The Transkei Wild Coast, on the Eastern Cape, is a 43,000 sq km area between Port Edward and East London renowned for its unspoiled wilderness. The area supports a diverse population of both wildlife and plants, including the rare Pondo coconut palm, Jubasopsis caffra, zebra and blue wildebeest.

The development status of the Transkei has sparked the problems – it was a black homeland – bantustan, one of ten assigned to the majority black population in the 1950s by the apartheid government, with loose developmental rules governed by local leaders. After the 1994 democratic elections, it was re-integrated into the Eastern Cape province and observers allege that this change gave would-be developers the chance to bribe local leaders to enable buildings to be erected in environmentally sensitive areas.

In 1996, the South African courts ordered authorities to enforce a decree prohibiting land clearance or development of buildings and roads in coastal conservation areas, which stretch 1km inland along the length of the Transkei Wild Coast. This judgment is now being followed up by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. It has announced a joint task force, made up of the Eastern Cape’s Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism and the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, to clamp down on development.

The Illegal Cottages Task Group was formed as part of the Revitalized Wild Coast Spatial Development initiative, which formulates the South African government’s vision of how development and protection of the Wild Coast should be managed. The initiative seeks to secure sensitive development of the area to enhance the tourist potential.

EU funding worth 84 million Rand ($11 million) has been donated to help implement the initiative. The first stage is the current move to eliminate illegal activity in the coastal conservation area, which will be followed by the creation of tourism guidelines for ‘appropriate investment’. In addition, an administrative board will be set up to provide a legal framework for those seeking land tenure.

The move is set against a background of ongoing problems of unemployment and homelessness. In the eastern Cape, there have recently been massive redundancies due to mine closures. Rapid urbanisation in the Cape Metropolitan Area, mainly due to population growth and rural-urban migration, has resulted in urban sprawl, although various initiatives exist to address this. The largest concentration of poor households is found in the south-east Cape.

Large housing backlogs and the lack of financial resources among rural incomers has contributed to a growth in shanty towns. Some 16% of the population in the area lived in informal housing in 1998, according to a survey. Significant upgrading of informal settlements is taking place, but recent estimates indicate that the number of shanty towns in the area is increasing. Between 1993 and 1996, the absolute numbers of families squatting has doubled. Over 86 000 people in the area live in shacks that do not have access to basic services.

The latest initiative has seen the task force acting to remove one of the effects, if not the cause of the problem. Twenty people have had legal action taken against them for illegal buildings – a further 11 have actually been arrested, and five more have had legal action taken for driving on the beach or cutting down protected trees.

A further 45 summonses have been issued to individuals living on state land in the coastal conservation area, and over 100 developers in all have been told that they are operating illegally. If developers persist in their actions, the Task Group has warned that they face arrest and prosecution.

The latest action follows aerial and ground surveys over a period of months, videotaping the illegal activities. Several of those arrested have been jailed and charged with other environmental offences.

The Eastern Cape’s Minister of Environment and Tourism Enoch Godongwana said illegal building would be eliminated. He noted, “Most of the illegal buildings along this coast are not in line with the development framework and will have to be removed as a matter of urgency and the areas rehabilitated.”

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