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Jenny Stevens of the Dinokeng Nature Reserve came to address us, and to answer questions from landowners.  This was a chance to hear the first-hand experience of owning land in a Nature Reserve.

Jenny writes about herself:
We purchased a 21ha smallholding in the Dinokeng Project area 15 years ago and established a conservancy with 5 property owners – Registered it as Finfoot Conservancy as the endangered Finfoot is present on the Pienaars River which flows through the conservancy.
Met and worked closely with Nature Conservation at Roodeplaat during the establishment and registration.  Although this law has largely fallen away, and the fences have been removed, the Conservancy is
still a legal entity.

This naturally lead to involvement with the Dinokeng Project under Mary Metcalfe and Trish Hanekom lead by Erich Fuls who was instrumental in doing the landowner buy-in.

I went to University in 2004 and used the opportunity this afforded to assist with the writing up of the Game and Ecology guidelines and other documents related to reserve management, working my way up from Committee Chair to Landowner Association Chair, Management Chair and finally being employed full time at Reserve Manager.

After the appointment of Mr Lynn van Rooyen of Sanparks, who is eminently qualified to run the reserve, I left to make way for a more institutionally equipped manager, Mr Piet Venter who is now doing a magnificent job of getting buy in from the municipalities, mines and other bodies in and around the reserve.

I currently enjoy the fruits of the ongoing labour and hope one day to maximize the project's existence with a very large selling price on our farm!

Introduction


There are a couple things I would like to make clear to landowners -
•    It is a difficult thing to achieve
•    There are no easy fixes
•    And when it comes right, it is wonderful
I can highly recommend you strive for [this lifestyle].  There is no way that you will get this done as individuals.  It will only work if you pool your financial resources and talents, if you are a cohesive force.  Each landowner is valuable and can offer something to the project. 
It is a bit like fighting pompom.  IF you neighbor does not also combat pompom you are never going to win the battle.  Things need to be done as a group, and become financially possible as a group.
The longer we have the economic pressure we will be having less disposal money.  But we don’t do it alone.  Most of the cost can be borne by a group of people. I can have a share in [for example] the tractor.
Started in 1995.  Bop. Government was dissolved, the cattle subsidies discontinued, and suddenly there were a whole lot of people who had no jobs and farmers who were no longer financially viable.   {And then diversified into game and conference/accommodation venues.]
Government came with (North East Gaunteng Initiative – it came and it went.   Dinokeng Blue IQ came and it very nearly went.  Under the guidance of Mary Metcalfe, the determination of Trish Hanekom, we are where we are.   It had to have landowner buy-in. 
But some landowners said “.. this is a ploy by government to get us to willingly sign our land over, and once we sign our land over they are going to come and take the whole project because it is too good to be true”.
What has happened in Dinokeng is that each landowner has retained ownership of their property. They have retained the right to do on that property as they like as long as they develop no more than 1% of their land holding, and as long they let [game] graze their grass, or they have tourists paying money to them on their properties.  
There are limits that are the limits of the land.   You cannot just plough your land.  You cannot just start a piggery. You cannot just start a chicken coop.  You cannot just plough a road wherever you like.  You cannot build in the hundred-year floodline. Those are NOT the rules of Dinokeng; those are the rules of the land in which we live.
They are the nature conservation rules under which we all live. And those rules are binding to us as they are to anyone else.
And it is important that we know those rules and what the limits are.  You will always have people who say “ Een plaas, een baas”.  My property is my property.  I don’t the thought of people just wandering over it.  I have taken my fences down. And if I hear a vehicle or I see people walking along the river, I can choose to say “ I don’t want you on my riverfront”  or I can sit back and say “its MINE, and you are just visiting”.
You choose how you react to those things.
You retain the right to keep your privacy, or to open it up, or to just let “the bokkies” walk across your land and do what they want.
One of the things we reluctantly agreed to was the Big Five.  It sounds nice:  “I live in Big Five Game Reserve”. But what has it done? I have had to put up a fence around my house.  It has restricted the ability I have to walk.  I can’t visit the riverbank anymore.  I can’t just go there and have a braai. I can drive on the back of a bakkie where I have traversing rights.  But I bought there to WALK around, sit where I want, watch the birds.
If I can give a bit of advice: enjoy what you have and why you bought here.  You could have bought in a lot of places, but you chose to buy HERE because the land appeals to you, and what it is offering you and your family appeals to you.   Keep that, and protect that.  Don’t go and blow it all on a highfaluting idea.  Take the species which historically occur here, and run with that, because it can be done.


What has happened to land value since proclamation? (the actual sales)

Land values peaked three years ago along with everything else in South Africa. We not only added a zero to our property value, but we also added nearly R500 000 to the top “just for fun”.  And we sold our property.
The property values then dropped.  And if we had not sold at that peak, we would have not even got what we paid for it.  And they are climbing again. That SAME property has recently sold again. 
We bought it for R240 000; we sold it for R1 400 000; and it has just gone now for R970 000.  So that is MY experience of the property values in the area. 
I can’t tell you that is what everyone does; I can’t tell you that is what everyone makes; but the property values have substantially increased.  Not only because of the Reserve but also because of the economic increase in land value.  But being in the Dinokeng Game Reserve has definitely added a status to the properties.
What will change the property value substantially is visitors coming to the reserve and wanting to be in the Reserve. We don’t have that.  Currently we are looking at about 20 000 people a year.  [equates to just over 400 over a weekend].  This is a very low tourism income.  It is an expensive outing at the moment [no self-drive routes yet]


Game Reserve vs Nature Reserve

One of the things that you need to pursue nature reserve for is that it turns you into a legal entity, and protects the land in perpetuity.
So apart from EFF taking over the world at the next election – none of us can answer for that – in the world we live in now, Nature Reserve status gets registered on your title deed, which means that you are literally protecting your land for the people coming after you.  And even it has gone through ten hands, they can’t change the landuse. So you are creating something that is going to be of value to the whole of Gauteng. 
For me to know that the effort that went into creating Dinokeng Game Reserve is something that someone can’t take away at the stroke of a pen or a change of legislation, makes me feel good.
I like the thought that in years to come we are going to have a strip of low cost developed housing on one side, and on the other side the views of mountains. And I am giving the people on this side that game is not just bush food. That there is a reason for it. It will make jobs.  It will create schools.  It will create government interest. 
Government interest in our area alone has resulted in three new schools.  That would not have happened without DNR.  Roads, schooling, clinics, upgrades to the area,  - all of those have happened because of DNR.  And they would have happened if we had been our own Nature Reserve, or with government involvement.  The fact that there is so much focus on the area means there are a lot of institutions that are coming to help us.  And that will be available to you. 


Government vs Private

It IS private. The benefit that we have, is because government had to do something with all these unemployed people, is that you – taxpayers – have put my fences up. The difference is that we had government there to fight it through legislation and even with government it has been a difficult process.  1995 to today is a long, long time.  It is a long road.  It is not an impossible road, but it is a long road. Government has done it once, so with you coming in now riding on our coat-tails, at least there is a path that wasn’t there before.  So we can take the lessons we have learnt in Dinokeng and apply them to you.
But, my land is my private land.   It does not belong to government, And government can’t tell me what to do with; I don’t need to build a tourism thing; I don’t have to open it to game drives; I don’t have to allow anyone else onto my land if I don’t want to.  I choose who comes in, and they pay their fees when they leave.  So if you want to come and visit me, there is an entrance fee.


Who paid for the fence?


You did.  Thank you.  Your money could have been invested in something like toll road, but instead they invested it in game fencing. All the infrastructure came from government. There is no way that we as landowners could have got where we got to.  But we now want to expand and there is no more government.  There is no more government to sort out the game.  There is no more government to put up gateways, to put up fences,  So our next expansion phase is being driven by the landowners.
And because we now know where the pitfalls are, we now know to go to Water Affairs, we now know to do EIA’s [Environmental Impact Assessments] before things cross certain areas; we know how to cross provincial roads.  And those lessons are also open to you.  But the landowners are going to have to pay for the fences; and the landowners are going to have to come to an agreement on shareholding of the game. It will take landowner buy-n now to extend.  So in our next expansion, we are in the same boat you are in.


I will have to pay out of my own pocket; I don’t have the money

Clive and I own these 2 little postage stamps.  We bought pumps, pay to get electricity from farm to the other, pay for trailers and tractors, we bought in game for the conservancy….and we are just normal working South Africans with two children and university fees. And in fact [my husband] had his wife and two children at university at one stage.
None of us had the money, but we had standards,  and we had things we wanted.  We wanted to have the grass cut so we found the money….
How much easier it is now.  We watch the Dinokeng fence patrols spraying the fences.  I don’t have to do it anymore.  How much easier it is to phone someone and say there is a fire – and there is a fire engine, and a whole bunch of neighbours and they all pitch up with their slappers, and they fight the fire.   It is now so much easier. 
There will be people who never pitch to the fire, and then they sit back and say “,,but YOU crossed my land”..  The fact that you put the fire out and saved his house, and emptied his swimming pool, and all the rest of it, is beside the point.  You will always have people who don’t agree with you. People don’t have to agree with you.    But it is [cheaper doing it together] than doing it on your own. 


I do not want to be told what to do on my property

Neither do I.  And that is probably one of the reasons Dinokeng succeeded.  We had a huge threat of mining.  We had a huge threat of land invasion.  We had a huge hungry populace on our border.  I don’t have those problem anymore.  They have been taken away.  And my price to have my property safe and protected has been that I have a constitution which gives me rules and guidelines.  I have house rules which tell me I am no longer allowed to burn rubbish on my property.  And I am no allowed to plant Jacardandas.  And I am not allowed to have pigs in my garden.   *Those are really hard to live by*. But I also have rules which say MY NEIGHBOUR is not allowed to keep pigs….so I am sitting pretty, and the hard work was worth it.  And it was very hard work.  And I can only encourage all of you to get on the bandwagon,  join the association, agree on a constitution, and allow the Gauteng government when they go to National Government and say “ look how we increased our green space”   - let them; give it to them.  Do the hard work and present them with a cohesive force, a cohesive group of landowners who want to protect their land…and let Gauteng government take the glory.  It will be in your benefit.

 

Land Owners Association – is it needed?

Very much so.  The very first thing we had to do in Dinokeng – before we even got to creating a Reserve -  we had to give the Government a body that they could engage with, that they could talk to.  [A body] that they knew had the same goals in mind, that they knew they weren’t wasting their time with. So having that landowners’ association and having that constitution which defines what you stand for is actually one of the first things you need.

You will be able to identify the landowners who have problems and try and solve them. And you will also be able to identify the land use in that area and address any problems that you have with legislation.   Vital.

Participation

What about non-participating landowners?  Cattle owners?

We have non-participating landowners. “Island properties” we call them.  Most of those island properties went from driving through the boom gates, pulling down the Dinokeng fences ,….. anything that a landowner can do that is offensive, they did.  And they did it well.  And I would say that 95% of them now think that their island properties inside Dinokeng Game Reserve are the best thing that ever happened to them.

We have incompatible land use like cattle that were there in the beginning.  And the government said right at the beginning “we will not take away anything that is there now; we will prevent you from changing it afterwards”.

The benefit that you will have is that you won’t have to put up these huge “island fences” around those properties because you won’t have the lions coming in.  

That OWNER is legally obliged to make sure his animals can’t come OUT of his property.  The onus is on THAT land owner but you will have a life obligation to ensure that his land use as it is NOW is protected.

Rates relief

Rates relief has gone from a negative objection to paying rates to Rayton because we were getting nothing from them to a reluctant agreement to pay rates to Tshwane. [Rayton was absorbed by City of Tshwane].  But what Tshwane has done on your valuation it will indicate what your property value is, and your improvement value is.  What we has is a 75% rebate on the full rates bill.  We only pay for 25%.  My rates are R285 per month.

Reserve and Tax Relief

Are you a proclaimed reserve? Do you have tax relief?We have still got our protected area status on appeal.  We have two stumbling blocks. We are a cross-provincial reserve which has caused problems because we need to be proclaimed at National level.  And we can only be proclaimed at national level when we have Gauteng and Limpopo buy-in.   Limpopo have got Pilansberg and they see Dinokeng as a threat, because they think that everyone getting off a plane at OR Tambo is no longer going to go to Pilansberg.  We have had a lot in in-fighting.The other thing we did wrong, and we did it wrong without realising. You HAVE to abide by EVERY single nature conservation rule and all regulations. [For example] you have to employ legal people, pay UIF … the rules of the land [South Africa] apply to you.  One of the first clauses in the Dinokeng Constitution states “I agree as a responsible land owner to abide by the laws of South Africa”.So we have to all that [compliance] in place before they will even look at our Nature Reserve.  All the landowners have to agree to abide by the law.  All our fences have to go through an EIA process [Environmental Impact Assessment], so it is still an ongoing process.We cannot get tax relief until the reserve is proclaimed.  Tax relief is written into the law.  It is part of national law.  Once we have Nature Reserve status, it will apply.  There is no hesitation about that. We have been advised from on high.

Number of participants

Out of the 380 landowners how many are participating?We have 380 landowners with various property sizes.  Out of those, our Island Properties are about 30.  We have about 20 landowners who are non-participating [owners may have multiple land parcels].But a lot of those 30 properties have included a portion of their land in the reserve even though they are not participating landowners. For example we have a milling company operating a mielie mill, and we have a brick-works.  Both of those have fenced off their factories, but the balance of the land is in the reserve.So we have a cordial relationship with our Island neighbours.We do have some Island Landowners who don’t have fences around them although contractually they are obligated to have fences around them.  They are no-participating landowners; they have not signed in; but they don’t have fences around them.  We are just ignoring them.
 
You have schools inside the reserve?We have two schools inside the boundaries of the reserve and a shop ……[people] can no longer walk to school.
 


Working with a plan


Would government be more approachable if one had a plan?I don’t think government would be more or less approachable with a plan. I think they will  be more approachable with a landowners’ association where landowners have signed and committed themselves on paper to the project so that it is not just an arbitrary group of people who sat around a braai one day and decided it was a good idea.
 

Legislation


You say you pioneered the legislation.  Is it actually in place now? Or is it a process one goes through applying for legislation on an ad hoc basis as you go?Dinokeng has done that.  Dinokeng has had to create that legislation as we go along and without the government buy-in it would have been impossible. But the legislation that has been promulgated to make Dinokeng possible it available to anyone.  It is legislation that has now been put in place. So it is effectively possible?Yes.


Conservancy vs Nature Reserve


You can register as a CONSERVANCY right now.  There is nothing stopping you.   You register with GDARD and it all looks very pretty, but it is not a legal entity.  It is just a group of people having picnics – unfortunately.  After all the hard work we put into creating Conservancies, all those years we thought we were doing right.  It is NOT legally enforceable.It is a LEGAL BODY that we require - all of us require – to make our neighbours pull out the pompom.


Crime

Historically in the Dinokeng area we had a lot of subsistence poachers.  We had a lot of people who came every year to take thatching grass.  We had a lot of people that collected wood.  When the fences first went up, they didn’t understand why after 4 generations, they were now not allowed to come through. Fixing the fences, negotiating with those bodies, finding new places for the churches to go and do their baptisms, was a long road.The petty theft associated with that kind of historical use has disappeared entirely. Some of the theft that happens in the reserve now, I don’t know whether it is the landowners or if it is someone from outside.  I honestly can’t rule out the landowners. We have like everywhere, people with different standards. We have had a transformer stolen after the reserve was established, a solar panel before the reserve was established. [some revealing information shared by Jenny is omitted here in the interest of her personal safety]


Development footprint

It means that if your land is 20 hectares big you can [at 1% development footprint transform 200m2].What the development footprint did do, was on large portions of land where people were developing lodges it limited the number of rooms that they could put up, and big lapas and things.When it was first muted it was mainly targeted at the big landowners. It is quite clearly laid out.  It is only under hard surface. So your garden for example is not counted but your house is.  If you put in a tar road, it is counted.  If you put in a parking area with block, it is counted.You will realise that it is a big allowance.  It is not a huge restriction.
 

Boundary Fence

 
How long is the fence?I don’t know now, but I can tell you that a couple of years ago we worked out our 18 500 hectares could encompass nearly 100 000 hectares if the fence was straight. [The fence] is an enormous length. And government paid for the whole thing?YesHow long did that process take?Within two lots, eight month, and a year and half.  [We realised how much more complex it is with the second tender]


Operating costs


We are now paying a levy.  We have had two levy systems since we started. I am paying now R100 per annum for fire protection.  I am paying R300 pm on levy.  I am no longer doing fence maintenance.  There are savings – positive and negatives.  It is all related to your property size, and how much tourism you have.  My R25 is not coming in per tourist.  So I pay the full levy.


Reserve or Private Game Farm


Is it better to go the private route, or government?Our biggest problem is to have the teeth to make the fairy story real and viable.  And the only way to get legislation to USE, is to go the government route. The protected area legislation allows you as a body to determine what the rules and regulations are within [the reserve] but it also allows you to police it. That [addresses] the biggest problem that any group of landowners has got. Having the ability to apply the rules of the land for yourselves and your own benefit means that as a collaborative reserve you can work together towards a common goal – with teeth!


1% Footprint

[question not clear]What we did as a group in the beginning, is that we said we would have one domicile, one residence and that your staff would have to be fenced, made safe. Those were the two golden rules.Our house, where we live now, already had a house, servants’ quarters, an outbuilding and an old work shed.  We can do what we like to that and change it in any way we like.  But we have agreed that we are not going to put up a whole lot of other units on there for our own benefit. However, if I wanted to open a B&B I would then go to the landowners’ association and say to them I want to start a B&B; I want an extra ten beds, and those ten beds are going to be paying their R25.  They would then agree that I put up a TOURISM centre.  That is different development.  But for my domestic use I cannot have a house for myself, a house for my daughter, a house for my son …. My 1% can be made up of MY home which is huge and for my own use, or many small units for tourism but each development area come off my 1%A dam?  Would that be part of the 1%If the dam is there now, then it is mute because it is already there.  But if you want to put in a dam, you are bound by the laws of the land and you have to apply to Nature Conservation, have to go through [National Environmental Management Act (NEMA)], and all of the rest of it….you have to get that right.  That is far more difficult to get right than the 1% development footprint!There is a part of our land where we basically have to put up one wall and we will basically create a dam because it will stop the water flow…You still need to get your NEMA application, get permission, do an Environmental Impact Assessment – and that will determine if you are allowed.
 


Who determined the levies?


The landowners.  We have an AGM once a year. According to our constitution we have to have an AGM and levies can only be discussed at an AGM or at a special general meeting.  They cannot be discussed at an ordinary meeting.  Landowners have to go there; they have to vote on it; they have to agree.  Otherwise it can’t happen; in our constitution it says that.The landowners’ association has an executive committee.  The executive committee come up with a plan.  They present that plan to the landowners prior to the meeting, and by the time they come to the meeting, everyone has had their say, pushed it around, had the negatives and positive spoken about, and they can come and vote at the meeting.


What about sub-division?


We put a voluntary moratorium on the land that nothing smaller than 21 hectares could be sub-divided because we didn’t want to get into the situation where people divided into stands. We wrote into our constitution that you are not allowed to sub-divide your land without going to the landowners’’ associationWe also wrote in the ability to consolidate all of your development onto one property [in the case where you own multiple portions].So if they have 5 properties each with the right to have 1 home, all five could be built in one area and you signoff the rights to the other four.  So you could move your development into one area.  Particularly along the border we wanted to create buffer spaces and it is better for the reserve to have the development limited like that than to have it scattered all over the place. 

PART THREE TO FOLLOW….

Historic and Cultural Sites


Sites of special cultural value or historic significance are found in the Reserve. The geology includes the same belt of dolomite which occurs in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

Showcase


Information sheets about various species in the Reserve

Blacksmith Plover

Birds

Continue

Lantana

Invasive Vegetation

Continue

Pompom weed

Invasive Vegetation

Continue

Blackcollared Barbet

Birds

Continue

African Finfoot

Birds

Continue

Themeda triandra

Grass

Continue