Mala Mala limbo

04 May 2015 - 08:23 By SIPHO MASOMBUKA

More than a year after ownership of the luxury Mala Mala game reserve in Mpumalanga changed hands in the most expensive local land restitution deal yet, R1-billion, the community given the land has yet to benefit. This is despite the fact that more than R8.4-million in rent has been paid by Michael Rattray, the former owner of the internationally renowned lodge and 13,184ha bordering the Kruger National Park.The 950 households, or about 15,000 beneficiaries, involved are now demanding cash payments of R10,000 each, which totals more than the money paid over.The N'wandlamhlarhi Community Property Association, which represented the beneficiaries during the land claim and administers their account, has not announced any initiatives to train community members to manage their new prime game land or projects, such as game drives or curio sales, to capitalise on tourism to the area.This is despite Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti having mandated the association in November to report back to him with proposals to develop and monitor Mala Mala as a business.The success of Mala Mala is pivotal given the government's plans to shake up land policy. It proposes requiring commercial farmers to hand over half their land to farmworkers; denying foreign nationals ownership of land in favour of leases of a minimum of 30 years; and a cap of 12,000ha on land ownership for South Africans.But there has been strong criticism of its reforms so far, with large tracts of land lying unused and even abandoned, and new farmers accusing it of insufficient assistance.When the Mala Mala restitution deal was struck in January last year, the agreement was that the Rattray family would continue to manage the lodge and pay rent of R700,000 a month. A business partnership with the community whereby skills would be transferred was to have been negotiated by January. The rental agreement has been extended to January next year as the negotiations are yet to be concluded.William Tshabangu, 48, one of the beneficiaries, said they were yet to be told about projects or developments the rent would fund."We have no idea when or how it will start funding community projects, especially for job creation [and] very few people are employed here," he said.The village of Lillydale, near Hazyview, where Tshabangu lives with his wife and four children, is poor, with no piped water, tarred roads or recreational facilities.Derrick Mthabini, chairman of the N'wandlamhlarhi Community Property Association, said it was finalising plans on how the funds would be used but it would be "improper" for him to discuss the plans before they were concluded.A spokesman for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mtobeli Mxotwa, said the community has appointed the property association to represent its interests and it was therefore its prerogative to decide, in consultation with the community, how to use the funds."We cannot be seen to be talking for them, it is their property. We are finalising the second phase of the process, the partnership negotiations, and our involvement will be up to January 2016. We believe the community will by then have sufficient capacity to run the lodge itself," he said.Mxotwa said the department had a moral obligation to ensure Mala Mala's assets did not fall into disrepair."That lodge contributes to our economy and we won't allow the economy of our country to collapse," he said.He added that once the negotiations were concluded, the association would have to table annual reports to the community and to parliament.The Vumelana Advisory Fund, a Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation that supports land-reform beneficiaries to make land productive through community-private partnerships, has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the community association and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.The programme manager, Mazwi Mkhulisi, said the memorandum set out the basis for support and cooperation among the parties in developing organisational capacity to manage Mala Mala assets effectively and to structure agreements for the management, marketing and operation of the game reserve. He declined to give details.A lawyer for the Rattray family, Patrick Falconer, said the parties hoped to conclude a co-management agreement in the not too distant future.The high-profile Mala Mala deal has yet to be brought to fruition even as the government accepts new land claims. Last year it reopened the process for another five years, despite criticism of its handling of land reform so far.Business Day has reported that a study presented to parliament said the efficiency of the rural recapitalisation programme was low, costing on average R2.9-million a project, R463,284 per beneficiary and R588,284 per job.Many projects are failing and emerging farmers are blaming the government for a lack of support.Flagship project could be a cash cowEcotourism consultant Jeremy Anderson says the Mala Mala community could consider trophy hunting as well as tourism to generate revenue."For 25 years they used to do hunting in the Pilanesberg and nobody knew it was happening. It was small-scale, high-quality hunting and it made more [money] than tourism," he says. "A buffalo bull today sells for $16,000 (about R190,000)."Anderson - the Africa agent of ecotourism consultancy International Conservation Services consultancy - said maintenance of both the Klaserie and Timbavati game reserves, near Hoedspruit, in Limpopo, was funded by limited trophy hunting - about four or five hunts a year."So if you do it properly and don't mess around . the tiny amount of hunting is enough to pay for all the maintenance, such as anti-poaching measures, fire breaks, road maintenance and borehole maintenance," he says.The community could also consider selling companies long leases for safari camps, said Anderson."They can say: 'We want R50-million for that land and in 10 years' time we give you back your R50-million" but the community must invest the money properly, he said.

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