Nearly 15 years after the 1998 deadline for restitution claims of land, the District Six claimants had still not been restituted. This was in 2012.
They voiced their dissatisfaction and the government’s response, to this downright injustice, at the time was to form a committee, the District Six Reference Group.
In those 15 years, two pilot phases were completed which saw the development of 138 dwellings.
But in their on-going battle with the government, amidst cabinet reshuffles and all, the claimants finally secured a court order from the Land Claims Court in November 2018.
The then minister of land reform and rural development, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, with an entire government department at her disposal, was given a February 2019 deadline to compile a long-overdue and thorough plan to develop the area.
She had three months to come up with a plan that was 21 years overdue.
Nkoana-Mashabane, who had been a minister in that portfolio for a year, by February 2019, did not meet the deadline and was therefore to all intents and purposes in contempt of court.
In April 2019, the claimants, having suffered years of injustice under apartheid and now having to suffer the injustice of holding their democratic government to account, were forced once more to approach the courts to get an order against the minister.
A minister now so secured in her cabinet position, in another portfolio, without even having delivered on the promises made in her previous portfolio.
The court ruled in the claimants’ favour and ruled personal costs order against the minister. In her judgement, the Acting Judge President of the Land Claims Court, Yasmin Meer, is reported to have described the behaviour of the minister as “grossly unreasonable” in discharging her fiduciary duties.
Now with the slush fund of an entire government department’s budget to defend her costs order, for this is what this minister thinks of her department’s budget, Nkoana-Mashabane appealed to the Western Cape High Court and the matter was heard this month.
Nkoana-Mashabane is the minister in the presidency for women, children and people with disabilities. Despite using this department’s funds to fight her court battles, she must probably be the most silent person in the country given the current outcry and fight against gender-based violence.
The minister’s appeal has been postponed but not without Acting Judge Temba Ngcukaitobi first describing the minister as being “…grossly negligent. She has made those people wait for 25 years. She is playing hide and seek with taxpayers’ money…”
Seemingly, these are the kind of people that former president Jacob Zuma was covering for while he took the brunt of the attack.
The remarks by both acting judges, Meer and Ngcukaitobi, must be praised for strengthening our democracy. In days where we see more and more ordinary people having to rely on the courts to force our democratic government to fulfil their fiduciary duties, we must hail the decision by our courts to wrap this minister over the knuckles.
This must be a lesson for every member of the national executive. They cannot hide behind tax-payers money to get them a “get-out-of-this-one-for-free” card.
The reality is that most members of the executive think like Nkoana-Mashabane. Their securing a cabinet position does not depend on whether they are delivering or not rather they spend most of their time walking around naked with the emperor.
The state cannot trample on the rights of South Africans to redress. South Africans who suffered at the hands of apartheid are not seeking a favour from the government.
They deserve justice.
The decision by the Land Claims Court complements the constitutional duty of Parliament to hold the national executive to account. Yet seemingly members of parliament are failing to do this as one can hardly recall the District Six matter, space just meters away from the Houses of Parliament, to ever have been raised in those hallowed walls.
And if it was, two decades after the closing date of the restitution claims, still nothing has come of it.
It is refreshing to know that, in this, the 60th year of the anniversary of the Group Areas Act, an act which spelt the death knell for District Six, where our parliament fails, the courts will step in.
The District Six saga is symptomatic of the chaos in the Land Claims Department in the Western Cape, we’ve heard of families waiting for decades for their land. What is disgraceful is that these lands in question are owned by the state and are vacant portions of land. Our new Minister Thoko Didiza of Rural Development & Land Reform will do our communities a service, by a change of the Western Cape office. These claimants are old and tired yet our government find justifiable to let people wait for months and years settlements on lands owned by the state.
This is the essence of a democracy where one has the necessary checks and balances operating between the three arms of the state.
Nkoana-Mashabane must pay the costs to order out of her pocket.
This is what accountability is about. This is what the very democracy that Nkoana-Mashabane fought for and which so many gave their lives, brings about.
Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University. He is currently a PhD candidate in Beijing, China.