'Congratulations, the land is yours again' - Just kidding
A woman whose face was used to celebrate victory for land claims is still waiting for her returned land three years later
Juanita Solomon is unimpressed.
Three years ago her face was in all the papers as the beneficiary of an historic Cape Town land claim. She even got a hug from mayor Patricia de Lille in the field in Retreat which her family has been fighting to get back for 31 years. A done deal, the officials said. Justice for the Solomon family.
But as of this week Solomon, 74, is still waiting in her makeshift house down the road. Since the land claim began, the Solomons have lost several family members, some of them to violent crime.
“Two of them have been murdered in Lavender Hill,” said Solomon this week. “Is that fair? Nothing has happened and I must live like a baboon.”
Despite a public fanfare in 2015, the Solomon claim has been caught up in yet another round of bureaucracy of the kind plaguing many claims countrywide.
The sticking point appears to be the price of the land, which is owned by the City of Cape Town. Although the city has agreed to sell, the Land Claims Commission is demanding a reduced price – a decision requiring council approval.
Unlike many other cases, the Solomon family want the land returned – rather than a cash settlement – as most of the dispossessed land still lies vacant and the original family home is still standing. An independent legal opinion found there was a “reasonable prospect” of restoration of the property.Family spokesperson Zwelenkosi Matwa believes the delay adds insult to a deep apartheid injury.
Matwa said the commission had paid out huge settlements before, notably nearly R1-billion to return land to a community living on the border of the Kruger National Park. But in this case it was prepared to haggle over a much smaller sum.
He said shortly after the 2015 ceremony with De Lille, the family had their hopes dashed by the commission, which informed them they would not be getting their full settlement. Later, they were informed the commission was waiting for the council to drop its price. “That is where we are now,” Matwa said.
Documents seen by Times Select show the council approved the sale of the claimed land – two even – for R5.6-million in April 2015. A report to the mayoral committee confirmed the land was not needed for service delivery purposes.
The report was in response to a request from Michael Worsnip, chief director of restitution support for the Western Cape Regional Land Claims Commissioner. In his request to the council, Worsnip said: “It would be highly appreciated if the matter may receive urgent attention as our claimant is a senior citizen.”
But the urgency appears to have been ignored by the commission itself, according to Solomon. “I have got nothing against the mayor. The Land Claims Commission consulted her to release the land and that is what she did. She did her best.”
The same could not be said of the commission, Solomon said. “My family is being murdered. I have sleepless nights and watch the ceiling. Is that fair?”
City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for urban development Brett Herron said: "In May 2015, the city council agreed that erf 82091 and erf 82092 in Retreat should be sold to the Land Claims Commission for restitution purposes at a cost of R5.6-million. The Land Claims Commission was subsequently notified of this resolution and requested to immediately transfer the land into its name and then to transfer the land into the name of the claimant/s.
"However, in November 2017 – three years after the city released the land to the Land Claims Commission – the commission wrote to the mayor asking for the land to be released at historical value, as opposed to market value. Importantly, council must first approve the disposal of a city asset below market value before such a transaction can go ahead. This is a requirement of national legislation related to the disposal of public [municipal] assets. A report is being prepared to this effect, and will serve before council for consideration in due course."
Editor's Note: This article has been amended to include the City of Cape Town's comments.