District Six landowners remain the victims of bureaucracy and the disability of politicians like Rural Development and Land Reform Maite Nkoana-Mashabane acknowledges Friday that it had failed to comply with a November court order regarding the development of the area.
She took the position in the Land Claims Court and explained that it became clear at the end of February that there was time, legal advice and financial challenges with regard to a comprehensive Plan 6 restitution plan.
She said she should have asked for an extension sooner, but had the intention and willingness to fully comply, never losing hope.
"You trusted hope, not reality," observed Judge Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, nodding from the crowded room.
The court heard that while the redevelopment of District Six would cost around R11 billion and refund, around R2.4 billion, the department could only afford to spend R351 million a year.
In her sworn statement, Nkoana-Mashabane said that the R1.5m price tag per family unit was "priceless and unsustainable."
Judge Ngcukaitobi wondered if that suggested that the government was actually reluctant to comply with the agreed plan.
The minister replied that they were honest about financial restrictions that both President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Treasury were aware of.
They didn't say it was too expensive, she said. On the contrary, they needed resources.
Despite the advocate Geoff Budlender SC, before the plaintiffs, she explained why Nkoana-Mashabane looked like she was blaming responsibility for her failures on her officials, but she remained adamant that she did what she could and that the will was there.
"I will say that I regret the way we have run the company, but I have not intentionally ignored my responsibilities," she said.
They did not run away from the project, but had to help other expropriated communities in South Africa and "needed the entire government to come to the party."
The crowded room gasped when she said she would need until August to come back to court with a plan, after looking at public-private partnerships to finance the deficit and perhaps even foreign direct investors.
"This is all speculative," Judge Ngcukaitobi said.
He did not cut his words and said that he still had no facts and a concrete plan in front of him.
"Thanks," the gallery muttered in agreement.
The judge pointed out that the case existed since 1998. In 2012, former President Jacob Zuma said the R700m would be available within three years to speed up the District Six project, he said.
"What happened to that money?" he asked. Nkoana-Mashabane said she didn't know, but it must have been special financing from the Treasury.
"This is a 20-year delay," Ngcukaitobi continued, adding that there was no explanation as to why the project was not included in the budget.
Based on what he had heard, the department made promises that could not be kept.
He adjourned the case but did not announce a date for the judgment.