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Wednesday May 02, 2012

Schubart Park hopes for a lifeline

The decision by the Tshwane Metro Council to implode the problematic Schubart Park flats has been put on hold, pending an application to the Constitutional Court by the tenants to return to their homes.

The Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) group was geared up to approach the Pretoria High Court today for an urgent application to halt the implosion of the building pending the final outcome of an application before the Constitutional Court (Concourt).

According to papers filed at court, the legal team of the residents received information that the council planned to implode the building on Freedom Day.

But lawyer Louise du Plessis said that they had received an undertaking from the council that the building would remain as it is, pending the finalisation of litigation by the residents in their bid to return. The urgent application this week would thus not go ahead.

The Pretoria News reported earlier this month that the council planned to implode the building to make way for a new housing project and shopping complex.

One of the projects earmarked for this is the provision of accommodation for students.

LHR said it had heard about the implosion for the first time in the newspaper.

Former resident Albert Mashimbye, who submitted a statement as part of the urgent application which was due to be heard this week, said their lawyers had told them the decision to implode was unlawful, as the Concourt challenge was still pending.

TAnother reason was that in preparing the building for demolition, the council would be in defiance of an earlier order by Judge Bill Prinsloo.

At the time of evicting the residents as the building had been declared unsafe, he ordered that it had to be refurbished and that the council had to report to the court on the feasibility of the refurbishment.

Mashimbye said the residents had also been advised that it would be unreasonable for the council to take a decision to destroy a public asset worth over R300 million on the basis of "flimsy and flawed" information.

"This matter was never debated in the council, nor was the public involved in this decision."

He said he had received information on April 14 that vehicles of a demolition company were parked outside Schubart Park. He had gone there and seen people inspecting the building. An employee of the company had told him that the buildings were being inspected in preparation for the demolition.

"I was told that the plan was to demolish the buildings over the weekend of April 27," Mashimbye said.

LHR, meanwhile, said it wanted to launch an urgent application to stop the demolition. Before now, it could not get an undertaking from the council that it would not go ahead with the imploding.

LHR will approach the Concourt for leave to appeal against Judge Prinsloo's order last September that none of the residents be allowed to return to the flats, as the building had been declared unsafe.

This followed evidence by council experts who told the court that in their opinion the buildings were unsafe and could at any point collapse if the residents were allowed to return.

But LHR obtained its own experts, who are of a different view. The group will ask the Concourt to allow a report by a renowned structural engineer as evidence in this application.

The structural engineer appointed by LHR offered a vastly different opinion from that proffered by the council's experts.

This engineer is of the opinion that the buildings are structurally safe. According to his report, the structures are robust and "only a major natural catastrophe" can cause failure to the structural elements.

He also did not agree with the suggestion made by the council's experts that the buildings might collapse if too many people lived there.

The LHR expert is of the opinion that the aspects of the building which affect safety are non-structural and could easily be fixed.

It was agreed that the electrical services could not be restored while there was water in the basement, but the expert said it was simply a matter of pumping out the water.

About 700 families were evicted last year and only 180 of them were given alternative accommodation.

LHR said the chaos created by the actions of the council and the the whole debacle proved that the matter involved constitutional issues that had to be resolved.

No date has yet been set for the application for leave to appeal.

Pretoria News


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