Garden route 'greed' angers residents

Community anger at rampant development taking place along the Garden Route in the Western Cape has led to the formation of Guardians of the Garden Route (Gog), with protest marches planned for Knysna, George and Plettenberg Bay this coming Saturday.

Gog is a loose alliance of land activists, environmentalists and individuals who say they are not anti-development, but are anti-greed. They say they are concerned that basic social and environmental issues are being ignored in the "highly competitive rush to market, sell and develop the land that forms the very essence of the Garden Route and its people".

The move follows a week in which emotions around development plans have run high.

On Tuesday, 250 residents from Belvidere, Brenton and Buffalo Bay pledged to take legal action challenging proposals for a 600-house upmarket development in a Barloworld-owned plantation west of Belvidere.

And on Thursday, a meeting of 200 Pacaltsdorp residents decided to join the George march. In September they marched against a proposed golf course development that would cut off access to the coast.

But in an area with high unemployment, developments create jobs and GOG have run into opposition from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Cosatu.

On Friday Cosatu pledged its support for another proposed development, the Knysna River Reserve development, which includes the Old Drift riverside picnic site, during the release of a three-volume scoping report on the development.

The plan is to create a "world-class sporting practise venue" with a Hall of Fame sports oval, an Audubon International golf course, a hotel with 60 suites, 87 homes and 453 holiday dwellings.

Cosatu's Southern Cape regional secretary, Abubakah Fredericks said: "We are talking about job creation, skills development and alleviating poverty in an area where 40 percent of people are unemployed.

"In the construction phase this development will create about 4 800 jobs, and there will be permanent sustainable jobs for more than 1 000 people, and black empowerment partnerships."

Gog organisers say that Saturday's protests are not against all developments or anti-government. Michael Leggatt of the Wilderness and Lakes Environmental Action Forum said Gog endorsed the government probe into the proliferation of golf and polo estates along the Garden Route.

"We also support the government's intention to integrate communities and minimise the destruction of agricultural land, biodiversity and scenically sensitive areas, through planning and development controls."

Marylou Newdigate, Gog's Knysna co-ordinator, said: "Developers always promise that they will create jobs, that they won't damage the environment and won't cut off access to our coast. And then once they get permission they do exactly as they please. The public is overwhelmed by their slick public relations.

Government officials seem to be battle-fatigued and without the muscles to challenge transgressions."

Another Gog partner, the Southern Cape Land Committee, made a detailed submission to Tasneem Essop, minister of environmental affairs and development planning in the Western Cape in September.

This article was originally published on page 1 of Cape Times on November 08, 2004

Article by: Jo-Ann Bekker - www.iol.co.za