/ 9 July 2010

Locals lay claim to Harties land

The controversy surrounding a land deal on the banks of Hartbeespoort Dam escalated this week, with a community saying its claim to the land has been sidelined because it lacks the powerful connections the new owners enjoy.

Representatives of the Mekgareng community told the Mail & Guardian they are livid that the Land Claims Commission allowed the land, to which they laid claim in 1998, to be sold off under their noses.

Last week the M&G reported that developer Naas Grimbeek had bought the Oberon resort in Hartbeespoort for R76-million from the North West public works department last year, despite the community’s claim that the land had been gazetted as part of a land claim in October 2009.

Grimbeek is developing a new luxury resort, Eagle Waters, on the land. He has close links with embattled mining company Aurora, which may invest in Eagle Waters if it secures funding from its overseas investor, the M&G has reported.

Aurora’s political connections via its directorships include Khulubuse Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s nephew; Michael Hulley, Zuma’s lawyer; and Zondwa Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson. Grimbeek is a close business partner of Mandela and Zuma.

Before the controversial Oberon deal the resort had been the last piece of land around the dam open to the public. Now the 9 000-strong Mekgareng community has to pay R20 per person to enter the grounds of Grimbeek’s wildlife resort to visit community gravesites.

The community said in its claim it had been forcibly removed from the land in question, which includes Oberon, during the apartheid years.

“The commission is not telling us the truth,” Aubrey Mokgoko, spokes- person for the Mekgareng people, told the M&G. “We asked the com- missioner about Oberon being sold when we heard about it. We wrote her a letter but she never responded.”

Because community members now have to pay to get to graves located on the disputed land, they do not know “if those graves are even still there”, he said.

Minutes of a Madibeng munici- pal meeting last year state that “the graves will be moved in a digni- fied manner” to accommodate the community.

The community had been given alternative land, Mokgoko said. But they did not want it because it was “on the mountain. We cannot plough there, or graze and only people with money can build houses there.”

Land activist Roger Roman says that the community has nowhere to turn for help. “Every state authority that is supposed to be on the side of the landless and the homeless is corrupt,” he says. “The commissioner didn’t pitch up for a meeting that the community tried to call with her last month. Who can they trust?”

The community is seeking legal help to regain its right to the land.

The department of rural develop- ment and land reform’s Moeketsi Ntsane told the M&G the land had not been gazetted at the time of the sale.

“The commission, represented by its officials and the commissioner, had numerous discussions, telephonically and directly, with the Mekgareng community regarding this matter,” Ntsane said.

Meanwhile, a source in the pro- vincial department of human settlements has told the M&G that the new resort has not submitted any planning application, yet the construction of buildings is well advanced.

When the M&G visited the site last week, labourers and bulldozers were hard at work and a huge structure, apparently destined to become a lux- ury hotel, was visible.

The M&G understands that the resort has also not conducted an envi- ronmental impact assessment (EIA). One perimeter wall of the waterside structure the M&G saw this week is about 20m from the dam itself.

Last week Grimbeek said the new development did not require an EIA or plans because he was developing within the parameters of the former Oberon resort. He described the developments as mere “renovations”.

“The little improvements that we are currently doing do not call for any form of EIA as they are more like facelifting for marketing purposes,” said Grimbeek.

He said that if a need for deviations from existing building permissions arose, new plans would be submitted to the council.

Bonolo Mohlokoana, spokesper- son for the province’s environment department, said officials were investigating whether Grimbeek had submitted all relevant documents needed for the new construction.