Bitter war in paradise

2012-06-23 16:15

KZN’s big land restitution deal continues to stir controversy

Musa Dube’s anger is visible as he stares over the sugar cane fields near Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal.

Before him is a sign: “Blythedale Coastal Resort. Private Property. Trespassers will be prosecuted.”

“This is our ancestral land. We won it back. But we can’t even come here. There is an interdict against us,” he says.

Tension in the area is at an all-time high. Last month, residents in Blythedale attacked the previous owner of the resort’s land, Rodger Stewart.

Stewart now leases part of the land returned to the Dube community as part of a land restitution deal.

The attack on Stewart saw an interdict granted that prevents residents from going onto his farm, or anywhere near the Blythedale Coastal Resort.

The Dube community, which consists of 687 households, won back its land in 2009 in one of South Africa’s biggest and most expensive land claim settlements.

Stewart’s farm, the New Guelderland Sugar Estate, was one of the pieces of land returned to the community.

The Dube community then sold 134 hectares of the farm for R194 million to the Blythedale Coastal Resort (BCR). They were given a 20% stake in the resort and promised housing on the exclusive estate.

The eLan group was given 80% of the joint venture, and it guaranteed it would develop the resort to the tune of R1.95 billion.

The remaining 100 hectares was leased back to Stewart for a five-year term.

But the community will only receive their R194 million when the Blythedale Coastal Resort is finally developed.

“Officials, most from (the department of) housing, advised us that this was a good deal. They said we had to go into the deal with the eLan group or the land could not be restituted,” says Dube.

“But nothing has happened. No houses have been built and we have nothing from (the resort). We fear they’re going bankrupt.”

Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti is probing the land deal at the Dube community’s request. The restitution deal happened before he took office.

“The minister has appointed transactional advisors to advise him on options available to him, following complaints from the community,” says his department’s spokesperson Mphati Sehloho.

“The transactional advisors are finalising their report, which will inform (the) minister’s decision on the matter.”

Dube blames housing advisor Saths Moodley and then-housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu for getting them “into the bad deal with BCR”. Moodley was not available to comment.

The community’s adviser, Jabulani Mabaso, says: “There was never any value for the community in this deal.”

The coastal front of the resort is now in development, a project called Celebrity Mile. Stands on the stretch sell for about R5 million each.

But Musa Dube and the Dube chief refused to sign for a R17 million loan to get Celebrity Mile going.

Mabaso believes the eLan group only wants to develop Celebrity Mile, cut it off from the rest of the estate into a separate home-owners’ association and then force BCR to file for bankruptcy.

The eLan group denies this.

“The only reason BCR has not got going is because of the recession,” says eLan CEO Mark Taylor.

“We struggled to find financing because some of the investors got skittish. But developing Celebrity Mile is only the beginning. If the community signs for the loan we can get the development off the ground.”

He acknowledged that the social housing promises made to the Dube community had ground to a halt, and blamed this on the change of human settlements ministers.

The human settlements department did not, however, reply to questions.

Stewart and Taylor blame Mabaso for the current tensions. Ironically, it was the eLan group that first hired him.

Mabaso, a politically connected businessman, was to help facilitate better relations with the community in order to get Dube to sign for the loan.

Mabaso is currently standing trial on unrelated corruption charges. In December, relationships soured and Mabaso switched sides.

“He has been stirring trouble ever since,” insists Stewart.

Stewart was paid R19.4m for his farm and has options on plots inside BCR.

Taylor and BCR CEO Andrew Thompson say the benefits the development will bring to the community would change people’s lives.

“If this development happens, it will be a beacon of how land restitution can be done elsewhere in the country and how communities can reap rewards,” Taylor believes.

“We don’t want to fight with the people. We want to empower them,” Thompson says.

But Musa Dube and his community have had enough.

“We are getting ready to fight for our land. We believe we were cheated in the original deal. We just want our land and we’ll find our own partner – before we lose everything.”

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