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Thursday Aug 25, 2011

Claremont land claim awaits council blessing

Prime council-owned property in Claremont, once valued at R45 million, is set to be sold to the Western Cape Land Claims Commission for little more than half that price.

Five years after the city "in principle" released the 10 850m site on Bowwood Road, the sale is set to be approved in full council next week after delays caused by price wrangling.

The Claremont Land Claims Committee, made up of claimants, has welcomed the move, saying it is relieved the process is drawing to a close. More than 60 claimants are to benefit.

The committee said restitution had proved to be a long process.

The commission said it remained a big challenge that municipalities wanted to charge market-related prices for land.

It argued that municipalities, although under a different regime, had also played a role in forced removals.

But the Claremont sale will put the wheels in motion to allow claimants to return to the area they were removed from under the Group Areas Act.

In 2006 Cape Town's mayoral committee "in principle" released the old Claremont Bowling Green to settle 60 land restitution claims. Two years later, the commission completed a business plan for the development of the land.

In 2008, internal valuers for the city determined the site's value to be R45m. The commission's valuation put it at R27m. The two parties were unable to reach common ground.

In 2009, the commission told the city it could not afford the market value of the land and the deal was suspended.

That year, the city declared an intergovernmental dispute with the commission on the Claremont deal and other issues.

Patrick Mthembani, the project co-ordinator for the Land Claims Commission, said the body "motivated the reason why we were putting R27m on the table and one of the reasons was that based on negotiations, the commission regarded the amount as a nominal value for the property, having in mind the role the city has to play in the land reform programme".

Mthembani said the body had also referred to the city's policy on immovable property, which it said was aimed at assisting the commission.

"The policy further states that the council will endeavour to accommodate the wishes of the Land Claims Commission and undertake to minimise land acquisition costs, subject to the provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act, in the spirit of giving effect to the provisions of the constitution," Mthembani said.

In April, the city commissioned an independent valuer, who put the market value of the land at R41.2m.

Nonetheless, the city's housing department has now recommended that the commission's R27m offer be accepted. The recommendation will go before the full council on September 1 for approval.

The Municipal Finance Management Act says that city-owned land should not be sold for less than market value.

But Ernest Sonnenberg, the mayoral committee (Mayco) member for human settlements, said the act allowed for sales below market price if the transaction was in "community interests".

He said the discount of R18m would have no effect on the city's budget.

A report from the city's land and forward planning directorate said the site was "currently giving problems", with incidents of vandalism and costs being incurred for security and grass-cutting.

"The housing department felt that the community benefitsÂ… are enough to justify the discount, if any," the report said.

The city also predicted it would receive "substantial income" from rates once development on the land begins.

Sonnenberg said the city was "committed to providing full co-operation in respect of the land restitution processes".

Mthembani said land restitution was a "constitutional imperative" where all "organs of state" should support each other.

"However, what we find is the opposite where restitution is kind of isolated, forgetting the fact that municipalities also played a principal role in effecting forced removals and land dispossession."

Mthembani said once the council released the property, the city and the national Department of Rural Development and Land Reform would sign the documents to transfer the property. From then the business plan would be implemented, consultants would be appointed to assist with rezoning applications and planning approvals would start.

Neville Hendricks, the chairman of the Claremont Land Claims Committee, said he and other members of the committee had met mayor Patricia de Lille just a few weeks ago to voice their concerns about how long the process was taking.

"We told her officials were dragging their feet. (De Lille) got on to it very quickly. We are shocked by this movement."

Cape Argus


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