Wits land dispute: In perpetuity loses its meaning

Wits land dispute: In perpetuity loses its meaning

Wits University. Picture: Alaister Russell

Many residents of Alex, who live in squalor, believe the land should be used for low-cost housing.

One wonders, only slightly cynically, what the #RhodesMustFall movement thinks of the gift from beyond the grave to Wits University by arch imperialist Alfred Beit?

Arguments aside about whether this is blood money or justified restitution of land, a parcel of 290 hectares of prime Johannesburg real estate donated by Beit is causing ructions of quite a different nature.

Beit – the millionaire partner of Cecil John Rhodes – specified in his bequest that the land be used in perpetuity solely for educational purposes.

Yet now, Wits wants to put up a “mixed development” of houses and commercial sites. Money from the sale of these will be put into an endowment fund to help poor students pay their fees, says Wits.

So, in a way, the land is being used for educational purposes. But residents in the area ask why a satellite campus could not have been erected for students in nearby Alexandra.

Many residents of Alex, who live in squalor, believe the land should be used for low-cost housing. We worry that this development, as in many other similar ones, is open to corruption.

Some people will make a lot of money. And that was not what Beit intended.

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