Community claim salt pans ownership

Lee-Anne Butler

THE Bethelsdorp Village community have renewed hope they will find out the truth about the rightful ownership of the area’s land.

This follows a segment screened on SABC3’s investigative show Special Assignment last month.

The screening, on November 15, followed the community’s claims that historic documents proved they were the rightful owners of the land, which has a salt pan worth millions of rands.

The community have claimed they were kept in the dark about the rightful ownership of the land for more than 90 years, and say they discovered they were the rightful owners by chance 10 years ago.

They said this was when the Swartkops Sea Salt company had called a meeting with them to renew its lease to mine the salt for the next two decades.

Community member Aldred Lewis, who started investigating, said it appeared certain members of the Bethelsdorp Congregational Church had hidden information from the community in order to enrich themselves, while the majority of Bethelsdorp residents lived in poverty.

Lewis said the community only became aware of their rightful ownership after the cut-off date for land restitution.

He said attempts to gain answers from Swartkops Sea Salt, which owns Marina Salt, and the church’s retired minister proved unsuccessful.

“The land in question was granted to us as the inhabitants of Bethelsdorp … together with the mineral rights. So the land and the salt pans are … legally ours,” Lewis said.

He said that after his 10-year investigation, he discovered information in the Crown Act and the Cape of Good Hope Gazette, which detailed that only the rightful owners of the land could collect salt from the pans.

“As a community we always believed that everything belonged to the church, including the salt pans. We believed this until 2002 when a meeting took place between the salt company and the inhabitants where they asked us to grant them an extension on their lease.”

Retired Bethelsdorp Congregational Church minister Rev Jacob Alberts said a special meeting with church members was planned for Tuesday to discuss the matter and a statement could only be released thereafter.

Repeated attempts to obtain comment from Swartkops Sea Salt were unsuccessful.

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