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Liberator Germaniae
Friday, February 23rd, 2007, 09:35 PM
Eco war over Kruger estate

Yolandi Groenewald

17 February 2007 11:59

Advanced plans for a R600-million luxury wildlife estate on the border of the Kruger Park have sparked a war of words between the developer and the Limpopo government, and have split the local African community.

It appears the land is subject to a restitution claim, and SA National Parks (SanParks) has raised environmental objections. An environmental impact assessment is still awaited.

The developer, Coen Espach, is being sued by the shareholders of a deceased estate, who claim to have signed a contract with the community in the early 1990s.

The deal for the Mthimkulu Wildlife Estate was clinched between Espach and the Mthimkulu Development Trust, which claims to represent the Mthimkulu community.

On his website, Espach describes it as “the most exclusive development in Africa” and claims it will break new ground by handing half the proceeds to community members. He says it is the first project in Africa to have privately owned stands in a state reserve.

Two-hectare stands in the estate on the banks of the Klein Letaba are being advertised for up to R4-million. Estate agents are regularly posted at the gates.

But the authorities have doubts about whether the development should go ahead. The Mail & Guardian is aware of several meetings between officials of Kruger Park, the provincial authorities and the land affairs department.

Wanda Mkutshulwa, communication head of SanParks, said it would oppose the development.

“We believe this kind of development will have a significant impact on the ecology of the Klein Letaba River and Kruger. It does not conform with the wilderness qualities of the area and is not sustainable in the long run.”

The development, on state land held in trust for a tribal authority, was administered formally as a homeland game reserve in the Gazankulu bantustan. Though never proclaimed a provincial game reserve by the ANC government, the land is managed by Limpopo Tourism and Parks for the Mabunda Traditional Authority.

This week Moss Tseli, spokesperson for Limpopo’s economic development department, labelled the development “illegal” and warned the public against it. He said “relevant stakeholders do not consent to the development to alienate state land” and that the project had already divided the community.

The local chief, Hosi Ngove Mabunda, told the Kruger Park Times there was no legal agreement to develop the land.

Mashile Mokono, Limpopo land claims commissioner, said that because the land was state-owned and under claim, the department of land affairs had to be involved in decisions on any deals. This had not happened.

The claim by the 3 680-member Manjenani community had been approved, Mokono said.

But Espach is not giving up. He told the M&G the community was “100% behind the project”.

“I don’t want to go into details and defame people, but I’ve been stabbed in the back,” he said. “I’ve invested a lot of money in this project and I’m sitting on tenterhooks for it to be approved.”

He said the only remaining obstacle was the environmental impact assessment, conducted last year. Tseli said the assessment was “not yet approved due to the process where stakeholders and communities were not consulted and did not consent to the development”.

Dinga Mkhwasha, the trust’s legal representative, also denied there were rifts in the community. “There’s no dispute,” he said, insisting the project also had the blessing of the land claimants. “No one has raised concerns through community structures.”

Espach’s agreement with the trust gives him the right to occupy and develop the land for 10 years. Prospective owners will have to pay a non-refundable deposit when they reserve a stand. The website also says “programmes have been put in place to ensure sustainability and to ensure job creation for more than 300 people on a permanent basis”.

Mkwasha declined to comment on the court action brought by the Gerhard Bolt estate, in which the trust is also a respondent.



Source (http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=299375&area=/insight/insight__national/)