Residents finally kill off abattoir

The land has since been put up for resale. (Paul Botes/M&G)

The land has since been put up for resale. (Paul Botes/M&G)

A plan to build an abattoir on land that has “irreplaceable” biodiversity has been stopped in its tracks after an almost three-year battle. The Gauteng provincial government has taken back its permission for the project to go ahead.

The abattoir and feedlot — for 1 500 head of cattle to be housed and slaughtered — was planned for the bottom of a grassy valley next to a small river on the border between Johannesburg and Tshwane.

In November 2015, people who owned small plots in Laezonia saw a small note on the property’s fence, giving them notice of the plans.
Company registration documents showed that the developer — the Isiwedwe Clothing Primary Co-operative — was a sewing co-operative. It had been given funding by the Gauteng government for this purpose and the land had been purchased by someone linked to the co-operative.

The note did not explain why the sewing co-operative was moving into the cattle business.

Shortly afterwards, Isiwedwe submitted an application to the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development for permission to start building. That application contained little environmental information.

It did not mention the importance of the Laezonia valley in wider conservation efforts. The Gauteng Conservation Plan lists it as an area of “irreplaceable” biodiversity. The grass species covering the area once grew across Gauteng and is now endangered, as are several animal species. The National Protected Areas plan said it is a critical area
for “protected areas expansion”. And, in late 2015, the province granted
the valley “nature conservation” status.

The next step would be to turn Laezonia into a protected area, as is the nearby Magaliesberg Biosphere. This would make the valley permanently off limits to industrial development.

Despite this, in May 2016 the provincial agriculture department gave the abattoir the go-ahead. The conditions were that fewer cattle could be kept and killed, and a study would need to be done to assess air and noise pollution.

The landowners objected, saying the application had been “materially defective”. They also questioned how the go-ahead could have been given when further studies still had to be done. “[The department] could never have been in possession of all the relevant facts in considering the application,” they said.

In June last year the Mail & Guardian reported that entire sections of the application to the provincial agriculture department had been plagiarised. Questions from members of the public in community meetings, and the answers, had been copied and pasted from an application for a similar feedlot and abattoir in Potchefstroom.

These allegations are referenced in a letter from the Gauteng agriculture department this June, which upheld the landowners’ objection and stopped the abattoir.

It said the public participation process had not been adequate, and its own decision to give the go-ahead could not have been “informed and/or based on adequate/relevant information”.

It also said its decision to grant permission for the feedlot and abattoir could not be found to be “in compliance with applicable legislation and policies”. As a result, a “thorough investigation” would be done into why the application had been signed off on.

The land has since been put up for resale.

Sipho Kings

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