This summer I had the opportunity to volunteer with Ndifuna Ukwazi’s People’s Law Journal. Ndifuna Ukwazi is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa, which uses research and strategic litigation to campaign for justice and equality in poor and working class communities. For their annual publication, I had the opportunity to research cases in which land use policy interacts with the post-Apartheid restitution process. A few weekends ago, a colleague and I decided to visit District 6, which is one of many communities in the Western Cape undergoing reconciliation. While walking through the neighborhood, a woman drove up and asked us why we were in District 6. We replied that we wanted to speak with a current resident about the restitution process. We were told to speak with Mrs. Asa Salie, so we walked to her home and were warmly invited in.

Mrs. Salie is a stoic woman in her 60s or 70s who lives in a house allocated to her by the South African government in 2012. Her family was one of the approximately 66,000 non-white residents forcibly removed from District Six, a diverse and vibrant neighborhood near downtown Cape Town. After the end of apartheid in 1994, the South African government began recognizing the claims of former District Six residents. It was at this time that Mrs. Sallie’s husband began attending District Six community meetings, and Mrs. Salie eventually accepted a leadership position with the District Six Beneficiary Trust. The Trust is an un-elected body self-appointed to develop the District and protect the rights of the beneficiaries. (In 2000, an agreement was signed between the City of Cape Town, the District Six Beneficiary Trust, and the Land Commission. The Trust was registered in 2001.)

Quite quickly, Mrs. Salie and other concerned claimants became worried that the government was deferring too much power and responsibility to the Trust.  (The issue is further confused by reports that the relationship between the City and the Trust has deteriorated in recent years.) Her biggest complaint, then and now, are the District Six restitution fees. According to Salie, claimants must offset the costs of their new homes through a cost sharing structure managed almost exclusively by the Trust. According to one source, the first phase of claimants paid approximately R60,000 (USD 5,699) per household in fees. Mrs. Salie claims that the Trust asked her for R225,000 (USD 21,374), a significant amount for a pensioner with limited savings and a sick husband. Salie decided to resign from the Trust.

Salie began examining her rights as a claimant, and discovered that the Land Restitution Act 22 of 1994 did not explicitly allow for (or exclude) restitution fees. Armed with an official award of land from the Ministry of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mrs. Salie exercised her right to refuse a contractual relationship with the Trust. However, her family is now fighting for the Trust to acknowledge that it has no legal bearing to collect fees from other District Six residents. For many claimants, the fees deplete savings accounts or disposable income (collected periodically and referred to as “occupational rent”). What is more disconcerting for Salie is that those fees are no longer used for their original purpose, to offset construction costs. Rather, they are supposedly being directed into an investment fund managed by the Trust and its current Chairman. (This accusation could not be corroborated at the time of our report.)

The fees are not the only component of the restitution process that causes claimants confusion and anger. Building maintenance is unaddressed. Two years after the Phase II houses were built, cracks have begun to show in the buildings. Because the entity charged with District Six maintenance is directed by the Trust, bureaucratic lag and confusion over responsibilities and roles are prevalent. Salie argues that this is driven by the Trust’s focus on the development of new homes, rather than the management of existing properties and resolution of unissued title deeds and fee disputes. Crime is also problematic. Situated between the gentrifying Woodstock neighborhood and downtown Cape Town, District Six attracts unwanted visitors from the streets. “We had gangs in District Six” says Mrs. Salie, but insecurity in her re-developed community is a present concern.

Notably, District Six is only one of many land restitution cases on-going in South Africa. Many other evictees do not benefit from the media coverage that District Six receives. For these families, questions emerge. How have some residents been able to return, while thousands others have not? How can the government accommodate thousands of new claimants while meeting the basic needs of existing residents? What role, if any, should a third party entity like the Trust play in representing and serving this population?  Ultimately, these unanswered questions speak to a critical need for leadership from government so that the logistics of reestablishing District Six and other pieces of land can be cleaner, quicker, and more in the people’s interest.

An empty lot behind District Six housing developments.   Photo credit: James Leyba

An empty lot behind District Six housing developments.
Photo credit: James Leyba

IDEV students  Gregor Schueler,  Lauren Fredric, and Brie Freeman who are spending the summer in South Africa, on the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town

IDEV students Gregor Schueler, Lauren Fredric, and Brie Freeman who are spending the summer in South Africa, on the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town

(This blog is based on a Lauren’s volunteer work this summer. This opportunity was not arranged by IDEV or SAIS.)