After what can be described politically and economically as an annus horribilis in the history of Hermanus, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “The more I listen, the more I think that Hermanus has a perfect solution waiting to happen, rather than a huge problem waiting to happen,” said Western Cape Premier Helen Zille after meeting with stakeholders on Saturday, 15 December. This follows a protest march by Overstrand Unite (OU) on Friday, 7 December to demand, amongst other things, the resignation of Municipal Manager Coenie Groenewald and the dissolution of council.

After travelling to Hermanus during the strike to speak to the marchers, Zille agreed to meet with OU again on Saturday to discuss their grievances. After the meeting, seven resolutions were adopted together with an undertaking from the premier to visit Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant on Tuesday, 18 December to talk to disgruntled residents who are unhappy with service and housing deliver.

According to Masizole Mnqasela, Member of the Provincial Parliament for the Overstand, Saturday’s meeting took place in an environment where robust and divergent views were welcomed. “The debate that ensued was unhindered and all the resolutions were agreed upon unanimously and, most importantly, in good faith. This will form the basis for our discussions in the next multi-stakeholder forum in the new year when the Premier will once again give specific feedback.

“It must be noted that in future, councillors, the Hermanus Business Chamber, Hermanus Ratepayers Association, the newly-formed Whale Coast Business and Community Forum, Overstrand Unite, Zwelihle Renewal and Whale Coast Conservation, among others, will be invited to all meetings. Our main objective is to create an environment for cooperation, to encourage dialogue, and foster social cohesion,” he said. With regards to the protests that rocked Hermanus this year and led to severe financial losses for businesses, Zille said: “The Constitution is very clear that no one has the right to protest violently, and no one has the right to undermine the rights of others, although they do have the right to protest and they do have a right to present petitions and grievances.”

As for the allegations about poor delivery on housing she said: “Violence and problems always arise around the issue of those who don’t qualify, because those who do qualify have no problems. Nowhere in the world, I must be frank with you, can you move from one town to another and just occupy any site you like and demand a house and services. “It can’t work like that. Otherwise, it’s complete chaos. These are personal choices and they have personal consequences.”

One of the main issues that was highlighted during the protests was the availability of land for future housing developments. Western Cape Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela has indicated that Schulphoek near Sandbaai, one of the main areas of contention, may be expropriated with compensation. However, according to legislation, a municipality may not expropriate land after it has sold it.

In 2010 the Schulphoek land was sold to the developers Rabcav for R5,3 million cash and “facilitation fees” of R1 million. As part of the deal, Rabcav was tasked with installing bulk services to the value of R17,5 million. It has been reported that Rabcav has subsequently sold the land to Cape Metropolitan who are now demanding R45 million. Zille, however, said that she would like to go to court to argue that the Overstrand Municipality should be able to expropriate the Schulphoek land since the development purpose for which the land was originally sold has never happened. “The provincial government has done careful calculations about the value of Schulphoek and we have concluded that we can pay R20 million, but that offer has been refused.”

She said according to legal opinion provinces have no expropriation powers. “The municipality and national government, however, have expropriation powers. The current advice from the legal advisor is that the municipality originally sold the land, so it cannot expropriate it. That does not make legal sense to me because circumstances change. I would like to go to court and say that the municipality must be able to expropriate that property.”

Residents of Paradise Park on the edge of the Vermont salt pan should also hear what future steps will be taken in the week of 17 January. Expropriation with compensation remains one of the options under consideration. Zille said South Africa has 7 million registered personal taxpayers in South Africa, while there are 17 million people who receive grants every month. “There’s no other country in the world where the ratio of grant recipients and taxpayers is so skewed. For that reason, the priority is economic growth because if there isn’t economic growth, there are no taxes. If there are no taxes, government has no money.

“So, we need people who pay for services and who pay property rates, as there is no such thing as free services. Free is subsidised by somebody else. The critical thing in a municipality is to keep the balance between people who are subsidising and those who are subsidised. If the people who have been subsidising disappear, businesses will close down and there won’t be free anything at all. Therefore, we have to ensure that people with skills and capital want to stay here because that is the critical rates base you draw on for everything else,” said Zille.

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