A bid by sugar farmers to force iSimangeliso Wetland Park to allow the breaching of the uMfolozi River mouth has failed – and conservationists are hailing the court decision as a huge victory for nature.
In the conflict between the two parties, Umfolozi Sugar Planters UCOSP and farmers Paul van Rooyen and Petrus Maphumulo contended they had a right to breach the river to alleviate back-flooding on certain low-lying farms, South Coast Herald reported.
The farms in question, however, comprise less than 1% of the 9 127ha under sugar cane.
iSimangaliso contended that it was implementing a management strategy for the estuary that had been developed after consultation with UCOSP. The consultations and discussions had started in 2008.
iSimangaliso argued that despite repeated attempts to impress upon UCOSP the implications of farming on land located in the tidal zone in the face of climate change, UCOSP had failed to deliver on its promises to improve its flood protection measures.
Kemp J Kemp represented UCOSP and the farmers in three urgent applications brought against iSimangaliso. The first application was served in August last year, following threats of legal action against the park.
According to an interim court order, when water levels reach a certain critical level the uMfolozi River mouth could then be breached.
The Durban High Court last week heard an application lodged by UCOSP and the farmers against the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, and the departments of environmental affairs, water and sanitation, rural land reform and development and agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Judge Mohini Moodley dismissed the sugar farmers’ application. In her judgement on Friday, she concluded the interim relief had run its course and dismissed the main application along with two others. Reasons for the judgement and costs would follow, she said.
Moodley noted this matter had demanded a great deal from iSimangaliso and UCOSP, and that in the interests of justice and both parties, it was convenient to deliver a judgement immediately so that the relationship between the parties could be regulated.
Andrew Zaloumis, chief executive of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, said the lifeblood had returned to Lake St Lucia, with the uMfolozi River being the major source of fresh water into Africa’s largest estuarine lake.
“This is a story of environmental justice for the 800 hippos and 1 200 large crocodiles whose home is the lake as well as many other endemic and threatened species. And for the people who depend on Lake St Lucia,” he said.
– Caxton News Service