Trouble in Paradise: South Africa Arrests Developers

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, December 18, 2000 (ENS) - The South African government has ordered the arrests of 11 people and taken legal action against 25 others for building holiday homes on the Transkei Wild Coast, a conservation area on the Eastern Cape revered for its largely unspoilt wilderness.

The Transkei Wild Coast occupies nearly 43,000 square kilometers between East London and Port Edward. Its rugged hills, jagged cliffs, secluded beaches and numerous estuaries support a diverse range of plant and wildlife.


The owners of this partially constructed cottage have been ordered to tear it down or face arrest. (Photos courtesy South African Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism)
Among the plants unique to this area is the rare Pondo coconut palm, (Jubasopsis caffra). The palm, which does not have the tall trunk associated with most other palms, bears walnut-sized edible fruit.

Birdlife is prolific and zebra, blesbok and blue wildebeest can be seen in open grassland. Whales and dolphins are frequently visible close to shore.

Transkei was a bantustan, or black homeland, one of 10 territories assigned to the black majority population in the 1950s as part of the South African government's policy of apartheid, or racial segregation.

Following the 1994 democratic elections, Transkei was reincorporated into the new South Africa and Eastern Cape province. This produced legal confusion, which, according to the South African environment ministry, has been exploited by unscrupulous developers.

According to some media reports, plots, often in environmentally sensitive areas, could be obtained by bribing local leaders with "a case of brandy and 1,000 Rand [US$130]." Many people have been willing to pay such a small price for a piece of paradise.

Now, four years after a high court judge ordered authorities to enforce a decree which prohibited land clearance or development of buildings or roads in coastal conservation areas along the Transkei Wild Coast, the government is taking action.

Last week, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism announced a clampdown by a joint task force of national and provincial government. Formed in June, the Illegal Cottages Task Group has taken legal action against 25 people - 20 for illegal buildings and five for driving on the beach or cutting down protected trees.

Eleven more people have been arrested for illegal buildings in addition to 45 summonses already served on individuals illegally occupying state land in the coastal conservation area.

In total, more than 100 developers and builders have been informed that they are performing illegal operations. They have been instructed to cease building and remove their structures. If they persist, they risk being arrested and prosecuted, says the task force.


Map showing rough location of the Wild Coast, between East London and south of Durban.
The task force is made up of the Eastern Cape’s Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism and the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Last week's action follows months of aerial and ground surveys to document illegal activities on videotape.

In the process, several people have been jailed and charged for other illegal environmental offences, including illegally removing timber, farming in state forests, driving on the beach and illegal fishing.

Eastern Cape's Minister of Environment and Tourism Enoch Godongwana said illegal building would be stamped out. "Most of the illegal buildings along this coast are not in line with the development framework and will have to be removed as a matter of urgency and the areas rehabilitated," he said.

But last week's legal action does not mean authorities are against any development of the Transkei Wild Coast. The joint task force was formed as part of the Revitalized Wild Coast Spatial Development Initiative, essentially the government's version of how the Wild Coast should be developed and protected.

The initiative is being implemented with the help of European Union funding worth 84 million Rand (US$6.2 million). It first seeks to eliminate illegal activity along the coastal conservation area, which stretches 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) inland from the high water mark.

Then it plans to create tourism guidelines for what is termed "appropriate investment." Local people will be employed in rehabilitation projects and an administrative board will be formed to provide a legal route for land tenure.


The South African government plans to make the most of the Wild Coast's economic potential by promoting development sensitive to the environment.
"It is hoped that this co-operative drive with all its role-players gains momentum to make it an unprecedented success ensuring positive growth and progress whilst respecting the environment and all it has to offer," said Dr. Crispian Olver, director general of Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

South Africa has several Spatial Development Initiatives (SDI). They are short term investment vehicles aimed at unlocking economic potential in specific locations. The use public resources to leverage private sector investment.

South Africa's SDIs have generated about 400 investment projects valued at 83 billion Rand (US$10.8 billion). These projects are expected to create more than 68,000 new jobs.