Wild Coast Casino Hotel. Picture: MARK TAYLOR
Wild Coast Casino Hotel. Picture: MARK TAYLOR

After nearly 40 years, the Umgungundlovu community has got its land on the KwaZulu-Natal Wild Coast back, which includes the area on which the renowned Sun International casino and resort is built. 

This was after a landmark agreement was signed between the community, Sun International and the department of rural development and land reform this week. 

As part of this agreement — signed on Monday in Sandton — the community will now get back its pristine 700ha of Indian Ocean-facing land, and will be shareholders of, and receive rent for the land the multi-million Wild Coast Sun casino and resort was built upon. 

The community lodged a land claim with the post-apartheid government in 1996, and it was later accepted as valid. 

Thirty-seven years ago hundreds of Umgungundlovu families — many of whom were growers and livestock farmers and fishermen — were forcibly removed from their land to make way for the 430ha resort. 

Several years before that, hotel magnate Sol Kerzner had negotiated a deal with the erstwhile Transkei homeland government to lease the land for the resort. This agreement stipulated that community members living on this land "make way for the building of the casino and other facilities". 

Transkei homeland prime minister George Matanzima was tried in the high court for accepting a R2m bribe from Kerzner for facilitating the deal and, in 1989, was given a nine-year jail sentence. He eventually only served one year in jail. 

An arrest warrant was issued for Kerzner, but the charges were dropped in 1997.

Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, who represented the land claimants, said the this week's agreement was concluded “after months of hard work’’. 

He said that in terms of the agreement, the land the community was forcibly removed from will be restored to it before the end of November, and that Sun International will rent the land the Wild Coast resort was build on for R4m a year — at an escalating rate of 6% a year.

Spoor said this was far more better than the R2,500 per month Kerzner negotiated with Matanzima. 

The agreement also stipulates that the Umgungundlovu land claimants will take a 28.4% shareholding in the resort, and will receive R27m from the government to develop those portions of the restituted land not leased to Sun International.

"It also states that members of the community will enjoy preferential employment and procurement opportunities with the Wild Coast Sun, and that Sun International has agreed to donate R1m rand to be shared between the 117 households ... this Christmas.

“This is what can be achieved if land claim communities are competently represented and government and business come to the party,” Spoor said.

Sun International's COO, Thabo Mosololi, said the company was glad that the land claim had been concluded and that definitive agreements had been signed by all parties.

“The deal is the first of its kind, and is progressive as the community will partner with Sun International going forward and share in its successes. According to the terms agreed to, the land on which the Wild Coast Sun is built will be restored to the Mgungundlovu community, and who will also receive a 28% shareholding in Transun (a Sun International subsidiary), which is the lessee of the land.

"This is a ground-breaking deal in that it not only addresses the initial land claim, but it also creates ongoing shared value for the community. The state and Mgungundlovu community together with their advisers are applauded for their efforts in getting this over the line," said Mosololi.

Skhumbuzo Mchunu, chair of the Umgungundlovu land claim group, said they were happy that the deal that had been signed.

"It has been decades of struggle, frustrations, degradation, false promises, hope, despair and everything in between. It took years to conclude this deal but now we can see the end of the tunnel," he said.

Mchunu's mother, Frieda, one of the people who were forced to leave their land in the 1970s to make way for the casino and resort, died this week at the age of 83. He said his parents and other community members who were forcibly removed, lost their livelihood — fields, grazing land and fishing rights — after their removal.

"We took the baton from our parents to fight for this land and it is sad that she could not see our effort to see to it that their land, their humanity is restored. But we will soldier on and fight on the claimants who are living and those who have departed," Mchunu said.

He said they want to use the land adjacent to the casino and resort to build tourism facilities.

"The area is a tourist hub and we cannot allow something like mining to come here. We have to maximise the tourism potential of this area so that there is more investment and job creation. We are hopeful that the government will keep their promise of helping us to develop this land," he said.

Nokwanda Langazane, a local activist whose family was one of those who were forcibly removed, said they would be on the lookout for opportunists who would now want to use the community for selfish benefits.

‘‘At times we felt that the negotiations were going at a snail's pace. Now that the agreement has been reached, it is up to us as the community to make this thing work,’’ said Langazane.