The Lammermoor Croaker newsletter, produced by Michelle Grant of the Lammermoor Conservancy, carried a delightful story about an adventurous owl:
“One morning Robyn Fulbeck returned home from a trip around the neighbourhood to find an owl sitting on the back of her bakkie! It must have hung on for dear life. It was a young Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus), with bright yellow eyes. There had been a strong wind storm the previous night, and the only conclusion was that it must have been blown around and somehow made it onto the bakkie and settled there, safely away from the dogs.
“After a check-up at our local vet it was taken back to Robyn's paddock, where she had previously seen its parents. It was given a meal of two mice. The box was opened and after waiting a few minutes it took off in flight across the paddock, crash-landing a bit further! I guess its landing skills still need to be perfected!
“Since then, Robyn has noticed several Spotted Eagle-Owls in Lammermoor. Not only are they majestic and beautiful to look at, they are keeping our rodent and insect population under control.”
On December 6, the North Gauteng High Court handed down a decision that reaffirmed the right and responsibility of ordinary citizens to stand up for their environment. Wraypex, developer of Blair Atholl Golf Estate, had “missed the cut” in its six-year attempt to intimidate and silence those who had objected to the development.
In a scathing comment on the case Wraypex had brought against members of the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy (RNC), Judge Stanley Sapire said: “This has been known as a vexatious case.” In other words, he said “a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participants).”
On the first day of the hearing - November 1 - Judge Sapire had questioned why the case had got as far as it had. He dismissed the case against the four RNC members, saying Wraypex had failed in all four counts it had brought against them.
The courtroom erupted in laughter when he added that such a case could be known in South Africa as a “slap suit”.
Hundreds of messages poured in from across the country in support of the Conservancy's stance, underlining the severe pressure concerned citizens and conservation NGOs face in trying to protect the environment from inappropriate development.
Included in the messages was support from officials in all three levels of government - an affirmation of the precedent-setting importance of this verdict.
“The case is a message to all developers to think twice before threatening civil society organisations, communities and activists who are exercising their Constitutional rights to participate in environmental governance," said Melissa Fourie, CEO of the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and a former Green Scorpion.
Messages have also come in from Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Switzerland, the UK, the US, Sweden and Uruguay. A Swedish friend wrote to the South African ambassador, urging him to support freedom of speech in South Africa.
The media homed in on the issue and articles appeared in Beeld, Business Day, Financial Mail, all the Independent newspapers, Citizen, Mail&Guardian, Fourways Review and Madibeng Pulse. Radio 702 and RSG interviews highlighted the issue.
Several NGOs like the CER and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) also put out media releases, quoting the judgement. “Legal history has been made in SA,” commented Yolan Friedmann, CEO of the EWT.
The media coverage over the past six years clearly irritated Wraypex's Robby Wray, as his comments in the witness box showed. But, as Advocate Rudolph Jansen (for the RNC Four) pointed out to him: “If you SLAPP people with R210 million the media are bound to become interested!”
“This is a significant victory,“ said Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for Sustainable Development and well-known Acid Mine Drainage activist. Quoting UK environmental journalist, George Monbiot, she said: “It proves that victories can be achieved by 'small groups of local people... armed with a tiny fraction of their opponent’s budgets'.”
The HillDilly Country Market held in October at Waaigras in Hills and Dales was a riotous success. With tables spread under shady trees it was a meeting place for neighbours to catch up on the latest happenings and for city visitors who braved the dirt roads to sample our products and the sweeping views over the veld. Combined with artist Jeanette Horn's exhibition of oils and watercolours, the day offered something delectable for the eye, body and soul.
Local residents brought their wares - vegetables, home-baked goodies, ginger beer, eggs, chickens, milk, jams, biscuits, cream cheese, fruit juices, nuts, boerewors rolls...plus books, jewellery, embroidery, solar equipment and plants. Jeanette sold 11 paintings, six year-old Danielle from Pretoria sold a hundred rands worth of her hand-drawn cards. Another artist in the making!
The market will be held regularly. There is a request for an “auction” to be included, such as “Here I have a king-size cabbage! Ladies and gentlemen, it's organic! What offers? Great, Ms B is swopping it for five of her juicy koeksisters!”
The first market of 2011 will take place in February at Waaigras.
Lethabo Conference Centre, owned by Lise Essberger, one of the Rhenosterspruit Four sued by Wraypex, has won the Gold Award for best hotel and accommodation in the Under 15-rooms category at the Roodepoort Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2010 Business of the Year Awards. It also won a Bronze for best conference facility. For details of this beautiful place on the Crocodile River in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy, visit www.lethaboconference-weddingvenue.com.
Fun Walk and Market - Saturday 18 December
Fun Walk starts at "Netso" on the Gemstones Road; 5km and 10 km walks
In aid of CAD (Christians against Dependency)
Contact: Pietro Scholtz: 082 797 2965
Soiree - Sunday 13 February
Jakkaldans, Oori Game Reserve, Riverside Estates
This soiree is held to raise funds to help pay for the Conservancy's legal costs in the Wraypex court case
HillDilly Country Market - February (date to be announced)
Waaigras, Hills and Dales,
Spider Walk - Sunday 13 March
Led by Astri Leroy of the Spider Club of SA
Scorpion Walk - date to be confirmed
Led by scorpion expert, Jonathan Leeming
...perhaps because we feel a connectedness to, and responsibility for, a place with a unique character. This 10 000 ha Conservancy. Perhaps because we did not take kindly to threats and bullying. Perhaps because we knew of too many people being bullied this way.
When Blair Atholl Golf Estate began to take shape and the Conservancy decided to monitor it, concerned about its impact and the precedent it would set, the committee ran the gamut of public opinion: from 100% supportive to being accused of having “personal vendettas”, of being interfering nosey parkers, of being naïve and stupid to tangle with powerful developers, and of trying to “stop inevitable and necessary progress”.