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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 February 2007
NATIONAL PARKS: WITHDRAWAL OF LAND UNDER PROTECTED AREAS ACT
Chairperson: Mr D Maluleke (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Department briefing: Withdrawal of Declaration of Part of Addo Elephant and Vaalbos National Parks
The National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act of 2003 provides that any protected land that is to be de-proclaimed requires a resolution by the National Assembly. This was requested for some land in the Addo Elephant Park and the Vaalbos National Park.
The Department tabled maps and detailed the circumstances under which the Committee's approval was requested to de-proclaim areas of land that presently formed part of the National Parks. A parcel of land on the northern border of Addo Elephant Park was to be exchanged for a smaller, but more fertile parcel further south in the Park. This followed the terms of an agreement between the National Parks and the Eastern Cape Agricultural Union that set new boundaries of the park at the provincial road. The logistical, environmental and ecological benefits were outlined. There was no cash consideration and the swap of the larger for the smaller portion was justified in view of the logistics and the quality of the land.
Members raised concerns about the possibility of land claims on those portions, the processes followed, the advantages to the new owner, the effect of the transaction on the farm's labourers, the desirability of consulting with the Department of Land Affairs, and the processes that would follow on the decision of the Committee. It was agreed to hold an oversight visit to the area.
The second request related to the Vaalbos National Park, which had acquired three properties in 1996. Land claims against those properties had been gazetted and validated, and it was now necessary to have the formal approval of the Committee to de-proclaim the properties for transferred to the rightful owners. The Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs had identified and set aside land for the relocation of the Vaalbos National Park, and agreements had been made regard to the animals.
Questions were raised on whether any land settlers were affected by the move, and the reasons sought for objections raised at the time of the claims being approved. The Member for the area was present and confirmed the status. It was resolved that the de-proclamation of the three farms would be approved.
De-proclamation of land from Addo Elephant Park
Mr Dirk van Schalkwyk, Chief Director: Transfrontier Conservation and Protected Areas, reported that the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act of 2003 required that any land requiring to be de-proclaimed required a resolution by the National Assembly.
It was proposed to exclude the remainder of Portion 1 of Farm Hendersohn 410 from Addo Elephant Park. On 17 October 2003 Portion 1 of the farm Hendersohn had been purchased. In 2004 discussions were held between the South African National Parks (SANParks), the Eastern Cape Commercial Agricultural Union and then-Minister Vali Moosa concerning the expansion of SANParks and it was agreed that the boundaries of the Addo Elephant Park would be set at the R400 road. The Board of SANParks had approved this agreement and this meant that the land north of the road now fell outside the Park. SANParks had entered into an agreement that this portion, being about 706 hectares, would be exchanged for a Portion 5 of the farm, lying in the southern part of the Park, of about 400 hectares. The Surveyor General had been asked to undertake the necessary survey and subdivisional procedures.
Dr Michael Knight, Head: Park Planning and Development: SA National Parks, tabled maps of the area which clearly indicated the position of the existing park in relation to the road and the farm. He explained that when SANParks entered into purchase agreements for land, it happened that roads would bisect the land. The decision to set the R400 as the northern boundary for that area was taken for logistical and environmental reasons The land would be used for dangerous game, and it would be preferable that isolated pockets of land should not be used. It would be easier to maintain and monitor fencing bordering a road, and there would be no need to cut through fynbos. The richer land was being retained in exchange for a larger, but less fertile, portion.
Dr Knight responded to an earlier comment on land claims to the effect that there were no claims over the portions of land covered by the de-proclamation. There were only three registered claims in the area. One community was claiming access for religious rights and this had already been agreed with the community. Another claim was in the vicinity, but off the SANParks land, and this was being dealt with at the appropriate levels. Another claim related to grazing rights around areas which used to form part of a larger town, Waterford, which had since become a ghost town in the Karoo. The Department of Land Affairs was dealing with the claims.
Ms J Chalmers (ANC) asked how the portions of the farm had originally been acquired.
Mr R Shah (DA) asked if there were any financial implications and what logistical or ecological considerations had been taken into account during the process. He asked also whether there had been any objections to SANParks acquiring the land.
Dr Knight confirmed that there was only one owner involved in both pieces of property. The land had originally been purchased for SANParks in a composite “bundle”. Although the current owner had raised some objections that the best land was being acquired by SANParks, the land was being exchanged by agreement and not appropriated, with the 700 for 400 hectare exchange being compromised upon. He confirmed that there were no labourers or other people living on the 400-hectare portion who would be affected by the acquisition and that the transaction essentially only involved SANParks and the farm owner.
Mr A Mokoena (ANC) asked for further clarity on the land claims. Whilst he did not wish to appear obstructive, he wished to have certainty on the implications of the proclamation. He pointed out that although this transaction had been presented as a single transaction there were actually separate elements. There must have been a proclamation when the land first was declared as a nature conservation area. Following the agreement with the agricultural community, it had now been decided that the land should be disposed of. However, there was not a single sale, but an exchange of one portion for another. He would have liked to see evidence of what was discussed and the proof of the first proclamation. He would like to ensure that there was no possibility of lawsuits.
Mr van Schalkwyk replied that when the land was first acquired, this was first done under the old SANParks legislation. In order to do so, the Board had to be satisfied as to the financial implications and costings, and give its approval before any negotiations commenced. The initial purchase had not involved any de-proclamation. The whole area needed to be purchased, and then the surplus needed to be de-proclaimed, which was the stage now reached. Even the old legislation had a clause similar to the current legislation requiring parliamentary approval because it involved a national asset. The new Act allowed for nature reserves as well as national parks, but also provided safeguards in that nature reserves would need to be approved in the same way by the provincial government.
Dr Knight confirmed that an area of approximately 700 hectares was being exchanged for an area of 400 hectares. He indicated that the 400 hectare portion was on the flood plain, and was very much more fertile, being worth around R5 000 per hectare as opposed to the value of around R1 400 per hectare for the 700 hectare portion, which was drier and less productive grazing land. The cost benefit also extended to the lessened costs and increased efficiency in having the fences on the R400 road, as well as the environmental benefits. An earlier conservation exercise had identified land that was in high priority areas, and this land fell within such areas. Focus was concentrated in Darlington Dam, which was an important biodiversity area.
Mr Mokoena still felt that there were in fact two transactions although they had been combined into one. He felt that the matter should have been put more clearly before the Committee at an earlier stage. He enquired whether the process had been correct. He felt that the first stage should have been the de-proclamation of the 700 hectares, and the second the swap for the 400 hectares. This was not the ordinary type of commercial transaction because it must be remembered that this was State land.
The Chairperson summarised his understanding that Hendersohn was acquired above and below the road. The agreement with the agricultural parties meant that the border of the park would then be set as the road. Therefore the land lying to the north of the road was no longer required.
Mr van Schalkwyk confirmed that this was correct. He pointed out that in order to conclude the negotiations SANParks needed to know whether Parliament would approve the de-proclamation. The discussions with the owner of the 400 hectares had been conditional on the de-proclamation, but the seller obviously also needed to know that the land he was to acquire could be farmed by him. The Surveyor General had been asked to undertake studies and to redesign the boundaries. He agreed that there were a number of stages in the process, but it was necessary for SANParks to be assured of Parliament's approval before concluding the agreements.
Mr Mokoena believed that this was putting the cart before the horse. Consultation with the Committee should take place much earlier. He suggested that it would be more appropriate for SANParks to have had preliminary discussions with the owner, and perhaps to sign a Deed of Sale setting out the preconditions, and giving sufficient time for Parliament's approval to be obtained. Following that, the land claims should be fully investigated, and the community consulted. Only at that stage, supported by a full report on all issues, should the matter come to the Committee.
The Chairperson indicated that the owner of the land would have been told that the State wished to acquire a parcel of land in exchange for another parcel that was already under a proclamation order. It would not be sensible for the owner to agree unless he was certain that the parcel offered in exchange would be de proclaimed so that he would be able to use it.
Mr Mokoena reiterated that it was vital to have a conditional sale agreement that factored in all the possibilities. Parliament should not be regarded as the vehicle to facilitate the transaction. He was not suggesting that there was anything sinister in the request, but was concerned at the apparent inconsistencies in the procedure.
Mr S Rasmeni (ANC) asked if the agricultural unions had been consulted, and whether there had been any public hearings. He believed that the Committee may need to pay a visit to the land in question to satisfy itself on all the issues.
Ms C Zikalala (IFP) asked why the single owner was prepared to leave the productive land in exchange for less productive land, and asked if there was anything else that the Committee should know. She was also concerned whether there were any occupants presently on the 700 hectare portion, and, if people were no longer there, where and why they had moved, and if all possible claimants had been consulted on the issue.
Mr M Swart (DA) felt that the issue was really whether the farmer had been willing to dispose of the 400 hectare portion. He must have been aware that if he refused, the Department in any event had the power to expropriate, but in this event the Department would be faced with high costs. The farmer had the right to refuse, and did not. The Committee had already been told that the acquisition of the 400 hectare portion would not displace anyone. He could not see that there was a problem, given the willingness of the farm owner, the convenience to the State and SANParks and the fact that nobody was affected.
Ms M Ntuli (ANC) commented that this was so, but land was a sensitive issue. She agreed that it would be wise to hold public hearings. Other members expressed their support.
Mr M Kalako (ANC) noted that although it had been stated that no farm labourers would be displaced, there had been no mention of whether the disposal of productive land meant that some might be in danger of losing their jobs.
Mr J Combrinck (ANC) noted that the request to the Committee represented the beginning of the process and asked that the Committee be apprised of what must still follow.
Ms Chalmers asked if any money was paid in addition to the exchange by SANParks.
Mr van Schalkwyk noted that the Chairperson's earlier summary was quite correct. Before the negotiations on the land could be followed up in earnest, there needed to be some assurance from the Committee that the de-proclamation would be approved. The dual process of the Act was incorporated into the memorandum of agreement with the farm owner. The farm owner would want to have some assurance of security, in the sense that provided all conditions were met, he could be assured that the de-proclamation would happen. Only once this had been done could the negotiations proceed. There was already a conditional agreement of transfer. The full procedure would, as required by the Act, include public hearings, public participation, confirmation from the Minister of Minerals and Energy, and consultation between the Minister of Land Affairs and the local municipality. All of these processes could only commence once Parliament had given its approval.
Mr van Schalkwyk confirmed that there were no additional financial implications; there would be a direct swap of portions and an amendment of the title deeds to this effect. He confirmed that the question of land claims was already built into the Act, since the Ministers of Land Affairs, Minerals and Energy, and Environmental Affairs and Tourism had to confer on the issues. The matter also required to be published in two newspapers to ensure full public awareness.
Dr Knight added that on the question of workers, the farmer had already confirmed that he would merely be moving the workers to other areas of the land. He pointed out that Addo Elephant Park was already at the forefront of setting resettlement policies, was funded by the World Bank to do so, and that the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) was also a partner in the ventures and was therefore fully apprised of everything that the Park did.
Mr Mokoena felt that DLA should not be “apprised” since this was essentially their responsibility. He was concerned that they should not be involved merely on the periphery.
The Chairperson suggested that in view of the concerns expressed the best way to resolve the issue would be for the Committee to undertake an oversight visit to satisfy itself that nobody would be adversely affected.
Mr Mokoena pointed out that it was not the question of land ownership that concerned the Committee but the environmental impact. He suggested that DLA be asked to present to the Committee.
Mr Rasmeni pointed out that DLA was only charged with claims that were already registered, whereas this Committee would be interested in learning of any potential claims.
The Chairperson's proposal to hold an urgent oversight visit, in consultation with the DLA, was approved.
De-proclamation of land from Vaalbos National Park
It was proposed that Portion 1 of the Farm Mozib279, the farm Drooge Veldt 292 and Portion 1 of the farm Than 280 be excluded from the Vaalbos National Park.
Mr van Schalkwyk referred the Committee to the maps before the Committee. The farms had been declared part of the Vaalbos National Park in September 1996. However land claims were subsequently lodged by Sidney-on-Vaal claimants, and these claims were gazetted, investigated and approved by the Minister of Land Affairs on 30 May 2006. The three areas therefore were to be transferred out of the park and back to the claimants. A memorandum from the Minister of Land Affairs confirming this was available. In order for the settlement agreements to be signed and for the land to revert formally a de-proclamation was required. It had been agreed that SANParks would leave the land completely so that the claimants would manage the land entirely by themselves in future. The remaining areas of the former park would stay in the hands of SANPark as a breeding area. The Department of Land Affairs had secured alternative land and it was proposed to re-locate the Park once this alternative land had been proclaimed as a national park. The Premier of the Northern Cape had made a strong plea that there should be a national park in the province, to promote biodiversity, economic activity and tourism.
Mr Combrinck confirmed that he had been asked by the claimants to make a plea that the matter be expedited as they were unable to take title until the approval of de-proclamation had been given, and in turn unable to access finance to develop the land.
Ms Chalmers asked whether the land would be used for mining or agriculture.
Mr Combrinck confirmed that it would be used for both. Some of the land had mineral rights and there were diamonds. The land belonged to the community so there were already requirements in relation to royalties.
Mr Mokoena stated that in order to be consistent the Committee must set aside the subjective elements and follow the same principles outlined before. He felt strongly that the Department of Land Affairs should in all matters send confirmation. Furthermore, the Speaker should be asked to schedule a debate to ensure that the matter was fully aired.
Mr Shah noted that there had been objections to the land claims. He asked the nature of the objections and how this had impacted on the process.
Mr Sidney Hlongwane, Director DEAT, Office of the Minister indicated that the objections were largely delaying tactics since the occupier of the land, a foreign private owner, was carrying out mining activities and wished to extract as much from the mine before the claim was settled as possible. The matter had been dealt with in phases. The Land Claims Commission was in the process of expropriating other land that was publicly owned.
Mr Rasmeni pointed out that although this matter seemed more straightforward than the one discussed earlier, he would still like to have presentations from other departments who were involved.
Members were unanimous that there would be no objections to the de-proclamation of this land.
It was agreed that the Department would arrange an oversight visit to the Addo Elephant Park, and would also welcome the opportunity, at the same time, to show the Committee some of the work being done on community management and cooperation.
The Chairperson announced that consideration of the Committee Programme, the 2006 Committee Annual Report and the Committee report on Departmental and Public Entities would be deferred to the next meeting.
The meeting adjourned.
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