David vs Goliath battle for land has dragged on for 26 years
Squatters invaded businessman's land in 1993, and he says the City of Joburg has dodged the problem ever since
A 26-year battle over a piece of land in Gauteng is pitching businessman Holilal Adjodah against the City of Johannesburg (CoJ). Adjodah bought a farm in Lenasia in 1993 with plans to develop it into an industrial park, but immediately after the purchase homeless people occupied the land and started building shacks. At the time, he complained to the city to remove them.
But 26 years later, he is still fighting this battle, while the CoJ failed to keep a promise of paying him monthly rent for the land.
“I bought this land to develop it into an industrial park. To date I’ve lost more than R400m in revenue because of these squatters who invaded the land. They occupied my land immediately after I bought the farm in 1993 and it’s been a battle to get it back, or get compensation for that matter,” said Adjodah.
When he bought the farm he spent R90,000 to build a wall and erect sheds, and another R360,000 to build a road to the property.
That was on top of the R200,000 to have the property rezoned by the municipality.
“At the time I felt that there’s a right for me to tell the CoJ to assist me to evict these people from my land,” he said.
He said he was later surprised when the CoJ installed services including electricity, water and sanitation for the residents. He said he was at one point promised R30m for the land.
Times Select has seen the undertaking by the CoJ legal team where they negotiated to pay him the amount, or a monthly rental of between R350,000 and R500,000.
He initially wanted at least R400m but the CoJ could not afford that; instead it was prepared to pay a one-off R30m.
“I was prepared to take the rental idea but for some reason they failed to keep to their promise. I even sent them invoices for them to pay the outstanding amount, but there was nothing.”
In June 2012, a letter of demand was sent to CoJ by Adjodah’s lawyers where they accused CoJ of allowing squatters on his land.
“[The] plaintiff is wrongfully deprived of his ownership and occupation of the property. He could not develop the properties with factories and could not get income from the rent of this development,” read the document.
“As a result of this, the plaintiff suffered damages in the amount of R400m.”
Of the R400m, R5m was for damages for the improvements he had made to the property, R175m in respect of the value of the property, and R220m was for loss of income.
But the CoJ, in arguments before the High Court in Johannesburg in August 2012, denied that the metro owed Adjodah anything.
“The defendant admits that it has not made payment to the plaintiff of the amount claimed and it is not liable to do so. The plaintiff failed to prevent illegal occupation of the property when he reasonably could and should have done so.”
Adjodah took up the matter with the public protector’s office in 2013. The public protector at the time, together with the CoJ, resolved that the CoJ would furnish the protector with a relocation programme for approximately 480 squatters on the complainant’s land.
But Adjodah was not satisfied with this outcome and lodged an application for review. When he checked up on the matter later, he was told his documents were “lost”.
A signed document seen by Times Select from the public protector last month reveals that “the documents on file that the recording for this meeting wherein the alleged resolutions were made was lost by our office, minutes to the meeting had not been prepared”.
On Tuesday, CoJ spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said the matter was sub judice and he could not comment.
“I had a discussion with the city’s legal team dealing with this matter and have been advised that the matter is currently in court and therefore renders any comment sub-judice pending its conclusion.”
Adjodah said he knew nothing about a court case. The only court matter he was aware of was the 2012 matter, which he believed was settled when the city made the undertaking to pay him rent.
“The city is lying – what court case? They’ve been playing hide and seek for the past two decades. All I need is my land or the money they owe me. That’s my land and I’ve got proof and they know that. Why the city’s mayor Herman Mashaba is allowing this to happen if he says he’s fighting for people’s rights?”
The public protector’s office could not be reached for comment.
Today, according to Adjodah, the squatter camp has grown to more than 1,000 shacks. “I need them to pay my money and the public protector must help me get what is due to me,” he said.