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Eastern Cape SOPA: Premier Mabuyane must provide an update on Province’s steps to prevent irrevocable damage to precious Greater Kabeljous area

Ahead of his State of the Province Address tomorrow, the Greater Kabeljous Partnership calls on Premier Oscar Mabuyane to provide an urgent update on the provincial government’s steps to protect the environmentally and culturally significant Greater Kabeljous area, which includes the Papiesfontein and Kabeljous state-owned parcels of land.

This is of critical importance in light of new aerial photography of the Papiesfontein land revealing the extensive environmental damage being caused by the unlawful land occupation that took place on 5 December 2022.

Aerial imagery of the two occupied sites taken in April 2023, and then again in January 2024, (attached) show that the unlawful occupiers have continued to build new structures and clear almost 2400 m2 of highly endangered vegetation, known as Humansdorp Shale Renosterveld.  It is important to note that Humansdorp Shale Renosterveld is listed and protected as an endangered ecosystem in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act,10 of 2004.

The aerial imagery taken in April 2023 – some four months after the unlawful occupation – show:

  • Site one: approximately 1183 m2 of endangered vegetation cleared to create access roads; two illegal structures erected (which required further destruction of endangered vegetation) and parking and turning areas for vehicles.  A unlawful dump site for building rubble was also visible within the endangered ecosystem.
  • Site two: 425 m2 of endangered vegetation cleared to create an access road, to construct a large illegal building, as well as some smaller structures.

The recent aerial imagery taken three weeks ago – just over a year since the invasion – show the following new activity by the unlawful occupiers:

  • Site one: around 301 m2 of additional endangered vegetation has been cleared to create a large kraal with a fire pit, as well as other structures.  Thus, an estimated 1484 m2 of vegetation has been cleared at site 1 to date. The unlawful dump site also continues to have an impact on the endangered ecosystem.
  • Site two: clearing of endangered vegetation around the large illegal building has increased, with an estimated 468 m2 cleared to date.  There is also evidence of a fire pit having been built just outside the illegal building – which creates the real risk of an uncontrolled fire starting on the land.

This is an unfolding environmental catastrophe which, if not stopped by the relevant provincial authorities, will result in the irreversible loss of irreplaceable fauna and flora in the area.

Papiesfontein is currently recognized as a critical biodiversity area (CBA) and, because of its ecological significance, falls within the “high priority areas” of both the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy and the Eastern Cape Protected Area Expansion Strategy. Precious natural assets found on the land include:

  • Five different ecosystem types with extraordinary high levels of endemism to the Eastern Cape, most notably the Humansdorp Shale Renosterveld, which is listed as an endangered ecosystem due to the high rates of habitat loss and fragmentation during the past three decades putting this ecosystem type at risk of collapse. Papiesfontein presents one of the last and best areas where a relatively large and well-connected remnant of Humansdorp Shale Renosterveld can still be found and conserved.  
  • At least 17 flora species of special conservation concern are known to occur at Papiesfontein, including at least 2 plant species that are listed by South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) as critically endangered and 3 plant species that are listed by SANBI as endangered. One of the critically endangered species has a single, small population of about 500 plants that is endemic only to the Greater Kabeljous area. 
  • Key Black Harrier habitats that must be conserved in order to ensure the future survival of Southern Africa’s rarest endemic raptor, with only 1000 mature individuals remaining globally.
  • An impressive network of large and important wetlands that have been recognized for their conservation importance since at least the early 1980’s and have also been classified as vulnerable and in need of conservation.

However, as is clear from the aerial imagery, this mushrooming unlawful informal settlement poses a grave environmental and ecological threat. An independent avifaunal report by Jessie Walton from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Dr Odette Curtis-Scott from the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust, and Dr Rob Simmons Birds & Bats Unlimited revealed that the unlawful land occupation has resulted in a direct loss of this endangered vegetation and poses a serious threat to the continued presence and breeding of the Black Harrier.

The Greater Kabeljous Partnership, which was formed by a group of long-standing environmental activists, conservation practitioners, and concerned citizens from Jeffreys Bay to advocate for the Greater Kabeljous area to be declared a Nature Reserve, has written to the MEC of the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements (the owner of the Papiesfontein land) requesting an urgent update on the provincial department’s eviction application to have the unlawful occupiers evicted from the site.

We have also written to the MEC of the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) requesting an update on the department’s directive to have the Kabeljous land formally declared and protected as a Nature Reserve, as well as its steps to have the Papiesfontein land transferred to DEDEAT as a step towards it being declared a Nature Reserve.

On Tuesday, representatives from the Greater Kabeljous Partnership also briefed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment on the environmental and cultural significance of the area; the threats posed by the unlawful occupation; and requested the Portfolio Committee’s assistance with expediting the transfer of the Papiesfontein land to DEDEAT as well as the formal declaration of the entire area a Provincial Nature Reserve. We are pleased that the Portfolio Committee resolved to request the relevant provincial authorities and the Kouga Local Municipality to come and present on these matters at their next meeting.

It is critical that the Eastern Cape provincial government accelerates these processes as a matter of urgency before this precious habitat is irrevocably destroyed. We therefore call on Premier Mabuyane to provide an update in his State of the Province Address tomorrow. The Greater Kabeljous Partnership remains committed to working with government, local conservation groups and legitimate cultural groups to unlock the environmental, cultural and socio-economic value of this land so that all in the region may benefit.

For more on the Greater Kabeljous Partnership and its vision for this land, including a detailed fact sheet, visit: