A recent ruling of the South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) upholding the demolition order on illegal cottages built along the Wild Coast has been welcomed by campaigners for the protection of this environmentally sensitive and scenic area. Judge JFP Brand of the SCA ruled against 16 illegal cottage owners who appealed a December 2005 ruling by the Mthatha High Court that they be evicted from their dwellings and the buildings demolished.
The Mthatha had previously upheld the provisions of Environmental Conservation Decree No 9 of 1992, legislated by the then ruler of the Transkei, General Bantu Holomisa. This decree proclaimed all state land on the entire Transkeian coast within a strip 1km above the high-water mark as a coastal conservation area. According to reports, illegal cottage owners, often farmers and businesspeople, did not follow legal guidelines when seeking permission to build their cottages. Instead, they allegedly plied local headmen and tribal chiefs with alcohol, food and cash in exchange for permission.
Government departments designated to approve or disallow construction of these cottages would be bypassed, or crooked officials bribed to sign off permission documents. Judge Brand added, “This decree prohibited any development or construction within this coastal conservation area without a permit issued by relevant conservation authorities.” he Sustaining the Wild (SWC) group said the recent judgment in the appeal case helped to provide legal clarity on what it called a “grey area” in legislation governing the Wild Coast region. The group was happy to learn that Holomisa’s decree still had legal status and was binding. “is the Wild Coast, not the Wild West,” said John Clarke of the SWC group. “While the cottage owners may feel somewhat aggrieved [by the recent court ruling], the Wild Coast is a very special place, and land cannot simply be taken over by anyone on a whim.
The owners may have given some employment to local people as domestic workers and perhaps caretakers, but this cannot happen at the price of disregard for the law.” C larke also said that with the Wild Coast’s great potential, any uncontrolled activities that could undermine legal measures to safeguard public, environmental and community interests could not be allowed. The SWC group opined that the ruling made it more urgent for authorities in the region to find legally acceptable and properly regulated solutions to stimulate local economic growth and provide opportunities for local community development, without destroying the area’s ecological base. he organisation concluded, “In the light of the SCA’s ruling, how can authorities consider the Xolobeni dune mining venture an appropriate activity? mining appears to fly in the face of numerous local, national and international laws and treaties designed to protect communal and environmental interests. It will result in bulldozing 330 million tons of sand over 22km2 of coastal dunes, in the heart of the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism, for concentrations of heavy minerals to enrich an Australian mining company.” – Lloyd Phillips