Calls mount for probe into how prime public land ‘held hostage’

Lee-Anne Butler HERALD REPORTER butlerl@avusa.co.za


COMMUNITY leaders and environmental activists have criticised the “holding hostage” of a prime piece of Eastern Cape coastline by wealthy businessman Kobus Smit and his former business partner Mkhuseli Faku.


The 15ha Van Stadens Resort is municipal property and was leased to Smit and Sivuyile Ntlabezo, a director at Bay law firm Boqwana Loon and Connellan, in 2004 on the premise they would upgrade it into a state- of-the-art tourist accommodation establishment.


While Smit uses five plush cottages in the east of the resort as his home and guesthouses, he allows Faku the use of a R2- million adjoining chalet.


All six chalets have been upgraded into upmarket accommodation while the rest of the resort is in a shambles.


DA caucus leader Leon de Villiers has called for a “thorough investigation” into the matter.


“We need transparency in our council meetings because it has become too easy for certain politicians to hide their dealings,” De Villiers said, referring to Smit’s alleged ties with former Port Elizabeth mayor Nceba Faku, who is Mkhuseli’s cousin and who resort employees say they have seen using the beach chalet.


“There may be a lot of other details that have been kept secret.”


De Villiers said he had on numerous occasions inquired about certain municipal projects, but officials had refused to answer him on the matter.


“We need to know who will benefit in these dealings. This is exactly the type of thing which should be audited by the (Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Sicelo Gqobana’s) forensic task team,” he said.


Environmental activists have called on officials to investigate whether protocol was breached in the upgrade of the chalets, as environmental impact assessments (EIA) usually had to be conducted beforehand.


According to the Environment Department in Bhisho, no EIA was sought for the upgrade of the chalets.


Morgan Griffiths, a Wildlife and Environmental Society of SA conservation officer, said: “This is a critical case because there may have been a contravention, in which case the parties responsible are liable for a fine. There is also the issue of people being denied access to municipal land.”


He said the agreement between the municipality and the lessee was that the land would be developed for public use. Since this had not been done, the agreement should be declared null and void.


“This is important coastal landscape and it is disappointing to hear that the former mayor could be involved in something like this.”

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