Stellenbosch land owner gets eviction order after 'land invasion'

The eviction of a group of people who set up homes on privately owned land in Stellenbosch, allegedly without permission, was underway on Sunday.

The owners of Louiesenhof Wines, whose website says it was founded in 1701, obtained an urgent interdict on Saturday to remove unoccupied structures, and to prevent more people from moving onto a vacant portion of their property known as "Watergang".

"Police acted in execution of the court interdict which limited the Sherrif to only removing material of people not yet residing on the property, but had intended to erect a structure on the property," said Western Cape police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk.

"The interdict didn’t authorise the demolition of any shacks and therefore only the building materials of those who did not voluntarily remove their building materials were confiscated," he said.

A person who answered the phone did not want to comment, but their attorney Ernest van Staden said more than 100 structures had been erected on the trust-owned land. The Western Cape High Court granted an interdict on Saturday to clear the way for eviction from the land.

In terms of the order granted, those already in their structures could stay; the eviction order authorised the removal of unoccupied structures; and it stated that no more structures be built on the site.

The land is on the outskirts of the Western Cape town known for its wine and academia. Its website says the ancestral land is part of a family trust that includes Watergang Farm, Louiesenhof Small Holding and the Watergang Cellar. Louiesenhof is a member of the Stellenbosch Wine Route, the South African Brandy Route and also the South African Exporters Association.

The alleged attempted occupation comes as Parliament's Constitutional Review Committee seeks comment nationally on whether there should be an amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.

Municipal Manager Geraldine Mettler told News24 that Watergang is the subject of ongoing negotiations for a possible sale between the owner and the municipality. The current interdict is the second the owner has obtained to prevent unauthorised settlement. The first was in May when the municipality also obtained interdicts to prevent unauthorised settlement on land owned by the municipality.

The Stellenbosch municipality has around 22 000 people on its housing waiting list, according to a statement released in May.

It has been trying to restart a project to move residents of Kayamandi block by block to a Temporary Relocation Area (TRA) to allow for upgrades to utilities in Kayamandi.

The TRA structures were meant to house these residents while improvements to services and utilities in Kayamandi were done. They had to move temporarily because it would be dangerous for residents to be around the electrical wires and other works, the municipality explained at the time.

READ: 'Please don't destroy what we're trying to build' - Stellenbosch municipality manager begs protesters

The plan is that they would move back, and the next block of residents would move to the TRA until the entire suburb's utilities had been upgraded.

However, unrest in Kayamandi started in May amid attempted occupations of municipal and privately-owned land. The TRA structures were damaged and the contractors would not go on site until it was safe to work there again.

Mettler said the municipality is in the process of community consultations in order for conditions to be conducive to contractors restarting the TRA project.

"We would like to finish as [soon as] possible with the TRA," she said.

During a march to the town hall in May, residents said they suspected that if they left for the TRA, they would never be able to go back to their original homes. They also felt that the money spent on the TRA could have been better spent on buying them land to build on.

Comment from a community representative was not immediately available on Sunday.

In the meantime, the town's traffic officials were at intersections trying to stop vehicles carrying building materials to Watergang.

On Saturday Western Cape police said the occupation started last week on the farm in Cloetesville.

"The farmer had an interdict against the invaders somewhere in April/May and they moved out. This is a second attempt," said spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk.

He said on Saturday that the Public Order Police and other law enforcement agencies were on the scene monitoring the situation and to prevent occupations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday that the majority party, the ANC, would propose an amendment to the Constitution in Parliament to support this move to "promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security". 

READ: President Cyril Ramaphosa's full speech here