City, Wits and Alex res­i­dents locked in land dis­pute

Hous­ing for needy res­i­dents – or a rev­enue source for univer­sity?

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ANNA COX anna.cox@inl.co.za @an­na­cox

A290-HECTARE piece of land be­tween Alexan­dra, Marl­boro and Kelvin has been ly­ing un­de­vel­oped for 27 years fol­low­ing con­tin­ued dis­putes be­tween, among oth­ers, the City of Joburg, Wits Univer­sity and nearby res­i­dents.

The dis­pute is set to con­tinue in an­other round of fight­ing this year be­cause the city is now threat­en­ing to ex­pro­pri­ate it for hous­ing for Alex res­i­dents, but the univer­sity wants to de­velop it to bring in ad­di­tional money for poor stu­dents.

Adding to the fray are res­i­dents who claim only ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions may be built on the land as it was do­nated with the con­di­tion that it be used only for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.

The land, which is close to the Marl­boro Gau­train sta­tion and Lin­bro Busi­ness Park, was do­nated to the Colony of the Transvaal by Sir Al­fred Beit, a min­ing mag­nate, in 1905 to be used for “ed­u­ca­tion in per­pe­tu­ity” through a deed of gift.

Af­ter years of dis­putes and court cases, Wits last year called for pro­pos­als, invit­ing ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est for the pos­si­ble sale, devel­op­ment, par­tial sale and devel­op­ment of the land. Sev­eral sub­mis­sions were re­ceived.

In Oc­to­ber the city took a de­ci­sion that the mayor should en­gage with the univer­sity, the Gaut­eng Depart­ment of Hu­man Set­tle­ments and the na­tional Depart­ment of Land and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment “with a view to ac­quir­ing the land, fail­ing which the mayor is autho­rised to ex­plore ex­pro­pri­a­tion pro­cesses in terms of the Ex­pro­pri­a­tion Act”.

In its res­o­lu­tion the coun­cil said the nearby Setjwela land (next to Franken­wald) should be de­vel­oped for “other uses and not hu­man set­tle­ment”. Setjwela is an in­for­mal set­tle­ment on the banks of the Jukskei River. The city wants to re­lo­cate Setjwela res­i­dents to Franken­wald, as the con­di­tions un­der which they live are ter­ri­ble.

Taffy Adler, the di­rec­tor of Wits’ prop­erty port­fo­lio, said the Franken­wald Es­tate was last year made avail­able for devel­op­ment.

“In June, Wits vice-chan­cel­lor and prin­ci­pal Pro­fes­sor Adam Habib an­nounced that the devel­op­ment of this land should pro­vide Wits with an ad­di­tional and al­ter­na­tive in­come source that will ben­e­fit the univer­sity and its poor stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar, cur­rently and in the fu­ture.”

The univer­sity coun­cil ap­proved rec­om­men­da­tions from the ap­pointed Franken­wald Task Team and es­tab­lished Wits Gov­er­nance Com­mit­tees, in terms of which the bid­ders listed be­low were ap­proved to fur­ther par­tic­i­pate in the re­quest for pro­pos­als stage of the project, said Adler.

The short-listed com­pa­nies are Wa­ter­fall Man­age­ment and Op­er­at­ing Com­pany (Pty) Ltd; Cal­gro M3 De­vel­op­ments Ltd; Si­fiso Learn­ing Group (Pty) Ltd; In­vestec Prop­erty (Pty) Ltd; and the Eris and Cen­tury City Prop­erty Devel­op­ment Joint Ven­ture.

“The Wits coun­cil had also opted to hold over any of­fers re­ceived for the out­right pur­chase of Franken­wald un­til such time as the ap­pointed Franken­wald task team had com­pleted its eval­u­a­tion of devel­op­ment pro­pos­als to be re­ceived from the above-listed short­listed bid­ders,” he said.

It is en­vis­aged that the devel­op­ment doc­u­ments will be made avail­able to the ap­proved bid­ders this month for a rec­om­men­da­tion to be made in June.

“Wits Univer­sity’s ob­jec­tive is to max­imise rev­enue from this project to sup­port Wits’ long-term sus­tain­abil­ity and aca­demic vi­sion, in­clud­ing cre­at­ing greater ac­cess and sup­port for stu­dents.

“We are not look­ing at ex­pand­ing our cam­pus. We are look­ing at a mixed-use devel­op­ment with pub­lic open spa­ces which will ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity. We are in dis­cus­sions with the mayor of Joburg.”

Adler said the land was do­nated by Beit to the gov­ern­ment with the re­stric­tions and that when the gov­ern­ment trans­ferred the land to the univer­sity in 1922, there was no such clause.

Jim Pow­ell of the Franken­wald Devel­op­ment Fo­rum (res­i­dents from Buc­cleuch, Alex and Kelvin) said neigh­bour­ing res­i­dents had not been con­sulted suf­fi­ciently.

“The land should be de­vel­oped for the ben­e­fit of the whole com­mu­nity. We, as res­i­dents and prop­erty own­ers, have vested in­ter­ests in the area and need more con­sul­ta­tion. It was left with con­di­tions on the ti­tle deeds and th­ese should be re­spected,” he said.

Over and above pro­pos­als for sci­ence techno cen­tres, low-cost hous­ing and a huge shop­ping cen­tre, Franken­wald made world head­lines in 2000 when the Ma­har­ishi re­li­gious or­der made an of­fer to Wits of R133.5 mil­lion to build the world’s tallest build­ing. The deal in­cluded a $1m non-re­fund­able deposit. The deal was never con­cluded de­spite the deposit hav­ing been paid.

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