IT WAS jarring news this week to hear Fish River Sun could be packing up their business within six months due to a land claim that might be finalised this week.
It emerged in a court case that was heard at the Port Alfred Magistrate’s Court – the latest hearing of a case that has dragged on for 17 years.
The Fish River Sun property is just one of 86 pieces of land in the area that were affected by the land claim, but it is probably the most high profile because of the Sun International brand.
The claim was initially contested but when the Land Claims Court made its ruling in favour of the Prudhoe people it seemed to become a matter of when rather than if Sun International would have to vacate the land.
Unlike many other land claims, the claimants in this case did not want compensation in lieu of land, they want the land.
It will be a loss for the area, both economically and in terms of tourism and leisure opportunities for visitors to the area as well as locals
But the matter was complicated when another group of people, the AmaZizi, also laid claim to the land. Their claim also had to be investigated to see if it had merit, and there are disputes about this.
A third group, the Tharfield clan, also have claims in the area.
The matter is very complicated and it has to be heavy-going for the judge hearing the case as testimony was being led and cross-examined by five different attorneys representing the various interests.
In court this week, Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti disclosed that there are three families with historical claim to land. Nkwinti said although the Fish River Sun matter had not been finalised, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform wanted to make sure the claims did not jeopardise the Fish River Sun operations.
He said the department intended to purchase the hotel and the land but that he would like to see the current owners continue and pay a form of rental compensation to the claimants.
Too late. Sun International is pulling out, and it’s understandable after this protracted legal dispute they would not want to be mired in further complications down the line.
So jobs are affected, even though some might be absorbed in the company’s operations at other Sun International resorts.
It will be a loss for the area, both economically and in terms of tourism and leisure opportunities for visitors to the area as well as locals.
Perhaps the community which ultimately possesses the land can make a success of a similar operation, but they would need the expert advice of consultants.
– Jon Houzet