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Harties Foreshore Conflicts As DWS Leases Draw Closer
13 June 2016:
On Friday a large contingent of legal officials from the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) and the Competition Commission visited Hartbeespoort. They inspected three specific foreshore areas where a general rights claim dispute resulted in conflict between various parties.
This visit follows a Competition Tribunal hearing that was held on Wednesday, which made the front page of the Pretoria News. A link to the article can be found here:
Part of the contingent consisted of two lawyers looking into historical foreshore leasing agreements between third parties and provincial government agencies. According to an official from DWS, this is necessary in the wake of DWS allocating foreshore management leases to new applicants on the affected properties.
DWS is currently busy taking over direct management of all Government property on the foreshores of dams across South Africa as per the Water Act of 1998. Previously, many of these properties had been managed by local and provincial authorities, but the sub-letting of this ground to third parties has become a national quagmire that needs to be untangled.
The Tribunal hearing reported on by Pretoria News is between an established boat owner and the Schoemansville Oewerclub. The finding is expected soon. A second related complaint involving a different respondent was not sent through to the Competition Tribunal by the Competition Commission, for reasons given of possible pending litigation.
The recent Schoemansville Oewer conflict started when a letter was received by the Schoemansville Oewer by a private entity requiring them to stop all commercial boating activity. With regard to the Schoemansville Oewer case, unfortunate media coverage escalated the case into the political domain by colouring it in as a “tourist” issue.
The other properties visited by the legal contingent was Meerhof Oewer and one of the properties on the Ifafi Foreshore, namely the Senior Citizen’s Bird Watching and Angling Club.
In the case of the Meerhof foreshore there is still a civil case between the original Meerhof Oewer and two respondents. This case has been running for more than 10 years already, while the access problems have all but devastated the original Meerhof Oewer Club and rendered them practically dormant.
The original Meerhof Oewer had two court rulings in terms of access to the Meerhof Foreshore in their favour. The rulings allowed club members – of whom the majority resided outside of Hartbeespoort – unhindered access to the foreshore. Following the court finding, the Oewer Club attempted to gain direct access to the foreshore with a new entrance from the Meerhof School ground. This attempt, however, was thwarted when SAP threatened these community members with arrest for trespassing. They showed SAP the court order and no arrest was made, but they afterwards found the new entrance barricaded and decided to leave it be.
In the latest ruling the court required the original Meerhof Oewer to deposit an amount of cash for the access case to continue. This is a process called “lodgement” which places the applicant under obligation to make a deposit to ensure that the court’s time is not wasted and to prevent frivolous claims. The law has changed in that regard recently to empower applicants with restricted means at their disposal, but all cases proceeding on the previous ruling are still subject to this requirement.
If DWS allocated a new lease or leases on affected properties, it is not known what the legal implication would be between the two parties currently contending access to the Meerhof Foreshore.
The DWS / Comp Com contingent viewed the Meerhof Foreshore, as well as the property where Meerhof School previously had direct management and access rights. The Meerhof School principal has previously indicated that the school would like to have their rights re-instated with the new DWS process. The DWS / Comp Com contingent also viewed the bird sanctuary section of the Meerhof foreshore. A vegetation specialist explained to them why – in his opinion – there was a threat of over-grazing on the property and the possibility existed that alien vegetation could take over. DWS responded that this aspect will receive attention under the new lease conditions.
In the case of the Ifafi Oewer property, the issue in contention is a fence arguably erected across the property - and dividing the property - without the consent of the managers of the property. At the time (end 2014 / start 2015) the SAP reacted when fishermen camped on the other side of the fence. The guests had to vacate the ground in the presence of the SAP. The property manager complained to SAP and DWS about their treatment. DWS indicated that the issue will be resolved with issuing of the new leases. SAP referred the case to the CPF who indicated that they cannot become involved in the matter.
In the mean time the manager of the property came to a temporary arrangement with the erector of the fence - in the wake of DWS looking into the matter - to move it to a different position and thus allowing the prime fishing spot to be available to anglers.
The Senior Citizen Bird Watching and Angling Club came into being during the 90’s when the Bird Watching Club amalgamated with the Angling Club. The Bird Watching Club traditionally managed the whole of Meerhof Oewer and a section of the Ifafi Oewer, prior to an agreement with the original Meerhof Oewer for a section to become a boating spot.
There are similar access conflict issues brewing on the Melodie foreshore, but perhaps those could be reported on in follow-up articles.