Communities living on the boundaries of the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, who have lodged land claims on parts of the park, are not happy that a beneficiation scheme that could see them profit from the park’s commercial activities is still not finalised almost five years after the settlement of their claims.

The Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries met with the land claimants, the South African National Parks (SANParks), the Commission Restitution of Land Rights (CRLR), as well as the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment.

The Kruger Park land claims were settled in 2016 in a two-part settlement, financial compensation and a beneficiation scheme. The latter is still outstanding as a result of a dispute between the claimants and SANParks.

One of the beneficiaries, Mr Richard Miyambo from the Madonsi community in Limpopo, told the committee that the dispute relating to the establishment of the beneficiation scheme was as a result of SANParks negotiating in bad faith. “The talks about the beneficiation scheme collapsed after we could not agree on business opportunities in the Kruger National Park and the notarial deeds. SANParks is delaying the process by not negotiating in good faith,” he said.

Following the deadlock, a mediator was brought in, but this effort could not continue. Now the CRLR has approached the Land Claims Court for a court mediated settlement on the beneficiation scheme.

Ms Pam Yako, the Chairperson of SANParks Board, said their intention was to include the claimants’ communities in the economy of the Kruger National Park, but this is difficult without a signed agreement on the beneficiation scheme. “We are committed to solving these issues, as complex as they are. We don’t want to deny the communities the right to benefit from the new South Africa. “We cannot just be talking about jobs alone. That is not equitable and fair; at the centre of the beneficiation scheme is equity,” said Ms Yako.

Committee Chairperson Ms Faith Muthambi said the committee was worried that some claimants were dying before benefiting from economic activities in their land. She advised the CRLR and SANParks to develop an integrated system for the whole country to deal with beneficiation agreements on settled claims involving land owned by SANParks, where restitution is impossible according to laws governing protected areas.

The Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Makhotso Sotyu, was also concerned that the communities were losing out on profits and new business opportunities due to the delays in finalising the beneficiation scheme.

There were also unverified claims that some individuals in these communities were already making money through tenders in the national park, without the involvement of the broader community of claimants. The Deputy Minister said there was also an element of disunity among the land claimants’ communities and their representatives.

The envisaged beneficiation scheme is expected to lift the communities out of poverty and benefit future descents perpetually.

Chairperson Muthambi instructed the parties involved to make sure there are legal and functional communal property associations (CPAs) in all the communities of beneficiaries. Ms Muthambi said claimants must benefit from economic activities taking place in the Kruger Park to alleviate poverty and discourage people living in these communities from being easily recruited by rhino poaching syndicates.

Sakhile Mokoena

1 December 2021