D6 claimants take government to court

Norton Rose Fulbright law firm briefing the media with the District 6 Working Committee, chairperson Shahied Ajam, Norton Rose Fulbright director, Nicki vant Riet and Norton Rose Fulbright Special Counsel, Muneeb Gambeno.

Restitution for District Six’s long-suffering claimants cannot drag on any longer if they are to have justice before they die, says the law firm taking the government to court to speed up the process.

The District Six Working Committee (D6WC) held a press conference at the Castle of Good Hope last week to give the public a progress report on the restitution process, and the law firm representing the committee, Norton Rose Fulbright, briefed the media on the application it launched in the Randburg Land Claims Court earlier this month.

Nicki van’t Riet, the firm’s director, said it had been trying, without success, since February last year to get the government to end the claimants’ long struggle. During that time at least 13 elderly District Six claimants had died without getting restitution, and the firm said the matter could not be allowed to drag on if the more than 2300 remaining claimants were to have any hope of getting restitution in their lifetimes.

The respondents in the case include the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, the City of Cape Town, the Premier of the Western Cape, the South African government and 17 individual members of the District 6 Reconstruction and Development Trust.

The law firm stressed that District Six claimants have a constitutional right to restitution of their property or equitable redress.

It’s a matter close to the heart of Shahied Ajam, chairman of the D6WC. He was born in Caledon Street, District Six, and lived there until he was 6, when his family moved to Ruxton Street, where he stayed until the forced removals happened.

He thanked the law firm for its help.

“For us to come this far within a year after making a connection with the legal team, it’s a great victory within itself in the court proceedings, it says for us that the constitution of South Africa is a beautiful document, if only one can approach it in the right manner and implement it as it was intended to be.”

Gava Wilkinson, 61, lodged her papers for restitution in 1998, but 20 years later she is still waiting. She moved to Manenberg after the forced removals and is renting a place outside of the Cape Town area with her family.

“We just want to know whether we will be going back to District Six,” said Ms Wilkinson.

Another resident, Sakiena Coetzee, 59, said it was sad that so many had died without getting restitution.

“Those of us that are alive still want to know whether it will happen and that is all that our hearts are longing for.”

Shariefa Davids, 59, of Kenilworth, said “actions must really be taken now”.

The D6WC’s Shamiel Hoosain said legal proceedings were long overdue and it was essential to explain land reform clearly to the claimants.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform confirmed it had been served with court papers. “The court papers are receiving the attention of our legal team,” said spokesman Vuyani Nkasayi.

Deputy mayor Ian Neilson said while the City of Cape Town owned a large portion of District Six, restitution was a function of national government.

“The City has made this land available for restitution many years ago. The City is, however, reliant on national government to drive the restitution process.”

Michael Mpofu, spokesman for Premier Helen Zille, said it was important to note that the District Six application was not claiming relief against the premier or the province. “Instead their challenge is aimed at national government as restitution remains its mandate”.

According to Norton Rose Fulbright, the state has so far built only 139 homes in District Six with a further 108 under construction. The law firm says that if the State does not oppose the application, the matter could be set down on the unopposed roll for May 28. If it is opposed, the state will have an opportunity to file answering papers and the matter would be set down on the opposed roll on a date allocated by the court.