Follow-up briefing on the environmental challenges in Kabeljous Conservation Area, Eastern Cape with Deputy Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

12 March 2024
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


In an online meeting, the Committee heard briefings on challenges related to formalising protection for endangered coastal biodiverse land in the Kabeljous Conservation Area in the Eastern Cape. The Committee also heard from the Chief of the Gaokx’aob Xammi Khoisan community regarding illegal occupation of farmland.

The Greater Kabeljous Partnership (GKP) asked the Committee to expedite the formal declaration of the area as a provincial nature reserve while Gaokx’aob Xammi gave its support for this but complained many traditional leaders were not consulted.

In 2022, the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements discovered an invasion by 13 illegal occupiers on Portion 5 of Farm No. 319 in Papiesfontein, where the occupiers had put up two wooden structures on the land and in 2023 the Department opened a case with the Kouga Police Station who are evicting the occupants. The matter was handed over to the State Attorneys.

The Kouga Local Municipality held consultations about the de facto conservation status of the area but it seems various pieces of land were never formally declared protected areas in accordance with the provisions of National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (NEMPA).

The Eastern Cape MEC was not present at the meeting and the Committee resolved to send letters to force him, the Department of Human Settlements; and the Mayor of the Kouga Municipality to account to Parliament.

The Committee asked the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism how far it was with moving Papiesfontein land to reserve status; asked about departmental intervention to ensure there was no clearing of critically endangered indigenous vegetation; and asked the Chief about his motive for the land invasion.

Meeting report

Mr N Singh (IFP) and Ms N Gantsho (ANC) moved to adopt the agenda for the meeting.  

Environmental challenges in Kabeljous Conservation Area, Eastern Cape

Briefing: Formalising protection for a unique and highly endangered piece of coastal biodiversity

Representatives from the Greater Kabeljous Partnership (GKP), Mr Michael Sternberg, Dr Wentzel Coetzer, and Mr Ricky Stone, attended to present to the Committee on the protection of coastal biodiversity which is highly endangered. Feedback from the Portfolio Committee on the previous meeting the delegation had at Parliament was welcomed before the parties proceeded.

On 20 February 2024, there was a similar presentation and GKP representatives called on the Committee to ensure (a) the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) expedites the process to transfer state land to an appropriate organ of state with the conservation mandate from Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) and (b) to help expedite the formal declaration of the area as a provincial Nature Reserve according to the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act.

GKP has deep cultural significance for numerous Khoisan people and populations who trace their heritage back to this area, where there are around 85 documented archaeological sites.

The presentation highlighted that the partnership seeks formal protection of the Greater Kabeljous area. Protection is aligned with government’s strategic conservation priorities. The presentation detailed recent unlawful land occupation which threatened important biodiversity and there was no progress on steps taken by government against unlawful occupiers.

The partnership called on the Committee to ensure that DFFE expedites the process to transfer the Papiesfontein state land to an appropriate organ of state with a conservation mandate, namely DEDEAT. GKP also called on the Portfolio Committee to help expedite the formal declaration of the area as a provincial nature reserve in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act.

See attached for full presentation

Mr Gaob Edmund Stuurman, a descendent of inhabitants from the Gamtoos, Loerie and Kabeljous rivers, said on behalf of his community, he supports declaring the Greater Kabeljous (GK) a conservation area because of the cultural value the region holds for people who live there and because the community’s ancestors fought for the land.

He had to leave the meeting to host a Department of Science and Innovation event at North West University.

Chief Petersen, Gaokx’aob Xammi

When he addressed the Committee, he spoke in his mother tongue and Mr Singh pointed out he did not understand so he could not engage in the conversation. Mr Singh also asked if the letter written by the Minister to Chief Petersen could be discussed in the meeting.

The Committee did not have a Khoi/San interpreter and the Chairperson apologised to Chief Petersen, saying this would be corrected in future.

According to Chief Petersen, he was calling his ancestors to be part of the meeting, and he was traditionally expected to introduce himself in his mother tongue. His community fully supported establishing a nature reserve to protect biodiversity in the area, but the problem was that many traditional leaders were not consulted. Mr Stuurman said he could not represent all the Khoi/San people as there were five ethnic subgroups set out in the Traditional and Khoi/San Leadership Act, 3 of 2019, which comprised of the Cape Khoi, Griqua, Korana, San, and Nama.

(see attached information)

Briefing by Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements: Papiesfontein and Portion 23 and 24 of Farm 321 Kabeljous River

Ms Nomboniso Kettledas, Chief Director: Property and Asset Management, Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements, said Farm 319 in Papiesfontein and Portions 23 and 24 of Farm 321 Kabeljous River were among vacant land the Department inherited from the former Housing Board. The process of devolution to the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) was approved by the MEC of Human Settlements in April 2023 and started because the indigenous plants growing on the land was located in an environmentally sensitive area which merited conservation. Currently, the Department has no human settlement development plans for the land and it remains vacant.  

On 13 December 2022, the Department received information from one of the Kouga Local Municipality officials about an invasion on Portion 5 (Portion of Portion 3, Farm No. 319) in Papiesfontein and on 5 April 2023, the Department opened a case with the Kouga Police Station and the matter was handed over to the State Attorneys office who are evicting the illegal occupants on the farm.

Together with municipal and regional officials, the Department accompanied by the Kouga police, visited the invaded land on 15 November 2023 and found two wooden structures erected by illegal occupants.

There were thirteen illegal occupants represented by a Chief who took the forms to return them to Kouga Local Municipality. The forms remain unreturned to date, and the State Attorneys are handling the matter.

See presentation attached

Briefing by Kouga Local Municipality: Greater Kabeljous Conservation Area (GKCA)


Mr Lawrence Ramakuwela, Acting Director: Planning and Development, Kouga Local Municipality, confirmed there are currently three pieces of land in Papiesfontein zoned as agricultural areas and registered in the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Human Settlements’ name. It is home to critically important biodiversity with a sensitive ecological landscape including primary coastal sand dunes, a unique network of important wetlands, and threatened vegetation, all of which are under threat and must be conserved, specifically Portion 5 of the Farm Papiesfontein No. 319, Registration Division Humansdorp. Currently, it does not fall within the protected status of the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act (NEMPA).

Protection Status

In 2017 and April 2022, Sarah Baartman District Municipality, the Eastern Cape Regional Office and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), under the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Programme, supported a call for the Papiesfontein land to be declared a nature reserve and in December 2022 Kouga Municipality received information about an illegal invasion in the area.

In January 2023, the Municipality discovered illegal occupants put up structures on the land and Kouga Municipality instituted legal action for contravention of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act. The Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements instituted eviction proceedings against the illegal occupants as they are registered landowners.

Kabeljous Nature Reserve

Farms No. 807 and 808 are two pieces of land in the area under the custodianship of DEDEAT, where the current ownership is registered in Eastern Cape, Provincial Department of Public Works name. The area was earmarked by Kouga Municipality’s Spatial Development Framework (SDF) as a critical biodiversity space.

Protection Status

Kouga Municipality held consultations with interested and affected stakeholders regarding the

The area has a de facto conservation status, but it seems the land was never formally declared a protected area in accordance with the provisions of NEMPA.

See attached for full presentation

The Chairperson asked DFFE for an opinion on Ms Mmanare Nong, Chief Director: Environmental Affairs, EC DEDEAT, who said she could not address any questions as she was standing in for the MEC, Mr Mlungisi Mvoko.

Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Makhotso Sotyu, said it was a pity the Eastern Cape Department of Environmental Affairs could not present.

Ms Vanessa Bendeman, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Regulatory Compliance and Sector Monitoring, DFFE, agreed with the Deputy Minister, saying the issues had to be addressed at provincial level.


Mr D Bryant (DA) said it was a shame the provincial government did not present or send a representative despite the issues such as broadcasting in the media. It would be difficult for the Committee to find a resolution without real representation from the MEC and he asked Chief Petersen about his motivation for the land invasion, considering he was not from the area and he wanted clarity on removing cows before invading; he asked about toilet and sewage facilities; and asked Chief Petersen what caused the delays in returning the profile sheets to the Department.  He also asked DEDEAT how far the process in Papiesfontein was. He said land invaders took 2 500 square meters of biodiverse flora and wanted to know how DEDEAT would intervene to ensure no critically endangered indigenous vegetation was cleared from the area.

Mr N Singh (IFP) said it was a pity and a shame the relevant government officials and political office bearers were not present to give input, considering it was a historical issue running across departments. The Committee was responsible for ensuring the issue stayed alive but could only be a catalyst to ensure various government departments, concerned non-profit organisations, and citizens were brought together through a forum or commission of inquiry.

Ms A Weber (DA) asked if the South African Police Services (SAPS) followed up on the case where invaders illegally connected to water streams; asked where land invaders sourced water; and if Chief Petersen’s community lived in harmony with nature then who cleared the indigenous vegetation species; asked Chief Petersen if the community resided on the occupied land permanently; asked if his livelihood depended on the resources of the land; and asked how he got normal services such as water, refuse, and sewage. Finally, she asked Ms Nong how long she had been in the position.

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) was disappointed because there was no presentation from the Eastern Cape’s MEC offices and no intent by the Eastern Cape’s Department of Human Settlement to develop the land. She asked DEDEAT if it conducted land assessments to check volumes of indigenous vegetation species and if DEDEAT did not, if it could ask DFFE. She said South African Police Services (SAPS) should have been invited to present on this.  


Chief Petersen, who was disconnected at some point, asked the Secretariat to draft a letter to the MEC of Environment and Human Settlement in the Eastern Cape and the Mayor of Kouga inviting the parties to the discussion. The Committee was responsible for safeguarding nature and its cultural heritage but the Committee was required by law to protect human health and wellbeing. It was disappointing that DFFE did not receive any request from the provincial government to engage with this particular community, and it was unconstitutional and unacceptable to leave people without services. He asked the Kouga Municipality to engage with the affected community and hold it accountable.

Mr Sternberg was concerned that DEDEAT was not present, but he appreciated the Chairperson’s recommendation to reach out to the Department.

Chief Petersen said access to the coastline was stripped away and he wanted his community to reconnect with its ancestors and access the beach. He was grateful the Portfolio Committee engaged on the matter as his community had not shared its side of the story and the media portrayed them in the same vein as colonisers, as invaders and criminals. He said he refused an offer for housing from the Department and the Municipality for the elderly in his community and he filled out forms for the Department which he understood was data capturing. Having worked with the Department of Human Settlement in the Northern Cape, he had practical experience drafting housing policies. He was aware of the budgetary allowance these projects applied to farm dwellers. As a leader, he did not want a house before his community and had protested outside the Kouga Municipality with the elderly in the community, sleeping outside for four days and trying to obtain good service delivery to no avail. The Municipality constructed roads over ancestral graves, and there was no access to water, sewage, or electricity.

Contrary to what Mr Ramakuwela said, SDF was not approved before the occupation. A land-use contravention notice in the documentation confirmed the land was zoned for agriculture. He wrote to ask for his cows, horses, and donkeys but got no response. During apartheid, the land was a refuse dump and according to environmental laws, one could not rehabilitate a rubbish dump as there was a big hole there. He did not have a problem with it being turned into a conservation area because he loved protecting nature.

Mr Bryant said there were numerous questions to be answered and it would be a challenge if invited representatives were allowed to ask questions.

The Chairperson sustained the point of order and asked Chief Petersen to answer only questions referred to him.

Chief Petersen apologised and said he was happy because he finally had a platform to express himself as a landless descendant of the Khoisan. The Committee was misled by the planning and development portfolio of Kouga Municipality as basic services were still an uphill struggle while the community stored potable drinking water in big containers. There was no refuse removal, but the community had a small fire pit to cook in and burn rubbish.

Wanting to be independent, he expressed interest in talks with Kouga Municipality to discuss basic services allocation. The community requested no demand on the grid and this had to be customised and sustainable. Regarding the criminal cases, there was malicious damage to property so the cases were still open and during the follow-up, it was discovered the senior prosecutor was not a good faith actor and had categorised the open cases without substantial evidence.

Ms Weber interrupted to express concern that assumptions and opinions without facts were thrown around.

The Chairperson asked Chief Petersen to send the case numbers to the Secretariat so the Portfolio Committee could follow up.

Chief Petersen said he had escalated the matter to the Gqeberha court.

Ms Kettledas said the land transfer was at an advanced stage and would be presented to two accounting officials at DEDEAT and Human Settlement. During the visit, there were a total of two structures at the site and about 13 people on the land while the Department was profiling the occupiers. The Department received a court order to evict and the illegal occupation was currently with the State Attorney. She said she would write a report about the meeting’s proceedings and pass the invitation to the Office of the MEC and the Heads of Departments. She said she was new in the position but took it upon herself to become comfortable with the work.

Ms Weber asked Chief Petersen why he was questioning service delivery while living permanently in Humansdorp; how he got water when he did not live there; and that by law, the Municipality could not offer his community services amid court orders against illegal invasion.

Chief Petersen asked Ms Weber how she was so well versed with his living arrangements and confirmed she was wrong and that he lived on the Reserve.

Mr Ramakuwela said Kouga heard from Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality that the main water line running from Churchill (Kromme) Dam to Gqeberha was illegally connected to his community. There was a case on this and Chief Petersen confirmed the Municipality does not provide any services to the land but he could not answer the question on zoning although the property was in an agricultural area earmarked as a critical biodiversity space in line with SDF.

The Chairperson told Mr Ramakuwela to report to the Mayor and the Councillor of the affected area and the Chairperson said the Committee would follow up to resolve these issues.

Ms Nong acknowledged the Committee’s frustration and said she would alert the MEC, follow up with questions, and send responses to the Committee in due time. She got no response when she tried to contact compliance and enforcement managers to get answers to the question of the volume of the cleared indigenous vegetation. The issue predates her arrival so she could not speak for the MEC and apologised, emphasising it was not how the Department operated and repeated she could not stand in on behalf of the MEC without being appointed. The issues were not supposed to be brought up in National and were connected to an alignment of various provincial departments. It was a management authority difficulty that needed to be resolved, and it was headed toward public participation for the declaration of the conservation area.

She joined the Department in May 2023 and familiarised herself with departmental matters since then, including the present issue.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) told Mr Bryant to stop insinuating that Ms Nong could not give the Committee information because a political figurehead did not permit it, as this was not what the Chief Director had said. The issue was she was not mandated to give a report.

Ms H Winkler (DA) asked Ms Mbatha to stop playing semantics as to what was said in the meeting as it was recorded. If someone was not mandated, there was an instruction not to speak and give clarity to the Committee, whose sole discretion was to provide insight. There was no twisting of words.

The Chairperson asked the Committee to leave it at this and agreed to record the absent MECs and send a written invitation to a compulsory, no-apology meeting.        

Further agenda items were rescheduled to the next day as there were time constraints and the Chairperson adjourned.


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