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Luxury lodge shut down after land claim

Nelspruit – The Cybele Forest Lodge and Health Spa outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga has been closed following the enforcement of a land claim.

The 120-hectare property on which Cybele is built was bought by the rural development and land reform department for R17m and handed over to the Manzimhlophe community on March 13, a Sapa correspondent reported.

The luxury lodge, established in 1979, closed at midday on Sunday.

Lodge director Rupert Jeffries said in a statement government’s “failure” to find a strategic partner to run the lodge together with the community would result in all 45 staff members losing their jobs.

“The government has completely failed in their objectives towards the well-being of the Manzimhlophe community, who will inherit the lodge with no furniture, equipment, staff or bookings,” Jeffries said.

“This is a very unhappy ending for a well-known South African brand that has been established around the world for 34 years.”

Department spokesperson Mtobeli Mxotwa said the ministry was helping the community enter into a partnership agreement with investors.

“There was an agreement that the community partner with the landowner and receive benefits, but this did not fly after the property was transferred to the claimants due to unacceptable demands put forward by the previous owner.”

He said a meeting had been arranged between the claimants and an investor who had shown “keen interest”.

“The department will never allow the economy of our country to collapse. As such it will persevere in its efforts to make this Mpumalanga tourism venture thrive once more and return to its international glory.”

Democratic Alliance provincial leader Anthony Benadie said in a statement beneficiaries of land claims needed to receive maximum benefits from restitution.

“Sadly, this is not the case, and once again an entire community’s hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow were dashed by a government unwilling or incapable of securing the necessary arrangements to ensure a prosperous future,” he claimed.

According to Land Claims Commission statistics, 77 334 land restitution claims had been settled in South Africa by March 2013, benefiting 368 090 households and 1 803 984 people.

In Mpumalanga some 2 848 claims, involving 490 964ha of land, had been settled.

In August, government agreed to pay R1bn for the 13 3000ha Mala Mala Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, the biggest land claim agreement in South African history.