DESPITE numerous occasions where all parties have sat down to settle the Fish River Sun land claim dispute with an agreement which was proposed to serve all parties involved fairly, all offers are officially off the table
An unnamed source who represents Sun International said on Monday the Prudhoe and AmaZizi community members shook hands and were willing to settle for a 50/50 land ownership settlement whereby Sun International would still vacate the premises but would stay on for six months to allow the transition of the business to its new owners.
Sun International has officially retracted any offers and will start the process to leave premises with immediate effect.
The source explained that a new investor had been lined up who was eager to resume business where Sun International would have left. The new investor drafted a plan to ensure sustainability of the resort and the surrounding communities, to include the interest of its new intended owners and to further develop education.
This agreement is now null and void, as legal counsel representing each of these communities advised their clients against the settlement. Sun International has officially retracted any offers and will start the process to leave premises with immediate effect.
“Two communities’ inability to take the deal on the table resulted in Fish River Sun closing,” said the source. “Legal counsel has failed them.”
The source said he felt the whole case, which has been ongoing for 17 years, has become a law show.
It cost Sun International about R40-million a year to keep the Fish River Sun resort running. “We had an agreement, but these advocates advised them against it,” the source said.
The source said he is devastated for the affected community and employees of the resort.
”They think they are getting a blank cheque from government. It’s not happening”.
It is uncertain what Sun International’s D-day is, but the source speculates by the time the land claim case resumes on October 30, it will be too late.
On Wednesday, information came to light about seven farms and at least 20 smallholdings west of the Fish River that were suddenly included in a new demarcation in which their properties were also being disputed. A farm owner stumbled on this information by chance when he visited the court and took a photo of a map. None of these farmers had received any documentation or been involved in any discussion regarding the land claim.
“We were always aware of the Fish River claims on the east side, but because it didn’t affect us we were never concerned,” pineapple farmer Brandon Calitz said.
Panic ensued as farmers rushed to sign an affidavit with Neave Stotter attorneys. The claim has subsequently been amended in a draft document presented in court. Advocate Viwe Notshe said the land claim on Fish River west was withdrawn but the “claimant maintains its claim of requital redress”.
We were always aware of the Fish River claims on the east side, but because it didn’t affect us we were never concerned
The case was adjourned after two weeks in court, costing the state millions of rands in court time.
Attorney Noel Stotter managed to file 20 formal objections to the state in response to the surprise inclusion. Land portions of farm(s) 230 in the South Seas vicinity are valued at millions of rands, Stotter said.
By the time of settlement, proposed for October 30, the offer will be in financial compensation, by the state, to claimants at the value of the property at the date of deposition.
It is still not known why the claim on the Fish River Sun west farms only emerged this week.
Sources close to the case said that the state did not do its work. Stotter said there was a frantic scurry on Wednesday when the sheriff tried to issue last minute notices to the newly affected land owners. “This after two weeks of court,” Stotter said.
The court was again filled with advocates and associates, with only two parties represented privately. The total cost which government will endure when one of the Eastern Cape’s biggest land claim sagas is finally settled is unknown.
The court cleared as fast as it filled, with piles of documentation, suitcases and a string of lawyers leaving a 17-year long trail of confusion and uncertainties.
For now, the plaintiffs and defendants hold their breath until court resumes. Groups of Prudhoe and AmaZizi claimants’ gathered outside the court for the last time this week.
“The Fish River Sun wants to get rid of the hotel because it doesn’t make money according to them,” said chairperson of the Prudhoe Community Gladman Tom.
“The problem is that they’re tied up because the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth bought the license – and the agreement is that they’re to support Fish River so that their workers do not lose their jobs.
“We will see when we come in October,” said Prudhoe community elder Christopher Gadla.
By LOUISE CARTER and LEBOGANG TLOU