Conviction for park building

2009-10-23 00:00

UNLAWFUL developments that are threatening the sensitive environment of iSimangaliso Wetland Park were dealt a blow yesterday when Ellisras architect Renier Johannes Roos (68) became the first person in KwaZulu-Natal to be convicted of criminal charges relating to an illegal development in the world heri­tage site.

In terms of a plea bargain agreement, Roos was sentenced by regional court magistrate Chris van Vuuren to pay a fine of R100 000 (of which R70 000 was conditionally suspended), as well as five years’ imprisonment, which was also suspended conditionally for five years.

His case is viewed by conservationists as “the tip of the iceberg”.

Earlier yesterday, another couple, Jacobus Hendrik Serfontein and his wife Karien, appeared briefly before regional magistrate Kevin Leat on similar charges.

Their case was postponed to November 26.

The plea bargain agreement between Roos and the state was negotiated by state advocate Ross Stuart of the director of public prosecutions office in KZN.

Roos pleaded guilty to five charges arising from his unlawful development within the world heritage site, between July 2007 and February 2008.

The conditions for suspending parts of the sentence were that he does not contravene the Protected Areas Act again during the five-year period of suspension; that he (or anyone connected with him and including Internet websites) does not advertise, market or co-ordinate any development, accommodation or “related opportunities” in iSimangaliso Wetland Park; that he removes all litter from the site in question; ensures that all access roads to the area concerned are blocked; that he removes a well point from the site and closes it up; that he spreads all chopped vegetation on the open area that had been cleared for development; and that he publishes an advertisement in the Stywelyne and Fly Fisherman magazines to the effect that iSimangaliso Wetland Authority is the authorised entity for legal development in iSimanagliso Wetland Park.

Facts taken into account in arriving at a suitable sentence were that Roos was a first offender; that he pleaded guilty and did not waste the court’s time; the fact that he stopped all developments as requested and removed as much of the material as possible from the site.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have recently obtained four urgent interim interdicts in the high court in Durban to stop unauthorised developments in the park. The aim of the interdicts is to immediately stop further development and ruin of the pristine environment and to restore the damaged terrain to its former glory.

Some of the cases are due for argument in the high court next month.

Andrew Zaloumis,CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Dr Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, hailed the ruling as a victory for conservation and sustainable tourism development, and said it showed these illegal activities are being taken seriously.

Roos cleared the indigenous bush to build a family holiday home — with evidence of future expansion — overlooking Lake Nhlanga at Bhanga Nek within the Coastal Fo­rest Reserve of iSimangaliso. He was also involved in website advertisements and bookings for other unauthorised developments in the area, they said.

“The coastal forest reserve, stretching from Sodwana Bay to Kosi Bay, makes up 18% of the park. It is also a Ramsar Site (wetland of international importance) and is the narrowest part of the park with a high conservation value. Unauthorised development in any part of the park threatens legitimate tourism development, meaningful and sustainable community empowerment, and protection of the environment and the unique ecological processes which led to World Heritage Site listing in 1999.”

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