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Sunday Times STLive By Bobby Jordan, 2010-04-10

Clash of the rich and poor

It's a classic clash of classes. Johann Rupert has submitted plans to develop a world-class golf course on land once earmarked for a government housing development.

The plan has divided the sleepy town of Hawston, near Hermanus.

The proposed golf course would carve up one of the last remaining seafront wilderness areas in the Western Cape.

The matter has also turned political, with local ANC leaders accusing the local DA council of selling off state land to the highest bidder despite a massive housing backlog in the area.

Rupert has defended his plan, comprised of two adjacent 18-hole golf courses - one public and one private - even as residents of nearby Mount Pleasant township prepared a mass march to demand housing and better municipal services.

Rupert told the Sunday Times the plan included a links grade course that would attract the world's top players, and much- needed foreign currency, into the poor Overstrand area.

He said a business plan had already been submitted to the Overstrand council, along with an Environmental Impact Assessment.

"Things are moving in the right direction," Rupert said.

"We've done all the ecological surveys. You can't build there. We've been looking at it for five years. It would be an enormous uplift for the whole community."

He said the site had the potential to benefit everybody - rich and poor.

Rupert is one of the country's richest men and a keen golfer. His holiday house in Onrus, close to Hawston, is a regular retreat from his corporate duties as chairman of Richemont, a luxury goods company with profits last year of à844 million (about R8.2-billion).

Although it is unclear how much Rupert is willing to invest in the Hawston development, his previous Leopard Creek golf course in Mpumalanga was designed by Gary Player. Membership is "by invitation only", according to its website.

Golf experts estimate the exclusive Hawston course would cost R30-million to R50-million. If up-market housing is allowed, the new development could be worth up to R1-billion. A new up-market development in nearby Hermanus raked in R700-million worth of residential sales.

By contrast the plight of Hawston's unemployed fishermen recently drew comment from President Jacob Zuma, who visited the town late last year, promising jobs and investment.

The Sunday Times has established that:

  • A 2004 development study commissioned by the former ANC-controlled Overstrand council recommended a massive integrated housing development, incorporating much of the vacant land surrounding Hawston;
  • The new DA-controlled council ditched the 2004 study in favour of their own housing masterplan;
  • After Rupert submitted his golf plan, which would incorporate council and provincial- owned land along the coast, the new DA council tried unsuccessfully to acquire the province's portion from the then ANC provincial government; and
  • The golf course plan appears to be moving ahead. Last month the council approved a motion to call for development applications on a vast chunk of the Hawston land, identified as portions 3 and 7 of the farm Middelvlei.

Council spokesman Fanie Krige confirmed the call for development, but said Rupert would have to resubmit his plan .

Rupert would also have to negotiate a separate deal with the provincial government for development rights on provincial land.

Rupert's project co-ordinator Merson Arendse said developers had already met with the province, and that the project would soon go ahead.

But former head of Overstrand Housing and Community Development, Bobby von During, said the plan was inappropriate: "There are tens of thousands of people on the housing waiting list here, what good will more golf courses do?"

Hawston ward committee member Tommy Gelderblom said he had heard of Rupert's plan, but the community had not yet been consulted.

"We need businesses, not just golf courses," he said.

Rupert insists his plan has widespread support and would stimulate growth in the economically depressed area, which so far has failed to attract investment.

"I haven't spent my whole life trying to do things the right and ethical way, then on a relatively small thing to cut corners," he said, adding that he himself insisted on a public tender for developing the land.

He also maintains the proposed site is not suitable for housing: "It's just wasteland dunes. There is nothing of ecological value," he said.