Is government trying to steal your rights?

For many the right to free access to the water “for the purposes of boating and fishing” is enshrined in their title deeds, even if they may not be aware of it Residents’ right to free access to the water is a complicated and often controversial issue with an interesting history. When the Government began expropriating land for the Dam after the First World War just on hundred years ago, the state coffers were depleted by the war effort. The farms belonging to the Schoeman family were evaluated at £85 000, but the Government could only offer £35 000. Other families, like the Scroobys and Pretoriusse also resisted, but eventually they came to an arrangement granting a right of water storage to the Government. In the case of the Schoemans, represented by Johan Hendrik Schoeman, the Government offered him the £35 000 in cash and the balance in commercial rights on the foreshore and the water; the right to develop townships and the right to free access to the water for the residents of the townships. These terms were contained in a memorandum of agreement registered as M99/22 of 1922. Schoeman eventually developed three townships to give effect to this agreement. These were Schoemansville (1922), Meerhof (1935) and Kosmos (1937), where he offered free access to the water as an added incentive to buyers. In the case of Schoemansville a portion of the foreshore was set aside for residents in terms of a Crown Grant in 1926, which portion was later developed as the Schoemansville Oewerklub. In Meerhof a servitude providing right of access on a portion of the foreshore was registered and buyers of stands in Kosmos had the right to erect, at their own risk, boat houses on the waterside. Later developments also obtained access to the water, but their right of access is subject to government consent. It is not enshrined in their title deeds like in the case of the older townships and could be interfered with by the government. Government bodies have long been uncomfortable with access rights of residents. In the 1970s the then provincial administration wanted to develop the Schoemansville foreshore as a recreation area for the Defence Force. Concerted opposition by a group of residents put paid to these plans and the Defence Force was allocated a portion of the foreshore near Ifafi, today known as the Aquatic Club. In the 1980s the then Hartbeespoort municipality entered into a contract with the provincial administration, but acknowledged that the right of free access would have to be bought from some stand holders. Similarly, plans for a highway along the Schoemansville foreshore through the Poort in the 1980s had to be abandoned because of the legal complexities. In the early 2000s residents’ resistance forced the then newly established Madibeng Local Municipality to shelve a planned B-BBEE project on the site of the Oewerklub. There is still a lot of controversy around access to and use of the water. The State still owns large portions of the foreshore, such as Kommandonek, Oberon and Kurperoord, but residents should be ever wary of efforts to undermine the rights vested in their title deeds and development terms. Failure to do so could be interpreted as tacit consent to the gradual erosion of their right to free access to and use of the water. The persisting efforts by the Department of Water and Sanitation (as reported on page 3) to try and alienate the Oewerklub from the Schoemansville community stinks of sinister motives. All title deed owners of Schoemansville, Kosmos and Meerhof should protect their unique rights at all cost.

Deon van Huizen

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