Cloud over the Sentinel

 When marine engineer Glenn Colthurst purchased the iconic Sentinel mountain overlooking Hout Bay as a retirement investment, the last thing he expected was to be threatened with expropriation by South African National Parks (SANParks).

Nor, when they tried to sell the property last week, did he and his four business partners expect a violent protest by members of the local Hangberg fishing community, who live on the city-owned steep slope at the foot of the mountain.

As the 10-hectare site has been privately owned since 1901, the fierce resistance to the sale caught many by surprise.

The public auction of the Sentinel at the luxury Chapman’s Peak Hotel erupted in chaos when protesters threw stones at the auctioneer and bidders gathered on the balcony. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

Although bidding was opened, there were no takers and the widely advertised auction came to a rapid halt as potential buyers fled. Now the auctioneers say the Sentinel will be sold in a closed-bid procedure, with all offers considered at 12 noon on July 29.
But SANParks has warned it will continue with the expropriation if a sale takes place.

The chairperson of the Hout Bay Residents’ Association, Len Swimmer, said his organisation would strenuously object to any change to the zoning of the Sentinel.

“At present it is rural zoning, which permits only a single dwelling, so the new owner should not try to make any changes to that,
” he said. “There is a steep access to the property and Table Mountain National Park won’t allow any access roads up to it and there is no electricity or water there. So the new owners would be buying a pig in a poke.”

Breaking his silence, an exasperated Colthurst told the Mail & Guardian his company had tried to negotiate a sale price with SANParks, which had offered R500 000 for the mountain in April this year. Colthurst said this was a “totally unrealistic price”.

His close corporation, G&R Marine Services, purchased the mountain in 2003 for R60 000 from the privately owned Patel Property Investment Trust and the Claude Cloete Property Trust. But he said that after the death of one of his business partners, the property was valued at more than R11-million for estate purposes last month.

“SANParks could have purchased the Sentinel when it was put up for sale in 2003. Why wake up so late now?” he asked. “We’ve tried to negotiate with them, but they are so rude and arrogant and uncooperative. I’m a conservationist and I want to see the property preserved. But there are hidden agendas. I’ve heard that some members of SANParks have been promised promotions if they get the Sentinel back.”

Colthurst said the property had lost value after the violent protest over its sale and the SANParks expropriation threat. “It seems it’s too late for this matter to be resolved. There is a dark cloud hanging over the Sentinel now,” he said. “The buyers have come and gone. It is not looking good.”

Colthurst is concerned that another property he is developing in Hout Bay could be affected by the bad publicity regarding the Sentinel. Lawyers for G&R Marine Services said SANParks had not provided proof of ministerial consent for the expropriation of the Sentinel or the purchase of the property.

Phumeza Mgxashe, spokesperson for the Table Mountain National Park, said that last week SANParks received written permission from the environmental affairs department to explore expropriation.

“The possible expropriation is following due process and being pursued in accordance with the procedures laid down in the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act,” Mgxashe said.

She said SANParks had made unsuccessful approaches to the former owners to buy the property.

The municipal valuation for the Sentinel is R120 000, she said, as determined by the 2006 Municipal General Valuation.

Jonty Dreyer, curator of the Hout Bay Museum and a resident of Hangberg, said he would be happy if the Sentinel was taken over by SANParks.

“Most of the families living in Hangberg were forcibly moved there under the Group Areas Act and now they’ve been impoverished by the fishing quota system,” said Dreyer.

“The Sentinel is our heritage and we want to see it back in SANParks’ hands. We understand there can be no development there.”

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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