Buinessmen and farmers hauled to court over access route

2012-01-26 00:00

FIVE prominent businessmen and farmers were hauled before a magistrate at Kokstad yesterday at the behest of a trust linked to former business tycoon, Gary Porritt, in connection with an escalating dispute over an access route to farms in the Swartberg district.

Pietermaritzburg attorney Paul Firman, representing the accused, said it appeared that having failed in a recent civil application in the high court to force landowners to grant him access to their properties, the Snowdon Farm Trust, and Porritt, were trying to pressurise them by instituting criminal charges.

But Porritt’s associate, Sue Bennett (who is also his co-accused in a multi-million rand fraud trial ongoing in Gauteng) told The Witness that Porritt was there in order to assist the trust.

Pietermaritzburg marine biologist, Dr Francois Talbot; hotelier, Ian Worrall (of St Bernard’s Peak Hotel, Swartberg); farmer and businessman, Haydn Harris; landowner, Don Ogilvie; and farmer, Francois du Plessis appeared in the Kokstad Magistrate’s Court yesterday in response to warrants issued for their arrest.

Du Plessis is wheelchair-bound due to an injury he suffered in an accident which occurred whilst he was towing a bull on a trailer.

According to warrants served on the accused they are charged with contravening Section 10 of the KZN provincial roads act of 2001 for “unlawful denying or obstruction of access to property”.

The case was postponed until February 9 and the accused were released on warning.

According to a press statement sent to The Witness by Bennett, the accused are charged with “unlawfully closing off and barricading public roads which lead on fromDistrict Road D609 and traverse two adjoining farms owned and/or leased by them”.

According to the statement the “Department of Transport has confirmed that Leyden and Beaumont farms are traversed by public roads which include public rights-of-way”.

Yesterday’s criminal charges follow an application to the high court in December by the Snowdon Farm Trust concerning access to farms in Swartberg.

The trust owns a number of farms on the Lesotho border which it said were bought for purposes of summer grazing and breeding and rearing cattle.

The trust claimed the farms can only be accessed by a single route that runs through two other farms, Leydenburg and Beaumont, which was allegedly closed and the gates padlocked on December 4.

Landowners alleged that the Snowdon Trust farms had not been farmed for many years and that access through their land had not been allowed for many years because of the existence of alternate access routes.

In terms of the high court order granted at the time by consent, an interdict was granted only against one of the parties (who in fact disputes that he was correctly cited in the papers as he is not a landowner in the area) and was adjourned indefinitely in respect of the others.

Ten days notice must be given to the property owners before the case can be re-enrolled.

The court also stipulated that nothing in the order should be construed as entitling the Snowdon Trust (or its employees or agents) to access across the farms in question.

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