Kruger National Park’s land claim agreements far from being settled

Johannesburg – Communities around Kruger National Park have blamed the ANC and the South African National Parks (SANParks) for unresolved land settlement agreements, which they say are the reasons communities have not benefited from schemes aimed at uplifting claimant families.

While the land claims in Kruger National Park were settled in 2016, a beneficiation scheme to provide economic opportunities around the park has fallen through, leaving claimants in Madonsi, Limpopo, at the mercy of political leaders, SANParks and state institutions responsible for the national park.

Speaking this week, Richard Miyambu, who is a trustee of Madonsi KNP Trust, expressed his dissatisfaction at the governing party and SANParks for the woes in his community.

“We have been disadvantaged by the apartheid government, but our own black government disenfranchises us in the extreme.

It’s painful when we see SANParks doing business in our land while we gain nothing,” he said.

“We have been trying to have an audience with the government.

We are always given the runaround every time we raise an issue of equitable redress. Without land, we are nothing. There are no jobs.”

He said the beneficiation scheme in Madonsi had failed because SANParks negotiated in bad faith.

“SANParks conducts itself oblivious to the voice of the community. Negotiations have been one-sided. We couldn’t reach an agreement on business opportunities in the park.

“Also, they are not interested in our plea for notarial deeds.

They don’t want to give us notarial deeds. We also want business opportunities too. They have started projects but those projects don’t include us.”

A total of 17 land claims were lodged on the Kruger National Park for the initial deadline of December 31 1998.

In May 2016, 18 years after the deadline, a total of R84-million was awarded to six communities as a settlement of their claims. The money was for land measuring 318 000 hectares.

The financial settlement in 2016 was meant to work in tandem with a beneficiation scheme to uplift communities that live on the boundaries of the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

According to reports, the government and SANParks would contribute R1-million a year towards the beneficiation scheme.

The scheme has since collapsed on account of a dispute between SANParks and claimants.

According to Miyambu, the settlement agreements were flawed from the start. “The government didn’t include us in negotiations – they imposed it on us. We’ve been forced to accept or to sign agreements without our legal rep.”

This week, the chairperson of the SANParks board, Pam Yako, told the portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries that its intention was to include the claimants’ communities in the economy of the Kruger National Park, though it was difficult without a signed agreement on the beneficiation scheme.

SANParks could not be reached for further comment.

Faith Muthambi, the chairperson of the portfolio committee, said during this week’s sitting that land claimants must benefit from the economic activities  in the Kruger National Park to alleviate poverty.

She also advised the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights and SANParks to develop an integrated system to deal with beneficiation agreements on settled claims involving land owned by SANParks, where restitution is impossible.

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