Evicted families take “eco-friendly” property developer to court

MaxxLiving claims to “create jobs, profit, culture and prosperity” - but it may be in contempt of court for not housing 15 families after a court order

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“My heart is in pain. My house got bulldozed with everything in it and it was all destroyed, ” says Wilson Kgatla (right), standing here next to Wilson Sehlako. Photos: Kimberly Mutandiro

  • In 2022 the homes of 15 families on Tilly’s Farm in Mogale City were unlawfully demolished by Dutch-South African property company MaxxLiving.
  • People living on the farm claimed land tenure rights and the company was ordered to build them brick houses within 90 days.
  • But a year later, the families are still in temporary structures.
  • Lawyers for Human Rights has applied for a ruling that the developer is in contempt of court. The matter has been reserved.
  • MaxxLiving says it will build the houses but gives no timeframe.

Last year GroundUp reported how the homes of 15 families living on Tilly’s Farm in the Mogale City Municipality had been unlawfully demolished by Dutch-South African property company MaxxLiving.

They took the developer to court, claiming land tenure rights under the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA). In July 2022, the Land Claims Court ordered MaxxLiving to build them brick houses within 90 days.

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) had to launch an urgent application in the Land Claims Court (Johannesburg) to compel the developer to provide temporary homes in the meantime.

The families still live in those temporary structures. A total of R100,000 compensation, which the court ordered to be paid by 30 September 2022, was only paid in November 2022. The families say the amount, which was shared by 25 households, was too small to make up for their damaged possessions.

They are sharing just one chemical toilet. They have one water tank, but it runs dry and is sometimes not refilled for a week.

The families say the water tank they depend on is not refilled for a week sometimes

The first toilet provided by MaxxLiving on the left is full. A second toilet was added, shared by about 25 people

“To think that we once had warm homes. They should just build our homes,” said Violet Moloto, who has lived on the farm since 1995.

This is the second winter the residents are enduring since their houses were bulldozed.

Moloto said all her possessions were taken from her at the time of the demolition, and the R4,000 she received in compensation was far too little.

Because they have no electricity, the families have now built additional shacks, where they cook and warm themselves as winter bites.

Wilson Kgatla said his chickens had been killed during the demolition. “The fact that they are taking a long time to build is making the pain even worse.”

“I have no family and the house which was demolished was all I had,” said Wilson Sehlako, who has lived on Tilly’s Farm since 1989. “All l wish is for my house to be built.”

Lerato Katla, who grew up on the farm, says the nine members of her family are crammed into two shacks. The temporary accommodation can be seen behind her.

Contempt of court proceedings

David Dickinson of LHR said the property developer had argued that it had no money at present to build the homes, but had failed to provide proof of this. He said the developer had assets which could be sold.

The families first launched a contempt of court application in August 2022, and Justice Brian Spilg gave the developer until November 2022 to build the houses.

On 18 July 2023, the families went back to court, asking that the property developer be found in contempt of court. Judgment has been reserved.

Tilly’s farm families say they are struggling since their lives were disrupted and their homes bulldozed.

Margaret Makgomola, the first applicant in the case and a resident since 1988, says she has been left feeling broken. As the former preschool teacher at the old farm’s crèche, she’d hoped to open her own crèche at the site.

“The developer promised to leave the crèche standing,” she said.

But the crèche was also demolished. Makgomola sometimes visits the ruins; for her it was much more than just a crèche. Now she has fixed her hopes on at least getting a house as ordered by the court.

Her temporary shack is too small and her possessions are becoming ruined standing out in the open.

“We feel unsafe, because the property developers just do as they please. It’s as if they are above the law and we would be lucky if they even build the houses,” says Makgomola.

Margaret Makgomola, the first applicant in the case and a resident since 1988, says she has been left feeling broken.

Development forges ahead

On 18 July the residents protested outside MaxxLiving premises while the contempt of court hearing was being held in the Land Claims Court.

In a memorandum addressed to Arthur Bezuidenhout, director of MaxxLiving, they complained: “You have made excuses and excuses that you do not have money to rebuild our homes, but we can see with our own eyes that you continue to build luxury homes on the site where our homes once stood.”

MaxxLiving’s flagship “innovative modular wooden, off-grid and CO2-friendly property development” has forged ahead, with a total of 11 new homes and foundations for more, according to court papers.

Bezuidenhout told GroundUp he is committed to building homes for the Tilly’s Farm families and that the residents would still get homes, but he could not give a timeframe.

He said bad publicity had damaged on the project, causing cash constraints.

“We are from the Netherlands, and we are a Dutch-based company aiming to fix with innovative solutions a housing problem in South Africa.”

“We are building homes in wood. It allows us to build fast, with quality and it allows us to build model homes. The purpose of this development is to showcase how we can build quality homes with wood, better than brick and mortar.”

He said the company had engaged with the Minister of Human Settlements.

He said his good intentions had been misunderstood by the families who refused to move to land he had offered them.

“We are against RDP homes and informal settlements. Our model is the future of social homes if the government joins in,” he said.

The MaxxLiving flagship development in Mogale City

Groundup has been awaiting comment from Mogale City Municipality since Monday.

TOPICS:  Housing

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