Ru­pert & Co owe R64m

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­

Amu­nic­i­pal­ity in Mpumalanga is ru­ing the day it de­cided to dis­suade res­i­dents from re­claim­ing a piece of land on which a R1.4 bil­lion golf es­tate, be­long­ing to South Africa’s rich­est man – Jo­hann Ru­pert – and his part­ners, is built. Of­fi­cials at the Nko­mazi Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity thought the Leop­ard Creek cham­pi­onship golf course would pro­vide res­i­dents with jobs, and the coun­cil with a se­cure in­come stream.

In 2008, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Male­lane ap­plied to have the ex­clu­sive Leop­ard Creek Golf Es­tate ex­empted from land claims. The prop­erty was the brain­child of Ru­pert and is ad­min­is­tered by Leop­ard Creek Share Block.

Ru­pert’s net worth is $5.3 bil­lion (R73 bil­lion) and he is the 248th rich­est man in the world, ac­cord­ing to Forbes mag­a­zine.

De­spite the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s ef­forts, Leop­ard Creek Share Block is fight­ing the coun­cil over the amount it should pay for mu­nic­i­pal and prop­erty rates. Ac­cord­ing to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Leop­ard Creek is R64 mil­lion in debt.

When Nko­mazi mu­nic­i­pal­ity ap­proached the court, many tribal com­mu­ni­ties dis­pos­sessed by apartheid laws were lay­ing claim to prime tourism land in and around the world-renowned Kruger Na­tional Park and ad­ja­cent pri­vately-owned game re­serves.

Nko­mazi spokesper­son Cyril Ripinga said the mu­nic­i­pal­ity feared that al­low­ing such a fa­cil­ity to be sub­jected to a land claim – and even­tu­ally trans­ferred to claimants – could af­fect the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the town.

Of­fi­cials ex­plain how Leop­ard Creek Share Block has been us­ing its fi­nan­cial mus­cle on lawyers and court ap­pli­ca­tions to frus­trate the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and to en­sure that it only pays rates of R35 000 a year for the en­tire prop­erty, which in­cludes 271 pala­tial homes.

Leop­ard Creek en­tered into this agree­ment with the erst­while Male­lane tran­si­tional coun­cil in 1996, be­fore the Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty Rates Act was pro­mul­gated in 2004.

The dis­pute be­gan when the mu­nic­i­pal­ity reeval­u­ated the prop­erty in 2012 and found it to be worth R1.4 bil­lion.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity ar­gues that the agree­ment be­came null and void when the rates act came into ef­fect. So Leop­ard Creek Share Block should be pay­ing R9.8 mil­lion a year, or R822 950 a month.

Ripinga ac­cused Leop­ard Creek of dis­re­gard­ing the act and dic­tat­ing how much it wanted to pay.

“Our val­u­a­tion is com­ply­ing fully with the rates act. The short­fall has af­fected the mu­nic­i­pal­ity badly in re­la­tion to ser­vice de­liv­ery,” said Ripinga.

“What we find ironic is that, in about 2008, we made an ap­pli­ca­tion to the Pre­to­ria High Court for Leop­ard Creek not to be un­der land claim. This was done solely to en­sure the growth of Male­lane. Strangely, the same peo­ple have for­got­ten that,” he said, adding that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity had al­ready spent R2 mil­lion in le­gal fees try­ing to force the com­pany to pay more.

The value of the es­tate nar­rowly sur­passes the en­tire 2016/17 Nko­mazi mu­nic­i­pal bud­get, to­talling R1.1 bil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Com­pa­nies and In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Com­mis­sion, Leop­ard Creek Share Block com­prises 13 direc­tors and two com­pany sec­re­taries.

The golf es­tate is sit­u­ated on the south­ern bor­der of the Kruger Na­tional Park. It has 271 res­i­den­tial stands, as well as recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties and an 18-hole golf course with a club house. It hosts the world’s top golfers dur­ing the an­nual mul­ti­mil­lion-rand Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship.

Nko­mazi con­sists of 54 ru­ral and un­der­de­vel­oped vil­lages, sit­u­ated on tribal land. It col­lects rates and taxes from four ur­ban towns: Male­lane, Hec­tor­spruit, Mar­loth Park and Ko­matipoort.

The bulk of Nko­mazi’s bud­get – 70% – comes from the na­tional fis­cus, leav­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to gen­er­ate 30% of its own rev­enue. The R64 mil­lion bill be­ing claimed by Nko­mazi could go a long way to­wards fix­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery back­logs such as wa­ter and elec­tric­ity sup­ply, and road in­fra­struc­ture.

Jo­sua Mal­herbe, di­rec­tor of Leop­ard Creek Share Block, said the com­pany paid the an­nual R35 000 fee, de­spite the fact that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity pro­vided no ser­vices to the es­tate.

“The mu­nic­i­pal­ity does not dis­pute the ex­is­tence of the agree­ment, but it is try­ing to ex­tort more money from Leop­ard Creek,” he said.

“Leop­ard Creek has, in ad­di­tion, ex­pressed its will­ing­ness to in­crease the monthly sum it pays to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, but the mu­nic­i­pal­ity refuses to en­ter into dis­cus­sions about this and has cho­sen to go the le­gal route – in spite of the enor­mous le­gal costs that it in­curs for all the tax­pay­ers of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.”

Mal­herbe did not re­veal how much more the com­pany pro­posed to pay.

“I sug­gest you ask the mu­nic­i­pal­ity why it has cho­sen to take the ex­pen­sive le­gal route, rather than ne­go­ti­ate a fair and eq­ui­table deal as pro­posed by Leop­ard Creek,” he said.

The Val­u­a­tion Ap­peals Board of Eh­lanzeni dis­missed Leop­ard Creek’s dis­pute, which was lodged by the com­pany to ques­tion the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s val­u­a­tion method.

“The [mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s] val­uer looked at the land and the im­prove­ments on the land. The board is of the view that, in so do­ing, he [the val­uer] has fol­lowed the cor­rect ap­proach, as en­vis­aged in terms of sec­tion 46 of the rates act,” reads the board’s judg­ment.

Mal­herbe sidestepped the ques­tion of whether the com­pany planned to take the board’s de­ci­sion on re­view.

TALK TO US Is it fair for the es­tate to refuse to pay higher rates and taxes to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word RATES and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

EX­CLU­SIVE GET­AWAY Leop­ard Creek Golf Es­tate in Mpumalanga was bought by mag­nate Jo­hann Ru­pert in 1995. The golf course was de­signed by Gary Player

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