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Wednesday Nov 28, 2012

Land claim stalls KZN coastal resort

A billion-rand resort at Blythedale on the North Coast has stalled since the Land Claims Court in Durban has said a land claim will only be resolved in six months.

The Zwelabantu Dube Community Property Association, headed by Jabulani Mabaso, is asking the Land Claims Court to declare its business partnership and lease agreements with developers and farmers Rodger Stewart and Patrick Sokhela void.

Last week the court set down April 25 as the trial date to resolve the issue, effectively bringing the R10 billion development, which promised thousands of jobs for local people and free houses for claimants, to a standstill.

Stewart and Sokhela owned the farm New Guelderland Sugar Estates and Royal Shaka Estates respectively. The properties were claimed in 1998 by 600 families of the Dube clan.

In papers lodged at the Land Claims Court in September, Mabaso, who will stand trial in January for R200 million fraud in another matter, declared, on behalf of the association, that the property deals signed with KZN developer Mark Taylor and a lease agreement signed with Stewart and Sokhela were without "proper authority" from the community.

He alleges a settlement agreement promoted in "glowing terms and approved by the former regional land claims commission were proving worthless".

In responding court papers the developers are denying the allegation by questioning the legality of Mabaso's authority as a "consultant and adviser" to the community.

They also question the authority of signatories on the association meeting minutes recording decisions to "cancel all agreements in respect of the land in question, restore the land to the claimants, take control of the farming activities and cancel the lease on the farm". The development was given the green light in 2007 by the KZN premier of the time, S'bu Ndebele, and hailed as a development blueprint for the country by former housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu and former deputy president Baleka Mbete.

But since the handover in 2007 the project has failed to take off because of the effects of the global recession dampening property sales.

Earlier this year claimants invaded the farm and beat up Stewart, who was forced to flee with his family. He said he was attacked, thrown to the ground, kicked and punched before being forced to sign a document ending his lease agreement.

Yesterday Mark Taylor said the situation was "less than ideal".

"This is really being dragged out now. We have invested a huge amount into the development; it's at a standstill," he said.

Taylor confirmed there were investors but declined to give their details.

"Yes, we are talking to them; they seem comfortable with the situation at the moment."

Taylor also declined to give an indication of how much the company had already spent on the project; however, the claimants have also moved to stop an application for a R200m bond application by Taylor on the property, saying they have not been consulted.

Andrzej Kiepiela, spokesman for the KZN Growth Coalition - which played a major role in fast-tracking the approval and handover of the development - said the coalition regretted the court delay.

"We are fully supportive of Blythedale. We hope a solution will be reached as soon as possible. We respect the legal process but are deeply suspicious of the motive and the manipulation by some consultants to the community who are not properly informed and are being misled," he said.

The Mercury

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