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Sustainable Development ~ Land Reform

Author: Dr Willem Steenkamp ~ Community Leader, former South African ambassador and presently CEO of FRANDEVCO (Pty) Ltd

( Article Type: Sustainable Development )

The Franschhoek empowerment and development initiative – A leading example

From model apartheid village to a model for sustainable development – that is the story of Franschhoek, the historic village nestled in the mountain valley where the French Huguenots were settled in the 17th century.

  Despite its scenic beauty, its rich cultural heritage and its renowned wine estates and restaurants, Franschhoek under apartheid was a town in conflict. The community was split into separate ‘white’ and ‘coloured’ municipalities, held apart by a buffer zone. No black Africans were allowed to live here. A substantial squatter problem arose, with a serious backlog in lowand medium-cost housing. The Group Areas Act land claims awaited resolution, and a pressing need emerged to afford the disadvantaged access to the mainstream of the economy, consisting of agriculture and tourism.

In line with the unfortunate reality encountered in many parts of Africa and the Third World, these socio-economic and political issues impacted negatively on the environment. Squatting, in particular, was at the root of contaminating water sources through inadequate waste disposal facilities, leading also to the destruction of trees through unavailability of electricity for cooking and heating purposes. Disease was rife, and crime as well as anti-social behaviour occurred all too regularly. Regular shack fires posed a serious threat to life and limb, and caused numerous veld fires. In the spheres of heritage conservation and aesthetics, the informal settlement along the main road right at the entrance to the village, certainly did not promote the image Franschhoek wished to portray to tourists

 In terms of the triple-bottom-line underpinning sustainable development, the lack of attention to human wellbeing caused not only hardship and resentment, but negatively impacted environmental integrity and economic efficiency. In the same way, land reform and poverty alleviation must be seen as being among southern Africa’s top environmental issues, because without attention to human wellbeing, desperate humans will impact their environment simply in order to survive.

In 1998, the Franschhoek community chose co-operation over confrontation and signed a ground-breaking Social Accord. At the heart of this initiative was the understanding that a private/ public/community partnership had to be established, and that the communally owned land of the village had to be optimised and utilised in a manner that would allow cross-subsidisation of the upliftment and conservation actions required, but that would also look beyond immediate capital needs to the continued sustainability of the initiative.

 The most valuable such asset was the municipal commonage land of some 102 hectares, which had previously been mis-used and abused as sewerage farm, rubbish dump, sand-mining area and rifle range, and which had become overgrown with invasive alien vegetation. The choice of private sector development partner fell on a grouping of local and international investors who had adopted the triple-bottom-line approach to sustainable development, who committed themselves to ISO14001 environmental management standards, and who proposed a holistic solution to Franschhoek’s challenges, synergising with community and conservation bodies and with UNESCO’s MaB programme.

A development plan was drawn up and workshopped with the community, who gave it unanimous support. The project consists of three major components: a wine and olive estate of some 80 hectares, with 19 residential werfs of one acre (4000 square metres) each, enjoying the Cape Winelands farm ambience; a culture and ecotourism commercial node and art village is being established on some 15 hectares; an urban residential development of 14 plots sits on the banks of the La Cotte stream.

The developers were able to take transfer of the commonage land in December 2001. Since then, the land was first cleared of alien vegetation in cooperation with the Work for Water programme of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and was then systematically rehabilitated. With all planning authorisations in place, the site was handed over to the contractor in mid-September 2003 for the installation of civil infrastructure such as sewage, roads, electricity and storm-water drainage. Throughout the entire development authorisation process, not a single objection or appeal was lodged by the public. On the contrary, a large number of expressions of support were received. With grant funding from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, an exhaustive set of research studies was commissioned on all environmental and societal concerns, leading to the project being described by the Western Cape Directorate Environmental Affairs as a model for such ventures.

In conservation terms, the project is gathering increasingly widespread recognition. Intended as the ‘entrance portal’ to the proposed Boland Biosphere Reserve, a project delegation was received by UNESCO in Paris. The project also financially benefits the Franschhoek Empowerment and Conservation Trust (FREMCO) and through them, the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve Board. A joint management agreement between the Fransche Hoek Estate and the Reserve will ensure that they seamlessly integrate. The project also ties conservation to tourism. A successful fynbos propagation nursery has been set up, and the historic Cats se Pad hiking trail has been rehabilitated and reopened to the public. Most significantly, the former illegal municipal dump site, established in earlier times in the middle of the stream bed of the Patrysfontein, has been entirely dug out (38 000 cubic metres) and the stream rehabilitated.

As a result of the Franschhoek experience, a number of ‘keys to success’ have been identified, which need to be employed if land reform initiatives are to prove sustainable. These are:


  • First and foremost, create a community consensus regarding the basic vision, goals and methodology, then document this consensus and have it signed by all stakeholder groups.
  • Once such a social accord is signed, don’t stop consulting with the community, who need to be constantly kept informed and kept on board.
  • Government, at whatever level, can only create enabling environments, not initiate or execute such projects for and on behalf of communities, who have to engage with their own business sector as experienced wealth creators to drive such initiatives.
  • Although empowerment and conservation are essentially moral causes, they cannot be properly served without adequate funds. It is therefore imperative that business must be incentivised to serve these very essential causes by linking them to high-value business opportunities, thereby creating the necessary opportunity/obligation for cross-subsidisation.
  • By bringing in responsible business that actively subscribe to the triple bottom line, huge capacity, capital, experience, expertise and energy can be tapped into, whilst also gaining another very important benefit, which is to have projects properly packaged in ‘bankable’ documents. Most project proposals in South Africa seem to fail not because of lack of potential funding, but because of an inability to unlock the funds available because of a lack of demonstrable ‘bankability’ in respect of the project’s presentation. The loan-funding support extended to Franschhoek by the likes of the DBSA has also proved to be critical.
  • In preparing such an initiative, every minute spent at the outset on careful consultation, research and conceptualisation saves hours in the later stages when authorisations and development rights have to be negotiated. Go slowly and carefully in the beginning, in order to be able to proceed rapidly later.
  • Each project will be unique, its content determined by local circumstance. It must essentially be owned and driven by locals, with a motivated ‘champion’, not by people than can be perceived as outsiders.


What the experience at the Fransche Hoek Estate has demonstrated is that adherence to the triple-bottom-line approach, with proper investment in conservation and acceptance of social responsibility, makes good business sense. Instead of these commitments leading to costs impossible to recoup, the project has been able to record the highest property sales values ever achieved in the Winelands, with a residential plot of 1 200 square metres selling for R3.1 million. Instead of saddling themselves with a headache and a costly additional development expense, developers who meet the challenges of land reform and conservation can thus reap a just reward.

Unless poverty can be alleviated and land reform be creatively implemented to create wealth capable of cross-subsidising essential upliftment initiatives, the natural environment will be perceived by desperate humans as being the only resource available to them with which to sustain their meagre existence. Franschhoek’s experience has shown that even a very small village can muster the means with which to achieve significant positive results, through actively engaging with the private sector, adopting a businesslike, wealth-creating approach, fostering consensus and actively searching for win-win solutions. Thus the private sector has learnt that conservation and empowerment are good for business, just as the disadvantaged community has learnt that business is good for conservation and empowerment, and environmentalists have learnt that business and empowerment are good for conservation. More information on this model initiative is available on its website: