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26 May 2017
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Government has transferred the management of 140 000 ha of forestland to two operators as part of its ongoing plan to restructure state-owned forests.

Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Buyelwa Sonjica signed lease agreements with MTO Forestry as well as Amatola Forestry in this regard.

Under one agreement, Amathole Forest Holdings and its black economic empowerment (BEE) partner Wildbreak Investment Holdings will take over the running of 25 000 ha of forest in the Hogsback and Stutterheim areas of the Eastern Cape.

The other agreement allows MTO to lease approximately 115 015 ha of state forestland situated in the Western and Southern Cap. The successful bidder in this regard is BEE-company Cape Timber Resources, which comprises Cape Sawmills and Wild Peach Investment Holdings.

Sonjica told reporters in Pretoria yesterday that in terms of the restructuring agreements, 75% of the new forestry businesses would be sold while government would retain 25%.

She said 9% would be reserved for Safcol and her department's staff, 10% would be allocated for future BEE opportunities while the remaining 6% would be retained by the State for at least five years.

"These transactions are in line with government's policy of exiting from direct forest management activities while promoting black economic empowerment in the forestry industry.

"At the same time, land, which is less suitable for forestry, will be converted for other uses or reserved for conservation," she added.

Thus in the Southern and Western Cape, 44 000 ha of marginal State forest land will be clear felled and handed over for other uses including conservation (29 000 ha), agriculture (9 000 ha), community forestry (6 000 ha) and settlement development (200 ha).

Sonjica has also assigned management responsibility for the Tokai Cecilia State forests in Cape Town to SanParks following Cabinet's decision in 1996 to develop the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment.

"Tokai and Cecilia forests (1 001 ha in extent) are located in a protected environment area and contain important lowland and mountain fynbos as well as pockets of Afro-montane forest, which need to be maintained. Eventually the two forests will be incorporated into the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP)," she explained.

In the interim, Tokai and Cecilia will be managed by MTO in terms of a 20-year lease during which MTO will gradually clear fell the area where after it will be released for conservation, said the Minister.

"MTO will also make a financial contribution to the initial rehabilitation of clear-felled areas," she said.

Safcol will also transfer all of its eco-tourism business activities and personnel at Tokai and Cecilia to SanParks.

These agreements follow two others concluded in 2001 with Singisi Forests in the Eastern Cape and the Siyaqhubeka consortium in KwaZulu-Natal.

The department said the major outstanding transaction covering Komatiland in Mpumalanga was currently awaiting the outcome of a Competition Tribunal hearing. - BuaNews.

Edited by: jenny furness
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