Holiday pad in wetland: Owner fined

2010-02-05 00:00

A PRETORIA man, Jacobus Hendrik Serfontein (45), was given a hefty fine in addition to a five years’ suspended jail sentence and ordered to dismantle a holiday home he illegally built in iSimangaliso Wetland Park world heritage site in Zululand.

The sentence was imposed on Serfontein by regional court magistrate Fred de Beer yesterday in terms of a plea agreement reached between Serfontein and the state.

The fine imposed was R100 000, but R85 000 was suspended on various conditions, including that Serfontein must dismantle the structure he has built and remove it from the world heritage site before May 15.

Serfontein, who is a senior civil servant employed by the Public Service and Administration Department in Pretoria, admitted that he had established a holiday home and garden in the park illegally between December 2007 and May 2009.

He pleaded guilty to four contraventions of the Regulations for Proper Administration of Special Nature Reserves, National Parks and World Heritage sites arising from the illegal development.

Facts regarded as relevant to the sentencing were that he was a first offender and was “truly sorry” for his actions, and apologised for failing to respond to instructions by the park management to stop construction.

According to the state’s expert ecological witness, the building did not have a significant negative impact on the park’s natural environment.

Grass and soil were removed for the drainage system, foundations and garden, but the ecologist said the grass will recover naturally.

There was also no evidence that Serfontein eradicated protected indigenous plants or damaged the pristine flora of the park.

He had built the house on communal land in the rural community within the park’s borders, and there was evidence that people had previously occupied the site.

Serfontein acknowledged in the plea agreement that although he obtained permission from the Tembe Traditional Council and Umhlabuyalingana Municipality to use the site in question for residential purposes, he had not sought or waited for the approval of the park management.

Serfontein had spent holidays in the area for 11 years, during which time he had became involved in the community’s development.

He said he donates R250 per month to assist abandoned children in the community.

Serfontein undertook to demolish the house and rehabilitate the site on which it is built.

Illegal developments in the area are viewed by conservationists as a major problem, and a few similar cases are pending in the courts.

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