Oscar’s uncle booted off land
Villagers revoke Theo Pistorius’ lease over prime hunting property, claiming he did not keep his promises to improve their poverty-stricken lives
A20-year lease agreement between businessman Theo Pistorius (pictured below) and a rural community in Limpopo has ended in a bitter row over missing money and allegations of exploitation. Pistorius, an uncle of the disgraced Paralympian Oscar, has been called the “Jan van Riebeeck” of Limpopo by the Mthimkhulu community, who say they officially booted him off their prime trophy-hunting land this month. Villagers want hunting banned there, as they say the rich profits it makes do not trickle down to them.
But Pistorius maintains that the termination of the 20-year game-hunting lease contract is invalid, and he will lodge an application in the North Gauteng High Court to contest it.
This is the very court where Pistorius and his wife, Amanda, supported Oscar during his murder trial last year for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
The 70-year-old Pretoria tycoon is one of four brothers who head the multimillion-rand Pistorius family empire, which has interests in mining, tourism and property development.
A deed search shows he is the director of hospitality ventures in Botswana and Mozambique, a local air-charter company and three South African big-game hunting companies. This includes the Mthimkhulu Game Reserve, where trophy-hunting excursions are hosted at a bush camp decorated with elephant skulls.
The contested 6 500 hectare area sprawls between the Letaba and Klein Letaba rivers and is home to the villages of Mbaula and Phalaubeni.
It is a veritable gold mine, with international tourists paying up to R600 000 to shoot an elephant.
This lucrative patch of lowveld land has sparked a feeding frenzy, with developers and hunters fighting for a share of the pie, while the villagers – the government-appointed custodians of the rich land – remain extremely poor.
This week, City Press met Letta Mabunda (51) under a tree outside his tiny house in Phalaubeni. Mabunda is a member of the local royal family and worked as a gatekeeper at Pistorius’ Mthimkhulu Game Reserve for nine years. He was earning R750 a month when he quit in April.
Mabunda carried his own drinking water 10km to a rondavel at the reserve’s gate, where he worked 12-day shifts.
“Pistorius, he gives me a pain in my heart,” said Mabunda as chickens foraged at his feet. “He promised us things. Development and training, to hire more people. Schools and bridges, water. But it didn’t happen.”
The contract, signed in 1995 between the community, represented by Chief Goliath Mabunda, and Pretoria businessman Gerhardus Bolt, states that the land will be used to “conduct hunting safaris, wildlife tours and ecotourism, to trade in game products and curios…” Soon after, Bolt was murdered and Pistorius took over the contract with Bolt’s son, Deon. As of this year, rental for the rich tract of land is a mere R11 600 a month.
The fight between Pistorius and the Mthimkhulu community came to a head in April when they refused his employees access to the reserve. Central to the spat is R4 million in hunting commissions owed to the community.
Lourens Jooste, who managed the Mthimkhulu Game Reserve for Pistorius, insists the R4 million – which constitutes the community’s share of the hunting spoils – was paid to the community’s lawyer. But they say they did not receive it. While the department of rural development and land affairs launched an investigation into the missing cash, Jooste tried to patch up relations with the community’s leaders, begging to be allowed back on the reserve.
City Press is in possession of a heated 30-minute telephoneconversation recording between Jooste and community leaders Conny Mbodi, John Manyanyi and Filemon Tsakata, which took place in April.
In the call, the community leaders accuse Pistorius of not keeping his promises of improving their lives. They insist that they warned Pistorius and he did not listen.
“What Pistorius is doing takes us back to the time of Jan van Riebeeck, when he came here and gave our forefathers a mirror, taking away our cattle.
“This reserve was supposed to bring jobs to our youth. They have nothing, many are alcoholics, while all of you are billionaires,” a leader says to Jooste during the call.
Jooste blames miscommunication, not Pistorius, for the problems and promises to make changes.
Pistorius also hired local community and businessdevelopment consultant Nicholas Malatji in January to look into the soured relationship.
This week, Malatji admitted to City Press that, apart from a R500 000 crèche, Pistorius had not put enough money back into the community.
“I had to establish the facts about why the relationship soured. I realised a lot of things were not done properly. Some of the money should have been channelled back to the community. I mean, these people are the poorest of the poor,” said Malatji.
The community has now given the Mthimkhulu contract to unEarth Letaba, an upliftment project that has rehired Mabunda and the other gatekeepers for R2 400 a month.
unEarth Letaba will ban hunting on the land and aims to develop ecotourism enterprises to create jobs.
PRIME SPOT The disputed land at the confluence of the Greater Letaba and Klein Letaba rivers, where the boundaries of the Kruger National Park, Letaba Game Reserve and Mthimkhulu Game Reserve meet
TRICKLE Tourists pay a fortune to hunt at a nearby game reserve, but the land's government-appointed custodians have remained poor