Legal dispute with City may kick oldest rugby club in Joburg into touch

Chair of the Pirates Club Lloyd Hanson and club manager Non Welsford stand in front of the bowls club side of Pirates Club in Greenside, 30 August 2019. Photo: Sarah Koning

Pirates Club, one of the three oldest sports clubs in the country, is facing an uncertain future thanks to a legal dispute with the City of Johannesburg.

According to Lloyd Hanson, Pirates’ chairperson, the club was in possession of a letter by the City’s property management company confirming that its lease had been cancelled and the property would be put out to tender.

“We are deeply concerned about the club’s future if the dispute with the City is not cleared up. I don’t think the City really wants to close us down, but that’s the situation at the moment,” Hanson said.

The dispute revolves around a portion of Pirates’ sports grounds, located in Greenside, being used by Wastepreneurs, a local community project supporting waste pickers in the area.

The land is next to the local refuse dump and is used by the waste pickers to sort waste before it is carted off for recycling.

Pirates’ lease of the property, which it has occupied since 1953, is now legally cancelled.

Leah Knott, the City’s mayoral committee member for economic development, confirmed the cancellation of the lease had kicked in automatically last week because Pirates neglected to clarify the situation about Wastepreneurs.

The City wants the project to vacate the land.

“I have no interest in closing down a sports club. But Pirates is putting its lease at risk by not clearing up the matter,” she told News24.

The City has now, however, decided to grant Pirates an extension of 60 days to sort out the issue.

“Pirates should either clarify its relationship with Wastepreneurs and declare its interest or separate the matter from itself. It is putting the lease at risk. The use of the land comes down to illegal occupation and if we allow it, it will set a precedent and we will be on a slippery slope. The club’s lease is very clear about sub-letting. It is not allowed to do it, whether it receives compensation or not.

“We have been very nice to Pirates, but the law is the law,” Knott added.

According to Hanson, the fact that the matter had now evolved into a legal dispute was a matter of concern.

“We have been engaging with the City for months to no avail. The reasons why it got to this point [with the cancellation of the lease] must be questioned. We get no payment from Wastepreneurs for the use of the site, it is a purely community driven project.”

If Pirates is forced to vacate the property, it would be a devastating blow for the rugby club, which, along with Hamilton-Sea Point in Cape Town and Crusaders in Port Elizabeth, is one of the oldest clubs in the country.

“This is a place where the community comes together to play and watch sports, to walk their dogs and to have a social life. If it closes down it will be devastating,” said Hanson.

A number of famous Springboks have donned the famous navy blue and red jersey since it was established in the newly found mining town of Johannesburg in 1888.

Some of its most recent Boks include Kobus Wiese and Gavin Johnson, both of whom were part of the 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning team.

James Small, who died earlier this year, was an assistant coach of the first XV until recently.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

today in print