News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday June 19th 2019

Potential expansion of West Coast National scuppered by rejection of R17 million offer

Caitlin Ross

The West Coast National Park (WCNP) has been dealt a disappointing blow with the rejection of its R17 million offer for the adjacent Elandsfontein Private Nature Reserve, which was put up for auction in March.

The 5000 hectare reserve boasts a five-star safari lodge, is home to a vast range of wildlife and a world-renowned site of fossil deposits.

It has been coveted by the adjacent WCNP for “many years”, said the park’s manager Xola Mkefe.

Cape West Coast Biosphere CEO Jeanette du Toit said she believed she had facilitated the important deal between the two entities, and was “very surprised” when the offer was ultimately rejected recently.

Two weeks after the multi-million rand offer was placed, the disheartened parks board learned the reserve would not be united with theirs.

“It is a very important piece of conservation land that we wished to consolidate with WCNP. Elandsfontein is like an island surrounded by our land. It is a piece of land we have been desperate for,” said Mkefe.

Mkefe said the denial was a “huge” disappointment as the land was instrumental to the biosphere.

He said although he had allowed himself to become excited “before we should have been” following the submission of WCNP’s offer, there had been a “verbal agreement” with Elandsfontein owner Ari Dempers.

“He agreed and now has turned around and gone back on it,” said Mkefe.

Dempers denied this claim, stating that no such agreement had been entered into and that the offer submitted by the Park was less than 50 per cent of the land value.

“It’s private land. I cannot accept that,” said Dempers, who also said he had “struggled with the parks board since August last year.

The relationship between WCNP and the Elandsfontein Nature Reserve has been known to be fraught with disagreement. Both parties admitted to a history of fighting “a lot” over such issues as the introduction of extralimital animals (black wildebeest) into Elandsfontein, and the construction of a paved parking lot on WCNP land, at the cost of indigenous veld.

But despite the acrimonious relationship, Mkefe said he remained optimistic about the land.

“I am still hopeful that one day we will get it,” he said.

An issue of far graver concern, according to West Coast Biosphere Reserve chairperson Jimmy Walsh, is the possibility that commercial companies will buy the mining rights to the area, which is rich in phosphates. He said a dramatic upsurge in phosphate mining, due to the increasing demands for genetically modified crops, which require vastly more fertilizer than regular crops, meant that over the last 18 months companies were indicating great interest in the area. The problem lies in the fact that under new law, ownership of property is separate to ownership of the rights to mine the same land. But if Elandsfontein was owned by WCNP it would be protected from mining under the National Environmental Management Act.

“It is the single largest threat to the West Coast. It is one of the most dangerous things happening to the region at the moment. Nothing is sacrosanct anymore,” said Walsh. – West Cape News

Tags: elandsfontein, wcnp, west coast

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