In a press release issued on Tuesday 7 March, Knysna Municipality announced that they have been prohibited in terms of a High Court order, to enter upon or to use the land known as ‘Sedgefield Cemetery’ as a cemetery. This court order was obtained by New Line Investments (Pty) Ltd, Avieprop Developments (Pty) Ltd and Aviemore Home Owners Association.

The Municipality, custodians of the Sedgefield Cemetery situated on the northern side of the N2 above Aviemore, was further ordered to close all burial grounds or areas prepared for use as burial grounds on the property.

This order remains intact while an ownership, land use rights and necessary authorization dispute between Newline Investments and the Knysna Municipality is being resolved.

According to Knysna Municipality, back in 1999 the then Sedgefield Municipality (which was later absorbed by Knysna) obtained the Record of Decision (ROD) in terms of the old Environmental Conservation Act to develop the property as a cemetery after the land was expropriated from a Dr van der Merwe during 1999.

“Sadly Dr van der Merwe passed away, and during the winding up of his estate it was found that the property was still registered in his name. It was later sold from the estate to Newline Investments,” said the press release, “Now Newline Investments claim ownership of the property and they do not acknowledge that the property was expropriated. They took further exception to the use of the property as a cemetery, stating that the property is zoned – Agricultural Zone I. They state that the necessary statutory authorisation as required by various Acts must be obtained.”

We asked Mike Young, who was the Mayor of Sedgefield in 1999, if he had any recollections of the transaction.

“I well remember the issue coming before Sedgefield Council. I think that payment for the land was authorised and we were led to believe that it had taken place and that transfer of the property had been initiated,” he told us, “ I have been told that many of the Sedgefield records transferred to Knysna Municipality are no longer available, so I suspect that the only way to get proof of payment may be to try to get Sedgefield Council’s bankers to help.  Since all this happened nearly 20 years ago, legal prescription may make this not possible.”

Said Knysna Acting Municipal Manager, Johnny Douglas, “We and Newline Investments are currently in negotiations regarding the ownership, and if no satisfactory settlement can be reached, the question of ownership shall be decided by a court of law.”

He added: “We are advised that should the matter be referred to court, it may take between 18 to 36 months to obtain judgement, where after, if we are successful, we still would need to apply for the proper legislative authorisation.”

The Municipality says that their proverbial hands are tied as they may not proceed to develop or use the cemetery illegally and in contravention of the court order and legislation.

“The Knysna Municipality has the greatest understanding of the community’s frustration and I sympathise and empathise with all members of the public whose relatives and friends are buried in the cemetery. I undertake to revert back to the Sedgefield community leaders on the progression of this matter,” added MAYCO Chair of Community Services, Councillor Cathy Weideman.