Charge withdrawn against Hermanus land activist

A charge of crimen injuria was withdrawn against Hermanus land activist Gcobani Ndzongana on Friday, but he will have to remain in custody for his trial in another matter.

Ndzongana's case was heard before the court's usual starting time of 09:00.

As a result, a group of about 100 people who had obtained permission to march to the court to support him, missed the appearance.

"We are here in court to support our leader," said Themba Mbhele, complaining that they had missed him.

The group arrived along the R43 main road carrying a banner that read "Hands Off Gcobani Ndzongana", only to find that he had already been in and out.

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Hermanus protesters in support of Gcobani Ndzongana. (Jenni Evans, News24)

His lawyer Mafu Masina told News24 that the charges had been withdrawn after representations were made to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Western Cape.

Masina said he did not know the full details of the charge, because they had been unable to get a copy of the docket.

Community leader Sicelo Gxamesi said: "We're happy, we're just looking forward to the next court appearance."

Meanwhile, Mayor Dudley Coetzee told News24 that relations were improving between residents of Zwelihle and the greater Hermanus community, after protests over land in March.

Read: Calm returns to Hermanus as fragile land truce holds

The incarceration of Ndzongana was still a source of tension, he said, but negotiations were underway between the provincial human settlements department and a private property owner to buy a plot of land.

It is hoped an agreement will resolve complaints of a shortage of affordable housing in the area.

Truce brokered

Protests flared up in March when a group of Zwelihle residents went to the municipality to say they would be setting up homes there and expected utilities to be provided for them.

The Red Ants were sent in to remove them, but protests flared up, leading to an increased police presence in Zwelihle for a period.

A truce was brokered between residents - who formed a group called the Zwelihle Renewal Committee - the municipality and the provincial government, with the help of the SA Human Rights Commission.

In terms of an agreement reached, the Western Cape government will buy a plot of sea-facing land called Schulphoek from a private property company, with the intention of creating living spaces for backyarders and people who have been on housing waiting lists for a long time.

Also read: EXCLUSIVE: How land owners will score millions from Hermanus protests

A temporary site was identified in Zwelihle as a stop-gap to accommodate some people while the property transaction goes through various legal processes.

Coetzee said that, while levelling the temporary site, they had discovered it was uninhabitable because of layers of plastic and other rubbish that the contractors dug up, setting the plans back by three weeks.

Another site was found near the waste recycling plant and will be ready for temporary occupation towards the end of September.

Once word had spread that Nzongana's case had already been heard, his supporters marched back down the R43 and returned to Zwelihle.

Ndzongana, a correctional services officer, will go on trial in October on charges of public violence and incitement.

The case was moved out of Hermanus, and to the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court.

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