Former Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has been dealt another court blow over her handling of the District Six land restitution project. The Labour Court on Monday handed Nkoana-Mashabane a third personal costs order against her, for refusing to take responsibility for her “reckless and grossly negligent” conduct towards the District Six community and continually attempting to “abuse the court system” to escape accountability. Nkoana-Mashabane was appealing a costs order that was issued against her during her tenure as minister last year, after she failed to submit a proper plan for the development of District Six within the deadline. The District 6 Working Committee (D6WC), the respondents in the case, believes the former minister is using further delaying tactics in court. The D6WC has criticised Nkoana-Mashabane for again failing to own up to her responsibilities to the court and the people of District Six, despite the court ordering her to take personal responsibility for her failures. The court also referred the matter of who was paying Nkoana-Mashabane’s legal bills in the matter to the Legal Practice Council and had asked the State Attorney’s office to clarify why they were still involved – but it was not verified who was paying
Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat on Tuesday, the District Six Working Committee’s spokesperson Karen Bruytenbacht expressed bemusement as to why Nkoana-Mashabane has refused to pay the previous two cost orders against her.
The minister declined an invitation by the court to join the case in her personal capacity and had not offered a proper explanation. Her appeals to have these set aside were dismissed in August 2019 and March 2020 respectively. Breytenbach questioned whether or not Nkoana-Mashabane would have the state or the people of district six pay the money, with at least one of the ordered costing R70k.
“The mystery in this case why she keeps corresponding with the officers via the states attorney’s office. The judge has asked her repeatedly why and why she keeps trying not to pay the two cost orders ordered by the court.”
According to Breytenbach, a change in legal counsel contributed to Nkoana-Mashabane “changing legal facts” .
“Last Thursday, five minutes before the court went into session, she dropped two of the pieces of relief she sought in the case and they wanted to carry on with only one part of the application. It also became apparent when her advocate was arguing (that) he hadn’t been briefed properly,” said Breytenbach.
She, however, highlighted that the ruling set a precedent that officials need to take responsibility for their conduct.
“What makes this case quite important is that it confirms the legal precedent that senior public officials will be held accountable by the courts to fulfil their official duties. They can’t hide behind flimsy excuses, which in her case was the fault of junior officials, the department etc. There were lots of avenues that could have been taken.”
“We haven’t received any instruction or correspondent s from her legal team on what they are deciding to do next but it does seem, from what they’ve argued in court, that they will want to go to the Supreme Court of Appeal and try to fight this again.”
Breytenbach also applauded her replacement, Minister Thoko Didiza, for holding a “good relationship” with the District Six community and for the progress made in providing restitution to District Six claimants.