The City of Johannesburg has made a decision to acquire and redevelop Chancellor House, a building in the Johannesburg CBD. This building housed the legal offices of O.R. Tambo and Nelson Mandela in the 1950’s.

Chancellor House is currently privately owned, and has been owned by the same family for many years. For the last ten years the building has been in state of disrepair. Indeed, the building is not only dilapidated but is in a state of chaos, previously having been damaged by fire.

The building is not designed for residential use but is currently occupied by homeless people. The structure of the building has been badly damaged and living conditions are both unsafe and unhygienic. For any building this is unacceptable. For a building of such historic importance, the situation is reprehensible. The City has made attempts to encourage the owners to address the our concerns. Several notices have been served to the owners in terms of the City’s by-laws.

The City recently intervened more directly when it obtained an order in the Johannesburg High Court in December 2009 for the eviction of the building’s occupants so that the City is able to honour its obligations in terms of health, safety and fire legislation as well as its own by-laws.

In addition the City, both directly and in co-operation with the Johannesburg Heritage Trust, has attempted to buy the building from its owners in order to redevelop it. The owners have not been willing to sell, and neither have they taken any action to address the terrible conditions of both the building itself as well as the dangerous condition of the occupants. This shows rampant disrespect for the history of the building as well as the City’s by-laws.

The City and the owners have not been able to negotiate the purchase and sale of Chancellor House. The City has therefore made a decision to expropriate and redevelop the building. The City is empowered to acquire the property in the public interest and for public purposes and has elected to do so.

The expropriation of the building will comply with legislation and a market-related consideration will be offered to the owner.

The City will (in terms of the court order) be moving the current occupants out of the building. The occupants will be offered accommodation in a City–owned emergency shelter.
Once the expropriation is complete, The City intends to restore and renovate the building. The building will not be demolished. The basic structure of the building will be retained and will be restored to an office building in keeping with its history.

The offices will be used inter alia for legal services, to be provided either by the City or by non-profit legal organizations. The area which housed the offices of Mandela and Tambo will be restored and an exhibit will be created which will be open to the public, and which will commemorate the historical significance of those offices. The Johannesburg Development Agency will manage the project.

Questions can be directed to Lael Bethlehem, CEO of the Johannesburg Development Agency on 082 464 4254 or 011 688 7853