Protected coastal forest in danger from Shembe religious gathering

2014-03-31 00:00

THE uMhlathuze local municipality says it has given their blessing to the Church of Nazareth (Shembe) to gather in an endangered coastal forest next month, but this is being opposed by environmentalists who fear the natural site will be destroyed.

Environmental concerns were overlooked when the decision was made after the church sought permission for the gathering, which will see tens of thousands of Shembe followers descending on the area next month.

The forest belongs to the state, and the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs is its key custodian.

A source associated with Ezemvelo Wildlife brought the matter to the attention of The Witness. He said to host the gathering, 20 hectares of the 60 hectares rare and endangered indigenous Birdswood Forest at Mpunza Hill will be destroyed.

“The Mpuza Hill is located in an endangered coastal forest surrounded by swamp forest. In terms of protecting these forests KZN falls below the conservation targets set (provincially and nationally) for forests and particularly this forest type. This forest requires special protection in terms of the Nature Conservation Ordinance 15 of 1974, the National Environmental Management Bio­diversity (NEMB) Act 10 of 2004 and the National Forest Act 84 OF 1998. Should any person take any action to clear the forest in the absence of an environmental authorisation, the necessary legal interventions need to be instituted as a matter of urgency,” said the source.

Municipal manager Nhlanhla Sibeko said the church has made the necessary application to use a portion of the forest and that was granted.

“As the city we believe it is their right to worship the way they like and that should be respected. It must also be noted that their use of the place should be taken in context. This church has been occupying this area for many decades. As the city we have a duty to support people who live within our municipal boundaries. We view this event as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to make some money,” said Sibeko.

Sam Mnqayi, speaker of uMhlathuze council, said historically the area belongs to the Emadlanzini tribe who were moved to Ntambanani around 1918.

“After 1994 the people made an application to get their land back and have since worshipped there. The difference now is that tens of thousands of people are expected to descend to the area. We will help them and ensure that the environment is not negatively affected. This noise is because the people involved are black people, and that this is a black congregation. Those who are complaining are not even considering the fact that these people have their ancestors’ graves on that land,” said Mnqayi.

Jeffrey Zikhali, spokesperson for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, said his department and Ezemvelo were greatly concerned about the destruction of natural vegetation.

“This destruction will be opposed because failure to do so would be in conflict with our mandate in terms of the KZN Nature Conservation Management Act 9 of 1997 as well as our obligations in terms of the NEMB Act 10 of 2004,” said Zikhali.

He said there were grounds to oppose this application in that the City of uMhlatuze already has facilities to service the church’s needs.

Attempts to get comment from the Shembe faction were unsuccessful.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.