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Ongwediva villagers stave off demolitions

27 February 2012
Namibian
By: Werner Menges

Under threat of urgent legal action the Ongwediva Town Council has given an undertaking that it would not at this stage proceed with a plan to demolish homes and other buildings in three villages on the outskirts of the town.

The undertaking was given in a letter from the Ongwediva Town Council’s lawyer, Dirk Conradie, on Friday afternoon - after an organisation representing village residents affected by the threatened demolition had filed an urgent application in the High Court in Windhoek in a bid to stop the town council’s plans.
Judge Kato van Niekerk was ready to hear the urgent application on Saturday morning when Legal Assistance Centre lawyer Ricardo Mukonda, representing the Omatando Villages Residents’ Advisory Committee, informed her that due to the undertaking which had been given the application was being abandoned.
The threat of demolition which had been hanging over affected residents of Omatando Villages 1, 2 and 3 has not disappeared, though. Instead, it appears that such action would only take place after an appropriate court order sanctioning it has been obtained by the town council.
In his letter Conradie stated that “no evictions and/or demolitions will take place except in accordance with a Court Order”.
In an affidavit filed with the court late on Friday afternoon he also stated that the chief executive officer of the Ongwediva Town Council had confirmed earlier on Friday that the town council would not demolish any structure at the villages without a valid court order.
The Ongwediva Town Council has taken a hard line with respect to fences and buildings which are alleged to have been erected illegally on land forming part of its townlands.
In a letter from the town council to Conradie, which has also been filed with the court, Ongwediva Chief Executive Officer Damian Egumbo stated: “The intended action by Ongwediva Town Council is as follows:
“All the illegal fences and structures that were erected illegally in Omatando 1,2 & 3 shall be demolished indiscriminately by Ongwediva Town Council and Council shall not take any responsibility for loss of property in the process as a result of the action and shall not pay any compensation to any illegal occupant of land in the above villages.”
People living in the three villages of Omatando are however disputing that the villages are part of the townlands of Ongwediva, the deputy chairperson of the Omatando Villages Residents’ Advisory Committee, Harold Useb, indicated to the court in an affidavit.
The land on which the villages are situated “was and remains communal land”, and was occupied in terms of the customary laws of the Oukwanyama community, Useb stated.
He added that in terms of the Communal Land Reform Act the people living at Omatando have “clear existing customary rights to occupy the land”.
The land has not been acquired by the State as required in the Communal Land Reform Act, and no rights holders have been compensated either, he claimed.
As a result, Useb further claimed, the Ongwediva Town Council does not own the land and has no legal authority or right to destroy villagers’ properties.
He related that the villagers have gathered through media reports that the town council was planning to start with the demolition of alleged illegally-built structures at Omatando from today.
His organisation has been in talks with the town council, trying to get clarity about the local authority’s plans, but has only been told that talks on the issue would be continuing - only to then see in media reports that the town council’s spokesperson had said that demolitions would start from today, Useb informed the court.
Since February 9 the Legal Assistance Centre has been trying to get information from the town council about its plans and the position of the villages, but up to the end of last week the requested information had still not been received, prompting the committee to launch the urgent application.
The committee was asking the court to order that the town council may not demolish any structures at Omatando 1, 2 and 3 without a valid court order allowing such a step.
Conradie and legal counsel Thabang Phatela represented the town council in court on Saturday.


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