House finally restored to rightful owners

31 Victoria Street in Somerset West.

The long-running saga of 31 Victoria Street in Somerset West, reported on twice before by Bolander (“Back where they belong”, April 10 2013; “Owner’s joy as land returned”, March 19 2014), is finally drawing to a close.

The Langenhoven family was forced to sell the property in 1973, when Somerset West was declared a whites-only area in terms of the Group Areas Act, and a notice of expropriation was served on the family.

Although the notice of expropriation was subsequently withdrawn, it was too late, as the Langenhoven family had already moved to Eersterivier.

The land claim was concluded in 2013, and once the remaining family members had been tracked down, a certificate was handed to family representative, Owen Langenhoven, at a formal ceremony
in Helderzicht on Wednesday March 19 2014 by Mayor Patricia de Lille.

But the matter did not end there. The house remained vacant and vagrants occupied it, causing great consternation for the Adonis family who live at 29 Victoria Street, the property adjacent to the semi-detached house.

Oscar Adonis contacted Bolander recently about the NGO which he and his family have started to render support and assistance to destitute people in the community, and in the course of communication, noted the difficulty he had experienced for five years with the illegal squatters in the adjacent vacant property.

Mr Adonis knew the property was the subject of a land claim, but he had been unable to make contact with the Langenhoven family.

His repeated entreaties to the City of Cape Town (CoCT), CoCT Law Enforcement and Somerset West SAPS to deal with the illegal squatter problem appeared to fall on deaf ears, according to Mr Adonis.

Bolander’s enquiry to Stuart Diamond, mayoral committee member for assets and facilities management, about the legal status of the property, evinced the following response: “The City of Cape Town’s property management department confirmed that the property at 31 Victoria Street, Somerset West (erf 724), does not belong to the City of Cape Town as Council gave approval in 2013 for the release of the property for restitution purposes to the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.”

Bolander’s enquiry to the local office of the Land Claims Commission cleared up the mystery.

Deputy director legal and chief restitution advisor at the Western Cape Regional Land Claims Commission office, Benjamin Mars, confirmed that 31 Victoria Street had been transferred to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform by the City of Cape Town in 2013.

“A verification process was undertaken to determine the eligible beneficiaries, and it was found that Mr Langenhoven(Jr) and the two surviving children of his deceased brother would be entitled to the restitution award. However, the commission had great difficulty tracing the whereabouts of these children for numerous years, and even Mr Langenhoven could not assist us here,” Mr Benjamin told Bolander.

“Mr Langenhoven, as family representative, subsequently submitted a (last) will and testament of his late mother, who was the actual dispossessed person.

“The commission then engaged the duly appointed executor of the deceased estate, as the representative of the Master of the High Court, Cape Town, and notified him of the restitution award.

“To be in compliance with the legislative prescripts of the law of succession and the administration of estates, the commission has given instructions to the state attorney, our conveyancer of record, to effect the transfer of the property to the deceased estate, and allow the executor to implement the distribution thereof. This is now in progress,” Mr Mars said.

On the matter of the squatters who have occupied the vacant property and are causing a disturbance for the Adonis family, Mr Mars said: “We note the allegations of criminal and anti-social conduct by ‘occupants’ on the property. Mr Langenhoven has agreed to our proposal that a site inspection be conducted on Monday August 14 at 2.30pm for the purposes of assessing the status quo.”

When Bolander told Mr Adonis about the upcoming inspection by the Land Claims Commission he was ecstatic.

“I’ve tried for years to get the authorities to do something about this squatter problem, with no success,” he said. “Hopefully now something will be done.”