New twist in MalaMala land claim

2012-01-21 18:28

The Mhlanganisweni community, who has lodged a land claim against world-renowned game reserve MalaMala, received help from an unexpected source recently: their neighbours.

Private game reserve Londolozi, whose own land is also under claim, agreed to manage the community’s proposed new eco-business on MalaMala. In addition Londolozi promised an investment of R75 million to the community to get the business up and running.

The Mhlanganisweni community has been fighting in the Randburg Land Claims Court for the last year not to merely settle for chequebook restitution – where they would get a signed cheque to compensate them for being dispossessed of their land – but to get their land back.
 
A big worry, however, for the court was whether the community had the capacity to run MalaMala. Judgment was expected at the end of the month.

“We don’t want money,” said Raymond Mtileni, the deputy chairperson of the Mhlanganisweni community. “We want our land back.”

But the claim is one of the most expensive in South African land claims history. MalaMala boasts some of South Africa’s most expensive real estate.

The Rattray family is the major shareholder and wants R900 million for its land, but the state says it can pay R360 million at the most.

The state argued in court the fiscus could not afford to pay market value. In 2010/11 the restitution budget was R3.5 billion, but that went merely to paying backlogged claims.

The community had indicated they would take their fight for their land all the way to the Constitutional Court, which could set a precedent for future compensation.

The future sustainability of MalaMala was a huge stumbling block for the community’s case. Judge Antonie Gildenhuys made it clear in court that he would only consider land restitution if the Mhlanganisweni community had a partner with a good track record that could help them manage MalaMala.

Londolozi signed a memorandum of understanding with the community at the end of last year, in which they promised to manage MalaMala for the community if the court handed back the land.

“Londolozi undertakes to commence an eco-tourism business on the properties immediately upon the properties being vacated by the present owners, subject to the requisite refurbishment of the buildings,” the agreement said.

Londolozi promised in the agreement to capitalise the new eco-tourism business to the tune of R75 million to implement the business plan.

In addition it was expected that the community would receive R7 million to R8 million per month from Londolozi for leasing the land.

Dave Varty, owner of Londolozi Game Lodge, told City Press it was too premature to discuss the agreement, because the court still had to make a ruling.

The agreement was seen as a possible flagship case in how to handle the delicate balance between restituting community’s land and managing eco-tourism.

“It is a political imperative that land claimants and existing land-ownership-businesses reach feasible and sustainable agreements in respect of the future of the land ownership and the continuation of the businesses,” the agreement said.

The community’s lawyer Louise du Plessis said the community was over the moon with the agreement.

“They are extremely happy that they have found such a good partner.”

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