Last hurdle for land claimants

The Protea Village will comprise 86 stands.

The Protea Village land claimants have one more hurdle to overcome before any development can take place on their reclaimed land after a town-planning appeal was withdrawn.

During apartheid, 86 families were forcibly removed from the area nestled between Bishopscourt and Fernwood and relocated to areas such as Heideveld and Lotus River. After the 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act, the families lodged a claim for the land in 1995. Ten years later, an agreement between the state and the City of Cape Town led to the land being transferred to the community in September 2006.

But it has not been smooth sailing for the claimants who had to face a number of legal challenges, the latest being a high court application from Friends of the Liesbeeck River, who are seeking a review of the environmental approval for the building of homes on the property. This comes after the Friends withdrew its town-planning appeal, which was lodged in November.

But while the claimants await a resolution, they gathered at the site for a special Heritage Day celebration, which started with a church service at the Church of the Good Shepherd.

The claimants later moved down to the stone cottages where they reminisced with their former neighbours.

Protea Village Communal Property Association chairman Barry Ellman, said they were now waiting for a settlement in the court case before development could start, but he added that they could now discuss essential phases of development with the City.

“This brings us one step closer to the long-awaited return home and advances our vision of a sustainable and responsible restoration of our community, property, and cherished homes — a legacy we have dreamt of passing down to future generations,” he said.

Speaking to claimants, Mr Ellman said the day was as much a victory celebration as it was a heritage celebration.

“This is justice for a community unjustly removed by the apartheid regime. We cannot have reconciliation without transformation and vice versa. It is time that the ‘words’ of the constitution are turned into deeds. Today is a concrete manifestation of words turning into deeds,” he said.

Dr Wayne Alexander, from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said the pain inflicted on the community, and other dispossessed communities, could not be ignored.

“This community was fractured by the forceful removals, but today is an act of healing. This has been a long process spanning over 20 years. But we are home, this is our land and we want to come back,” he said.

Land claimant Ann Ntebe, who lived at 2 Kirstenbosch Drive, reminisced about her childhood. She said she had been 16 when her family had been removed and it had been hard making the adjustment from a home with a big yard to a flat with no back door.

“2 Kirstenbosch Drive is part of my identity; it is my birthplace. We were here, we are here, our footprints are here and we are not going anywhere,” she said.

Friends of the Liesbeeck River chairman Nick Fordyce said they were advanced in their negotiations with the Protea Village group regarding the high court review, but the town-planning appeal process was separate to that and had subsequently been withdrawn.

“While we have never sought to block the development, we have had ecological concerns with aspects of the proposed development of luxury housing on the river side of Kirstenbosch Drive, which will be sold to finance the construction of the Protea Village community’s housing on the other side of the road,” he said.

The Friends group had not disputed housing for the Protea Village community, he said, but the luxury development was planned for the upper reaches of the river “on the only remaining wetland for the river in its entire upper and middle reaches”.

He added: “We did not believe that adequate consideration had been given to the environmental impact of the proposed development.”

Mr Fordyce said they hoped to establish a sound working relationship with the Protea Village community to “help them to turn the upper Liesbeeck into an asset to them and other community members. We also would be keen to incorporate some of these claimants into our project, which would provide employment opportunities, education and training for these previously displaced community members”.

The Protea Village, situated on Erf 242, will comprise of 86 stands, each about 300m² in size.

Mr Ellman said seven units would be sold on the open market to generate revenue for the project. This is down from 22, as a compromise made by the Protea Village community to mitigate concerns over the ecological impact.

One of the three remaining stone cottages.
Protea Village Communal Property Association chairman Barry Ellman.
Dr Wayne Alexander from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
Land claimant Ann Ntebe.