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18 Nov 2018

By Sandy Grant

According to the Telegraph (31.10.18) the Minister of Local Government, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi has given the Kgatleng District Council an ultimatum; it must either provide the developers of the giant multi–million pula shopping complex commonly known as Mochudi Wholesalers, with a certificate of occupancy or demolish it. The so-far insoluble issue has been on-going for ten years. Because the developer had flouted a long list of the Ministry’s building regulations, the Council was unable to give it a certificate of occupancy. Nor, sensibly, could it agree to have the building demolished.

Compromise was sought but could not be found. But now the Council is obliged by the Minister to take one or other of the decisions it has for so long been unable to take. If it provides a certificate of occupancy, it could be laying itself open to the risk of being sued. If it could provide this certificate today, it could have provided it ten years ago. If, however, it sought to reduce the risk to the public it could perhaps think of granting occupancy for the ground floor only. But the risk of being sued would remain. On the other hand, the option of demolition cannot possibly be seen as a practicable proposition.

The job would have to go out to tender and it may be doubtful that three, even two, such companies exist? But even before reaching this stage the Council would need to be certain exactly where their legal responsibilities begin and where, in this instance, the Minister’s end? It would have to have a rough idea about the thousands of tons of rubble that would have to be removed, where they would be dumped, about the disruption that would result from the unavoidable closure of the road junction and about the problem of noise which would be considerable. It would need to have a reasonably accurate idea of the enormous cost of demolition, know who would pay, if budgetary provision has been made, and how long demolition would take? Alternative roads would have to be utilized so that traffic could be diverted to the kgotla, hospital and further parts of Mochudi and across the river to Boseja and Sikwane.

All businesses in the area, not least, the Shell and Engen garages and the Spar Supermarket would experience a dramatic loss of business and would probably have to close. Could they sue? Dust would be an unavoidable problem. Given the direction of the wind it must be possible, even probable, that the Lovers Rock Bar, the District Council offices, Seingwaeng school and the library with the Post Office and Choppies block would have to be evacuated and if possible relocated.

The period of disruption would be prolonged. On two of its sides, the building has been constructed tightly against the perimeter walls with the likelihood of damage being done to neighbouring buildings with resultant claims for reparation. Demolition would therefore be ruinous for Mochudi. The Kgatleng District Council secretary, Mpho Mathe, suggested that the safety of the general public would be a central concern. The Deputy Council Secretary, Jayson Sechele, said that because the Council cannot establish the structural stability of the building it couldn’t risk peoples’ lives. The Minister would presumably concur. It has to be noted, therefore, that both the options available to the Council (and the Minister) are, in reality, not options at all! The Council would need to take legal advice but would be most unwise to issue a certificate of occupancy unless it could ensure that it was legally absolved from any misfortune that might arise.

The likelihood is that the Council would be advised by the Ministry that no such opt out clause is available to it. But having issued this ultimatum, the Minister will have well understood the probable political implications of her decision. Because the preparatory stages for demolition would be long drawn out, it is possible that work would only begin shortly before next year’s election. In the circumstances, BDP candidates at both constituency and Council level would have to expect that their chances of election would be severely reduced. No great harm has come to Mochudi as a result of ten years of indecision. Might the Minister now consider that in view of the very bad options available both to her and to the Council – the two have to be seen together, not separately – she might consider that for once, a strong case can be made for indecision. If it is impossible to move either forward or back, it’s only wise to stay in the same place.

Seal the entrance to the empty building to ensure that it does not become a haven for crooks and if possible, ensure that in other respects, the building does not become a danger to the public. There must always be a chance that the situation will somehow have changed in the years ahead and a different Minister might find that there is room for maneuver, which is not available today. Mochudi must desperately be hoping so. It is not often that doing nothing is so much better than doing something.

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