Legal move has land claimants worried

2011-03-31 00:00

THE court action launched by the Gongolo Wildlife Reserve last week threatens to derail the cordial relations established between the reserve and the Gongolo land claimants.

The Gongolo Wildlife Reserve is a group of landowners in the Weenen, Mooi River and Escourt area who wish to establish a “big five” game park. Their land covers over 40 000 ha.

But the land is under a claim that for years has stalled the development of potentially one of the largest game reserves in the country.

Over 1 000 families of the AmaThembu, the AmaChunu and the Motane registered a claim to the area with the Land Claims Commission in 1998, but the claim is yet to be settled.

Due to the delay, the owners of the wildlife reserve have instituted legal action against the commission, and last week they and the commission squared up in court.

In their application the wildlife reserve owners declare the delays have infringed their rights and they propose that the government offer compensation to the claimants rather than give them land.

The application has raised concern among the cliamants, who say an adverse ruling could strip them off their rights to the land.

Sthembiso Mahlaba, the chairperson of the Gongolo land claimants, said that while the court action is not about their claim, they are nevertheless concerned.

“If the judge does indeed agree with these statements, we will lose our rights to the land and we will have nothing to negotiate with.

“The community is very concerned about the situation, but we will not take any decision that will strip us off our rights lying down. We are willing to go out to the street and demonstrate if need be.”

Nicky Green, CEO of Gongolo Wildlife Reserve, said, “We have a very good working relationship with the community and that statement was not something we wanted to put forward as a solution. Our lawyers told us it was the only thing that we could do under such circumstances.”

Green said the situation has brought untold misery to the wildlife reserve and the community.

Thabiso Mbense of the Association for Rural Advancement said the matter is far from being settled.“The matter has been referred back to court which means everything will now have to be checked including the validity of the claim.”

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