The future of around 126 Fish River Sun employees and their families hangs in the balance as talks between Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Sun International and the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union continue ahead of the resort’s threatened 30 November closure. Meanwhile, after 20 years, the Prudhoe Community are just a few months from hearing judgment on their claim to the land the resort is on.
The Prudhoe Community, represented by the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, lodged their claim in December 1998 in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act and are claiming restoration of 26 farms between the Fish and Mpekweni rivers in the Peddie area.
In 1987, they were forcibly removed from the farms by the Ciskei government in what the LRC said was a traumatic and inhumane fashion, ostensibly to make way for large-scale agricultural development.
“They were moved to the Prudhoe farm where they were dumped on a vacant piece of land. The community received no compensation from the former Ciskei government for the land they had lost and were not provided with any assistance to rebuild their lives… the land they were removed from remains largely unused, save for grazing,” the LRC said.
The Prudhoe Community’s claim is contested by the amaZizi Community who are claiming 85 farms, including the 26 claimed by the Prudhoe Community. The claimed land includes The Fish River Sun – awarded to the amaZizi Community in 2010 without any consideration of the Prudhoe Community’s competing claim.
In 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) rescinded the order, and ordered that the Land Claims Court reconsider all the claims.
“Should the Prudhoe Community’s claim be successful, they will be allowed to return to the farms from which they were removed,” the LRC said. “This will significantly improve the socio-economic circumstances of the community, who were severely impoverished by the forced removals in the 1980s.”
Judgment on their claim is expected in the first quarter of 2018.
The Fish River Sun Hotel has given notice that it intends to close at the end of November 2017.
Thabo Mosololi, Chief Operating Officer of Sun International, this week told Grocott’s Mail that discussions between Sun International, the Minister and Saccawu are continuing. Mosololi said the talks were with a view to buying the property and finding a manager to operate it until the land claims process was concluded.
“We are committed to assisting both the Minister and Saccawu to save as many jobs as possible; however we continue our work towards meeting the closure timelines as previously communicated,” Mosololi told Grocott’s Mail.
Saccawu spokesperson Simphiwe Valela told Grocott’s Mail on Wednesday they had met with the parties two weeks ago and were due to meet again on the D-Day of 30 November. “We are still at the stage of discussion according to the terms of Section 189 (dismissal due to operational requirements),” Valela said.
“The staff are very dejected because they had hoped the Fish River Sun would complete its term to 2025. So it came as a shock for everyone. They also feel betrayed because they feel the Sun has gone back on its commitment to keep open until the end of the contract. We don’t believe the land claims are the real cause and our stance is that Sun International must continue with the terms and conditions originally agreed on.”
Valela said the reason Sun International had given for closing was that they didn’t know which claimants to talk to, nor what the outcome of the conflicting claims would be.
“And they don’t know the intentions of the eventual successful claimants,” Valela said. “For example, they could decide they want a farm rather than a resort.
“But if Rural Development could give certainty for a certain period, it could change that. It would renew our hopes of keeping the doors open.”
Saccawu represents workers in major retailers and hospitality outlets, particularly Pick n Pay and Sun International, where it is the majority union.
The LRC said, “The Land Claims Court will decide who enjoys a claim to the land the hotel is on. It will also decide if it is feasible to restore the land, other than the hotel. A later hearing will decide whether restoration of the land on which the hotel is built is feasible, if that issue cannot be resolved between the parties.”