By Shaun Gillham
IT is certainly not a case of "a good fence makes good neighbours” in the ongoing fight between two rival seafood eateries at the Port Elizabeth Harbour.
A new palisade fence erected outside one of the restaurants this week dramatically increased the divide between the two restaurants, This is Eat and Oceans 11.
Both outlets trade on a 702m² parcel of Transnet-owned land in the harbour.
They have been embroiled in a months-long legal battle over the right to trade on the land, with the winners to be decided at two court appeals set to be heard next year.
The latest salvo in the war between the two was fired on Tuesday this week, when the palisade fence, which has no obvious practical purpose, was erected directly in front of This is Eat. The fence extends onto common Transnet land which is meant to serve as a parking area for both businesses.
This is Eat has covered the fence with advertising, giving the impression to visitors that the area belongs to the eatery. The advertising includes arrows directing customers to the parking and restaurant and a cheeky swipe at their competitors – which formerly traded as Catch 22 – that reads: "After eating our fish, you will never be in a catch 22 again.”
When approached at Oceans 11 yesterday, Naeema Hassim said she was reluctant to attack her neighbours "as they had been attacking her business”.
But she felt the fence and the advertising was particularly unfair. "There is no parking directly in front of Oceans 11 and the fence gives the impression that the parking belongs to This is Eat, which it does not.
"I have been told by customers that the car guards, who are often under the influence of alcohol, have chased them out of the parking lot when they want to come to Oceans 11, or have ushered them into the neighbour’s building,” she said.
"After all the things they have done to try to shut us down, this is not nice at all. But I believe there will be justice in the end.”
Hassim claimed there had been previous incidents that she believed were attempts to shut them down, including their electricity being cut off and their neighbour’s dustbins being emptied on their property.
When Weekend Post visited This is Eat, an agitated Zune Patel, who is the brother of owner Imraan Patel, refused to comment, saying only: "Write what you like. I am not scared of you reporters.”
Imraan, who was also at the restaurant, refused to say whether his business or Transnet had erected the fence, or why.
"It is like when you are caught without a driver’s licence, you do not have a driver’s licence, so nothing else matters. They [Oceans 11] do not have a lease, so I do not have to answer any questions,” he said.
The saga between the two direct competitors and Transnet began in earnest nearly a year ago when This is Eat opened for business next to Oceans 11, which has been trading on the land since 2005.
According to court documents, Patel, who has leased the disputed land from Transnet since 2001, had initially come to "an arrangement” with Mohamed Rashid Hassim (father of Oceans 11 owner Jameel Hassim), who is his wife’s uncle, that the Hassims could occupy the premises for their own use, paying the rental and deposits and consumption charges.
Oceans 11, which was described by high court judge Elna Revelas as "a very popular seafood restaurant” in a judgment on the dispute last year, is represented by Jameel Hassim.
Patel and Transnet, which was accused of turning a blind eye to its own land-leasing policies when Patel sub-leased a portion of the land to Hassim, are the two opposing parties.
An order issued by the high court in 2010 stipulated that Oceans 11 must vacate the premises by January 31 this year. However, the order is currently on appeal, with the feud between the respective owners becoming personal.
During 2008, This is Eat had building plans for renovations of the site approved by the municipality, but did not advise Hassim on this matter.
Patel, who then established This is Eat on the site, then launched an urgent application to have Oceans 11 evicted from the premises, based on the Transnet lease clause which prohibits sub-letting.
In October this year, the Port Elizabeth High Court ordered that Oceans 11 restore possession of the building to Transnet and vacate the premises. The order was, however, suspended after the Supreme Court of Appeal gave Oceans 11 permission to appeal, which allowed Oceans 11 to continue trading in the interim.
Two appeals, one to counter Transnet’s litigation towards eviction from the property, and the second which involves This is Eat’s litigation, are to be heard in the Grahamstown High Court and the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein early next year.
This is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, December 15, 2012.