Plan for leisure park with Big Five on the beach resurrected

Businessman resurrects stalled proposal to develop a multibillion-rand leisure park

Port Elizabeth businessman Johann Dreyer has identified the stretch between Cape Recife and Sardinia Bay for a multi-billion rand leisure park.
Port Elizabeth businessman Johann Dreyer has identified the stretch between Cape Recife and Sardinia Bay for a multi-billion rand leisure park.
Image: Riaan Marais

More than 16 years since the idea of a multibillion-rand Madiba Bay leisure park was first mooted, Port Elizabeth businessman Johann Dreyer is trying to resurrect the ambitious, larger-than-life plan in a rehashed format in the hope of getting the city’s buy-in.

The project, the likes of which SA has never seen, could see different types of housing developments, a medical rehab centre, fish farms, livestock farming, agro-processing, a 10,000-seater stadium and a convention centre.

But the grandiose development would not stop there.

Dreyer also wants to see the area between Cape Recife and Sardinia Bay house the Big Five, major retailers, an aviation school, school halls and a gym.

But in order for the massive project to even begin to see the light of day, Dreyer would have to first secure about R20bn in funding from investors while also trying to convince the city that he is able to resuscitate a scheme which has continuously morphed and previously stalled amid much scepticism.

In the wake of Dreyer addressing the mayoral committee this week, council chief whip Bicks Ndoni has made it clear the proposal would have to be thoroughly interrogated on the question of its viability and the legalities scrutinised.

In November 2002, East Cape Showcase – a company of which Dreyer is a shareholder – signed a 50-year lease with the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality for the development rights on 5,577ha of public coastal land between Cape Recife and Sardinia Bay.

At the time, the idea was to erect a massive tourism drawcard with a theme park focusing mainly on wildlife and agricultural, educational and tourist-oriented facilities.

Over time, the proposal changed and a golf course and accommodation precincts were included, but Dreyer stressed it would not be permanent accommodation.

But at the time, an environmental watchdog group – Friends of Schoenmakerskop – caused a stink about the idea of accommodation at Noordhoek.

This week, after battling for years to get the buy-in from the municipality for the project with the various political changes, Dreyer finally got an audience with the new political leadership of the city, offering a completely different project.

Addressing mayor Mongameli Bobani and members of his mayoral committee on Wednesday, Dreyer spoke about social housing projects and student accommodation that he wants to see erected on the site.

“There is no legal problem, we have all the rights.

“Why must one be white and rich to be a landlord? We are saying we want to make RDP people own student accommodation,” Dreyer said.

Other offerings he spoke of included:

● A desalination plant, with Dreyer claiming the infrastructure was already in place;

● Facilities for disabled and special needs people;

● An education precinct;

● Tele-medicine which will allow specialists to work with and consult doctors in Asia;

● A mini harbour designated for yachts and smaller boats; and

● A small business franchise for about 2,000 businesses managed by East Cape Showcase.

In his presentation, Dreyer also promised the project would see a 40% decrease in the cost of living as residents would have additional disposable income while disposable income while 65,000 Bay residents would be given the option to become shareholders.

According to his plan, each family will have a house with a garden, from where they can eat or earn R25,000 worth of vegetables per year.

“A lot of people have been talking about Madiba Bay and legal action and very few have actually come to me and asked what is really going on.

“These are the facts. I have got the documentation and I will support every statement I make here today,” Dreyer said.

Dreyer said the project needed the mayor to instruct the city manager to implement council resolutions and sign a record of decision for the project to finally go ahead.

He claimed that at the time, the project had the backing of both the city and Bhisho, but was blocked by individuals who were not qualified to even interrogate the proposal.

Ndoni, who was deputy mayor at the time East Cape Showcase signed the lease, said the city had to be cautious in considering the proposal.

“A proposal was put to us [in 2001] and it was an interesting proposal that we thought would boost tourism.”

Ndoni said the project was stalled when it became clear the plans kept changing and strayed from the original agreement that came with the lease.

Ndoni said it became more commercialised and had started including retail outlets rather than a leisure and theme park as per the original lease agreement.

“We said ‘no, this thing is changing and it can invite problems for the municipality with potential investors’. Some people argued that had they known initially, they would have contested it,” Ndoni said.

He added that attempts were made to resolve the impasse between Dreyer and then city manager Graham Richards, who put the brakes on the project a few years later.

“I led a team trying to resolve this, but we just could not get anywhere in making sure that these things were resolved amicably and it dragged on and became more complicated.

“There are many reasons that caused the delay, but the main issue was that what was agreed upon in the lease kept changing,” Ndoni said.

He said it was unclear at this stage what Dreyer wanted from the city, adding that he presumed it was to persuade it

to allow him to proceed with the project.

Ndoni said Dreyer previously tried to get former mayor Danny Jordaan’s buy-in.

“It is unfortunate now that the land was sitting idle when it could be used for something else.”

He said going forward council officials would be vigilant.

“You can’t just take that thing as it stands. To me, it got more complicated and I don’t believe a development of that magnitude can just go ahead after a day; there is a lot that needs to happen.”

There is uncertainty as to where Dreyer would get the money for the project.

On Wednesday, he claimed he had the backing of “a top banker” who would be the lead investor.

He claimed he had managed to raise R500m to be set aside for up-skilling, presumably those he said would run the farms and small businesses.

At Wednesday’s meeting, budget and treasury political head Mkhuseli Mtsila said: “If this is true . . . from a budget perspective we will benefit on rates as a source of money which we need so much.”

The EFF’s Zilindile Vena said: “We must try and get to the bottom of why this thing has not been put into practice.”

Infrastructure and engineering political head Andile Lungisa said: “The issue of the [record of decision] with Madiba Bay must be addressed with speed. Anything that is presented must be supported so we unlock economic opportunities”.

Municipal spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said the city would consult its legal department before responding.

Dreyer said on late on Friday the total value of the project would be about R20bn and that when it was first tipped to commence, he had had investors such as Standard Bank, Absa and Rand Merchant Bank.

When asked how much investors had committed, he said: “I cannot reveal the exact figures at this stage.

“What we need to do is once we get the ROD [record of decision] we need to see if all previous potential funders physically and see if they still have an appetite to invest in the project,” he said.

He maintained his 50-year lease with the municipality was still valid and was registered with the deeds office in Cape Town.

Dreyer would not give a figure on how much funding was needed from the government, but said the only investment it would make would be in areas such as social housing.

In terms of access to the beach, he said the public would be encouraged to visit it, but there would be access control.

“Access control is to prevent wild animals from leaving the property.”