Friday, 30 November 2012
Land invasion fears
Illegal occupation of a conservation buffer zone between Sappi Forests plantations and municipal land close to Birdswood suburb has raised fears of yet another local land invasion. Indigenous trees are being ring marked and cut down in the riverine area and members of the Mandlazini community have begun erecting temporary structures on the unplanted natural area adjacent to the airport and the old Catholic Mission. This after a group of nine calling themselves the ‘Khayalisha Committee’ visited the Sappi Southern Africa offices in KwaMbonambi claiming to represent 180 community households suffering because of land shortages.
While the group said they do not have any problem with Sappi, fears are that any settlement on the conservation area, set aside by law to remain open, could lead to confrontation. History In July this year the municipality was forced to take stern action in tearing down illegal structures and evicting unauthorised squatters who had reportedly paid illegal sellers R6 000 per municipal plot of land. Similar past land invasions in Mandlazini south of the airport saw the erection of more than 500 illegal structures on municipal property. Central to the land invasions are claims that this is all land previously owned by tribal forefathers, confiscated by the previous government. However, the legal route via the Land Claims Commission has apparently been ignored.
‘We are very sympathetic towards the people who are trying to move onto this land, but we have made it clear to them that this is private property,’ said Jerry Shabangu, Sappi Forests’ Community Services Manager in the area. ‘Our land borders a municipal area and there seemed to be some uncertainty as to whom the land belonged, but that has been cleared up as we have now clearly demarcated our boundary. ‘We have also communicated to the community that they should seek a solution for this issue from their local ward councillors and municipal representatives. Discussions ‘We hope that an amicable solution can be found for these people and where possible, we will try and facilitate meetings with the relevant parties on their behalf,’ said Shabangu.
‘Our approach in dealing with our neighbouring communities has always been one of co-operation and we believe that this issue can be resolved in the same way.’
Sappi has established community forums in most of its areas of operation where representatives get together regularly to discuss all issues relating to Sappi Forests’ operations.
These include grazing rights, firewood collection and also training and equipping communities in fire-fighting.
Sappi Forests also has a large number of small growers that belong to its Project Grow out-growers’ scheme – a project that has been in existence since 1983 and was recently awarded a national accolade as the top CSI enterprise development programme in South Africa.