UIAA condemns building of hotel in South Africa protected area

Access, Membership, Mountain Protection

The UIAA Access and Mountain Protection Commissions have condemned the development of a luxury hotel in South Africa’s Magaliesberg Protected Environment (MPE).

The construction of the Kgaswane Country Lodge is being fought by the Magaliesberg Protection Association (MPA), which is supported by other organisations including the Mountain Club of South Africa. A review hearing is set to take place on May 5 and 6.

In a letter sent to Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Water Resources and Environmental Affairs, the UIAA underlined that the building of the lodge was contrary to the South African Environmental Management Framework. This makes such development incompatible with the zoning of the developed land as ‘highly sensitive’.

“We condemn this apparently irrational decision not to follow the government’s own Environmental Management Framework guidelines. The decision would appear to be contrary to international legal norms as well as being contrary to the principles of sustainable development,” the UIAA said in its letter, which was signed by the presidents of both the Access and Mountain Protection Commissions, Clare Bond and Linda McMillan.

Despite its contravention of environmental laws, the owner of the new lodge in 2009 was successful in convincing the local authorities to overturn its illegal status and continue with the development. A first appeal by MPA was rejected. The authorities took this decision on the grounds that a lot of money had already been invested in the project, and when completed, it would provide jobs for local inhabitants.

However, MPA has decided to continue its fight on the grounds that the lodge construction could set a precedent for more building in the protected area and endanger a bid to have the region recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere.

In its letter, the UIAA pointed out that the decision to allow the development to go ahead “would appear to be contrary to international legal norms as well as the principles of sustainable development”.

The UIAA Access Commission has published a sustainable tourism charter known as ARGEOS charter. Also available is a list of best practices in mountain regions.