Struggle veterans and suburbanites have come together to save ancestral land from development. Fiona Macleod reports.
Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veterans joined forces this week with residents of an upmarket eco-estate to prevent the destruction of ancient Sotho-Tswana ruins by controversial Ekurhuleni developer Rean Booysen.
The expansion of the Meyersdal Nature Estate near Alberton was destroying stone-wall settlements built by Sotho-Tswana communities more than 600 years ago, said resident Rynette Farrar. Research by the University of the Witwatersrand in 2002 had shown the ruins were of special archaeological and ecological value.
Farrar joined MK veterans speaking at the “first integrated workshop on corruption” in Ekurhuleni last Friday.
Other speakers included Alex Mashinini, the spokesperson for a group of former MK soldiers called the “commissariat”, which have launched various initiatives to tackle “the national scourge of fraud, corruption, mismanagement and nepotism”.
Workshop convener Mike Carpenter said a decision had been taken to form a new body called People against Corruption and Fraud and one of its missions would be to tackle heritage destruction on a national level. “We can’t just sit back and watch people destroy our heritage. We didn’t fight for our freedom so that corrupt people can mess it up,” he said.
At the meeting Farrar related her frustrating experiences as “a law-abiding citizen” when reporting corruption and mismanagement to government departments and officials. She took participants, including a member of Parliament who did not want to be named, on a site visit of desecrated graves and ruins.
She accused Booysen and his company, Hometalk Developments, of “stepping outside the approved footprint” allowed by the environmental impact assessment at the Meyersdal estate. This was not only destroying ruins, but also affecting a sensitive ridge ecosystem with red data species, she said.
Farrar and other Meyersdal residents are involved in a heated dispute with Booysen about sewage and storm-water spillage caused by the development. It is flowing through the estate into downstream wetlands and the nearby Rietvlei Zoo Farm.
“Meyersdal was supposed to be an ecofriendly development with nature areas and public green spaces. They are turning it into a concrete jungle,” said Farrar.
The housewife and mother of two said she had been forced to consult lawyers and lay charges against the developers. For her troubles, Booysen had her removed from the homeowners’ association, charged her with crimen injuria and threatened to sue her for R1-million a month if she did not withdraw her objections.
Meyersdal has been controversial since it was revealed that the Ekurhuleni metro might have lost up to R90-million in 2005 by swapping the land where the estate is being developed for a protected area worth R7-million.
Exchange the land
A preliminary report by forensic firm Pasco found that Booysen had manipulated officials and councillors to “dispose, sell and/or exchange the land”.
While allegations of serious misconduct by several Ekurhuleni councillors and officials in approving the land swap were being investigated, Hometalk and two other companies sued the metro in 2010 for R67-million in damages for stalling the transfer of properties in the estate.
Booysen refused to comment on the status of the case this week. He said the only ruins affected by the Meyersdal development were ones that had been previously demolished. No wetlands were being affected and the responsibility for the sewers had been handed over to Ekurhuleni metro, he said.
Metro spokesperson Justice Mohale said the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development was responsible for ensuring that the developers stuck to the terms of their environmental approval.
The metro did not have any record of reports that sewage was flowing through the development, he said.
“Sewer infrastructure was installed to service the development with sufficient capacity to handle the development.
“Sewer blockages can occur, as in any development, especially during the time of high occurrence of building activity in the area. This is rectified within acceptable reaction times after being reported to us,” Mohale said.
The Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development did not respond to the Mail & Guardian’s questions.