Our Burning Planet


Judge blocks KZN World Heritage Site land invasion bid

Judge blocks KZN World Heritage Site land invasion bid
An unidentified conservation official addresses a crowd with a loudhailer on the boundary of Futululu forest on 24 March 2022. His appeal to leave the area was ignored. (Photo: Supplied)

Hundreds of would-be occupants of the Futululu indigenous forest have been ordered to stop ‘entering or invading’, clearing land or erecting any buildings inside the protected forest near the villages of St Lucia and Monzi.

Hundreds of would-be occupants of the Futululu indigenous forest have Three weeks after a major land invasion bid at the Futululu indigenous forest near Lake St Lucia in KwaZulu-Natal, a high court judge has granted an interdict to bar any further occupation attempts into the World Heritage Site. 

Pietermaritzburg Judge Carol Sibiya granted the interim interdict on April 11, following an urgent application by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and the provincial nature conservation agency Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Hundreds of would-be occupants of South Africa’s first World Heritage Site have now been ordered to stop “entering or invading”, clearing land or erecting any buildings inside the protected indigenous forest near the villages of St Lucia and Monzi.

world heritage site invasion bid isimangaliso futululu

Following the invasion of the Dukuduku forest in the late 1980s, the adjoining Futululu forest is now under similar threat. (Photo: Supplied)

The alleged leaders of the land grab attempt have been named in court papers as Sibusiso Hadebe, Mandla Gumede, Themba Gina, Fanozi Gina, Samke Mthizi, Simon Sithole, Sipho Dube and other members of the “Iso Ledukuku Committee” and other “unlawful invaders of the Futululu forest”.

The respondents, whose legal representatives could not be reached for comment by Our Burning Planet on Wednesday, have been given until 23 June to provide reasons why the interim interdict should not be made a final court order.

In a media statement on 13 April, the park authority welcomed the court ruling, noting that previous efforts to “engage the community and the illegal invaders through dialogue and meetings to find an amicable solution” had not yielded positive results as some people had continued with the invasion and destroyed park fences.

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“The illegal invasion is said to have started on 21 March 2022, The report was received by iSimangaliso that approximately 100 people were invading the Futululu forest section using the access point opposite the entrance of the South African [National] Defence Force base known as 121 Battalion.

“The Field Rangers were immediately deployed to Futululu Forest. On arrival, Field Rangers informed the people who were invading the land that what they were doing was illegal. The invasion was not for farming purposes only, but stands were sold for residential purposes as well. The number of the group has been growing and estimated at about 300 people at some point.”

iSimangaliso spokesperson Bheki Manzini said: “Since the start of these illegal activities, the park authority has held several meetings with community leaders in an attempt to find an amicable solution. 

world heritage site invasion bid isimangaliso futululu

A uniformed park official inspects part of the boundary fence that was chopped down by people claiming land in the Futululu forest near Lake St Lucia. (Photo: Supplied)

“Meetings involved structures such as traditional authority leadership, municipal ward counsellors, land claimants’ leadership, Dukuduku resettlement trust committee, farmers’ representatives, and representatives from [the] People and Parks structure, amongst others.”

iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife had jointly briefed the community leadership about the Futululu land invasion and made it clear that this was unlawful. 

“The leadership was requested to warn their respective communities about the implications of their actions. The leadership was further informed that iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo will seek legal opinion that may lead to the arrest of individual instigators.

“iSimangaliso applauds the action taken by the local traditional leader, Inkosi Mkhwanazi, who called a meeting of the entire Dukuduku community on the 30th of March 2022 to address this matter. Inkosi wanted to listen to all the sides of the story from [the] involved parties.

“Such interventions by the leaders are most welcomed as iSimangaliso believes that the relationship built with the community and continuous engagements through meetings should be used as platforms for engagement and raising any issues of concerns from both sides.”

Manzini stated that land invasions by the community “as a means of drawing attention to any concerns of the community” could not be condoned as the park authority had a dedicated stakeholder engagement unit whose primary focus was to engage with all stakeholders, especially local communities neighbouring the park.

“In a meeting held on 11 April by the CEO of iSimangaliso, Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, and Inkosi Mkhwanazi and his delegation, Inkosi Mkhwanazi raised the issue of opening the St Lucia estuary mouth as one of the concerns from the community. 

world heritage site invasion bid isimangaliso futululu

This image taken on 29 March 2022 shows how hazard tape had been used to stake out plots of land inside Futululu forest. (Photo: Supplied)

“The community believes that artificial breaching of the mouth will help to address the problem of inundation of their farms with water. Although the meeting started on an adversarial tone it, however, ended on a very positive note as all parties engaged in a frank, honest and open spirit.”

Bukhosini said he was making “a clarion call to all communities neighbouring the park and those who may be involved in the illegal activities to desist from such activities and rather opt for legally available avenues to resolve any challenges that may arise from time to time.

“The iSimangaliso doors are always open for a dialogue and discussion to find an amicable solution,” he said.

Several sources have told Our Burning Planet that local subsistence farmers have been pushing iSimangaliso to breach the St Lucia estuary mouth to alleviate rising floodwaters from the Umfolozi River.

There have also been indications that other “opportunists” have been trying to sell plots in the park for amounts of between R100 and R250. 

The Futululu forest is one of the last remnants of coastal lowland forest in the country, located in a region with highly impoverished communities. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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