Court victory for wetland park
Lake St Lucia, the estuarine lake at the heart of isimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage...
A high court judge has granted a final order stopping an illegal high density holiday home development.
The “Secret Lakes” development, which was once advertised on the Internet, is in a buffer zone adjacent to the iSimangaliso world heritage park near Sodwana Bay.
It overlooks unspoilt and ecologically important Lake Mgoboseleni, home to breeding populations of hippos and crocodiles.
Judge Daya Pillay yesterday confirmed interim interdicts granted last December against various parties including Feasey Property Group Holdings, its director Geoffrey Little and two businessmen already occupying the land, Don Chandler and Johan Viljoen.
She ordered Chandler and Viljoen to leave the land, rehabilitate it and restore it to its pristine state. The order takes effect on December 31.
The interdicts prohibit any development, construction and marketing of sites.
The court found that initial development had commenced without necessary approval from numerous government regulators who must authorise developments in the buffer zone.
She dismissed arguments that iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority did not have jurisdiction over the area. The judge said the heritage act created wide and general powers not limited to combating harmful activities in the park, but giving iSimangaliso “territorial jurisdiction over the buffer zone adjacent to the park”.
She said there was “no doubt” that the responsibility for managing, protecting and conserving the illegally occupied sites rests squarely on their shoulders.
Judge Pillay said Chandler contended that the site he was living on was his “primary residence” while Viljoen — who lives there in a caravan — considered the land as his “proposed primary residence”.
She, however, said they were not indigent, landless people with no choice but to occupy illegally, but businessmen who chose to live on the sites in question.
Chandler is a former policeman who invested his retirement funding into acquiring and developing the site for himself and his wife. Both maintained they had nowhere else to go.
But Judge Pillay said they could not build there without a valid lease or other right of occupation and environmental authorisation. What they were asking the court to do was to grant them an “indulgence” to regularise their illegal occupation, which they were not entitled to.
‘Judgment a win for environment’
ISimangaliso Wetland Park Authority CEO Andrew Zaloumis hailed the judgment as a victory for the environment.
He said the judgment confirms that world heritage site and national park managers have authority and jurisdiction in buffer zones around parks.
He said buffer zones are a key element for the conservation of world heritage properties and a Unesco requirement. “They add a necessary additional layer of protection and seek to protect important aspects of biodiversity,” he said.
Zaloumis said Mgoboseleni is an important complex estuarine lake system connected to a stream which flows through rare swamp forest and mangroves.
The Mgoboseleni Estuary is considered extremely important as a nursery area for estuarine dependent marine species.