Chaos at Cape Town deeds office must be dealt with urgently

Issued by Annette Steyn MP – DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development
11 Aug 2020 in News

The Democratic Alliance calls (DA) on the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) to fully capacitate its deeds office in Cape Town and deal with backlogs urgently in accordance with a Western Cape High Court order.

We will also write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to ensure Minister Thoko Didiza presents her plans to address the chaos at this office.

While it normally takes 5 to 7 days to register a deed at the Cape Town deeds office, the timeline has increased to between 27 to 29 workdays during the lockdown. At the moment, deeds offices in other provinces seem to operate at capacity and experience few to no delays and there seems little evidence of extensive backlogs to speak of.

Meanwhile, conveyancers in Cape Town have been forced to turn to the courts in order to get any amount of work done, and while affidavits from the Department indicate that they have complied with the court orders to continue with full operation of this deed office, subject to social distancing and health protocols – the experience on the ground has been fraught with ongoing delays and lack of communication.

Instead of working with conveyancers to address the issues and giving serious considerations to their suggestions to safely recapacitate the office, the Department is still operating its Cape Town deed office at a capacity of 50% and making excuses for why the backlog continues to increase.

The DA will also submit parliamentary questions to ascertain how well the other deeds offices are running at the moment and whether backlogs exist in these offices.

When the DA conducted an oversight inspection at the office last week, we were told that Nehawu insists on the offices operating at only 30% capacity and that personnel only return to premises anywhere between 12 and 48 hours after cleaning if there was a Covid-19 scare.

The Minister must take a strong stance. She cannot allow unions to dictate policy, especially if that policy seems to only be employed in one province and to its detriment.

It might be time for the Minister to do a sight inspection herself, and if the Department cannot find safe solutions to address the problems, maybe it should look to what it is doing in its other deeds offices around the country.

Surely the same playbook should apply. If the Department has already proven itself in running capacitated deeds offices in other parts of South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cape Town branch should be an easy puzzle to solve – one that needs a solution as soon as possible.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court