GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT NEWS - A billion-rand investment earmarked for Calitzdorp Spa and De Hoek Mountain Resort received much attention in the media the past week.
Doubt was cast on the bona fides of the Garden Route Mayor, Memory Booysen, and the Indonesian company interested to invest in the two rundown resorts in Kannaland and Oudtshoorn.
It has been alleged that the company would get preferential treatment when considered for the 50-year lease of the resorts, following an all-expenses-paid trip for a municipal delegation, including the mayor, to Indonesia in September last year.
The Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) has issued a press release strongly denying any wrongdoing, stating that all information on matters relating to the proposed developments of both municipal resorts have been shared with Council, the public and media.
A GRDM investment conference at Oubaai in March last year, was held to pave the way for domestic and foreign direct investment in the region. The ISCC Group of Companies, which includes Ithuba Savings and Credit; LEN24 GmbH ISC Bank; and E-banking and Investment Solutions, showed great interest and made a proposal to the municipality. Their vision to develop a sustainable smart town for industrial, commercial and residential development within the Garden Route is reminiscent of President Cyril Ramaphosa's "smart city" that he punted during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament. The ISCC Group of Companies also proposed the possible establishment of a manufacturing plant for electric cars.
Some six months after the conference, Booysen, Municipal Manager Monde Stratu and executive manager of Planning and Economic Development, Lusanda Menze, were invited by the chairperson and CEO of the ISCC Group, Jean Bilala*, to visit Indonesia from 6 to 11 September 2018 to view infrastructure projects.
According to Booysen, this was intended to gain insight on the level and quality of their work. It was an all-expenses-paid trip, he said, that took place with the full knowledge of Council.
"I then sent a message to all councillors asking for advice [before the trip] and I made a proposal which even the opposition accepted. I disclosed the full funding, and on our return I briefed Council once again on 1 October 2018. Again the opposition supported me. We even posted all the details on our website in 2018 about the MOU, funding etc. This is news to me that all of a sudden some people, including councillors, smell a rat," said Booysen.
During the trip to Indonesia, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between GRDM and the ISCC companies Ithuba Savings and Credit, LEN24 GmbH ISC Bank, and E-banking and Investment Solutions. In the MOU it was outlined that land and infrastructure will be identified for investment purposes.
In an interview with the George Herald, Booysen said among the hospitality industry role-players, the ISCC Group was the only one that showed an interest to invest in Calitzdorp Spa and De Hoek Mountain Resort. The GRDM maintains that the process to lease the resorts is still in the public participation phase and that no operation tender has been awarded to any company, nor has a lease agreement been signed.
During the Public Participation process, the municipality became aware of land-claim disputes from two families who registered objections relating to Calitzdorp Spa.
These families shared their dissatisfaction following a notice by the GRDM stating its intention to enter into a long-term lease agreement (50 years) with LEN24 GmbH ISC Bank to manage and operate the resorts. The notice emphasised the municipality's prospect to enter into a lease agreement with a successful tenderer.
"On our records, there was never a formal dispute of ownership recorded or any land-claim matter relating to both resorts," reads the press release by the GRDM, saying the municipality was not previously aware of these claims and "sought clarity" from the Chief Land Claims office. A response from the Regional Chief Land Claims Commissioner, dated 28 May 2019, informed the municipality that the claims were lodged before 31 December 1998, and that the matter is under investigation.
According to Booysen the Claims Commissioner answered the families in 2015, saying they could not fully substantiate their claim, therefore it was inconclusive, but investigations would continue.
In a conversation with Booysen, he said the potential investors - the ISCC Group of Companies - are South Africans with roots in Cape Town and multiple businesses overseas.
"Now, with our initiatives, they saw an opportunity to come back home," he said. "The risk with all this hullabaloo is that the Garden Route could lose an investment opportunity which is, in fact, for the broader community."
George Herald was unsuccessful in its attempt to contact Jean Bilala* of Ithuba and ISCC.
* Jean Bilala is named in the GRDM's press release as both the president of Ithuba Savings and Credit, and the chairperson and CEO of the ISCC Group.
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