on the property will be upgraded within the next few months.”

Regarding the future development of De Novo, he said the Department of Human Settlements had identified a number of options. The department will appoint a team of consultants to explore these options, which will be presented to the De Novo community for their input.

However, not everybody was happy with the decision. Heinrich Fortune, vice-chairman of an ad hoc committee which opposes the PSC and the Department Public Works, said the decision had left the majority of De Novo neglected.

“A lot of people are unhappy about the decision. (Mr Madikizela) kicked off the meeting by saying the provincial department of Human Settlements didn’t own the land. He didn’t clarify that. I asked myself, ‘How could they come to speak to us if they weren’t the owners of the land?’”

Mr Fortune said out of a lot of people who raised their hands, only six were picked to ask questions. He wasn’t one of them.

“I would have asked the important question: ‘Where is the title deed (if the Department of Public Works) owned the land?’”

He said the ad hoc committee doesn’t comprise of just a disgruntled few, but a lot of residents who are eligible to own land.

Mr Fortune, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said the ad hoc committee had written to the Commonwealth of Nations, who requested to see their “crown ground letter” they claim to have been given by Queen Elizabeth ll stating that they owned the land. Mr Fortune said they would make available all the documents in due time. Asked about the ad hoc committee, Mr Mbali shunned the group, saying it works with the PSC.

“The view held by the department (is) that functional PSCs are crucial in any development, it was agreed that any proposed development which is scheduled for De Novo will be consulted with the PSC.”

Divisions within De Novo played out after the ad hoc committee complained that the Department of Public Works was forcing residents to rent rundown buildings and refusing to hand over title deeds (“Dead end at De Novo”, Northern News, May 18).

A week later, during a site visit by Mr Madikizela, Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego and the PSC, which says it is democratically elected by residents, said the ad hoc committee had not been the legitimate leaders of the community (“Division mars De Novo’s future”, Northern News, May 18).