Support GEKCO standing up for the environment
and the right to public participation

The Greater Kyalami Conservancy (GEKCO) is being sued for R197 million for exercising our constitutional right to speak up and object to environmentally and economically unsustainable development.

The Conservancy works to protect wetlands and biodiversity threatened with destruction. Between 2014 and 2018, the Conservancy lodged objections to two planned developments north of Johannesburg – Riversands Commercial Park and Helderfontein Estate (Phase 2), both owned by Century Property Developments.

In February 2021, GEKCO and its Chairperson Kristin Kallesen received a summons for alleged damages the developer claims to have incurred as a result of objections during public participation. GEKCO was one of more than 50 objectors who spoke out against these developments. This SLAPP suit is an attempt to stifle public participation and shut down valid environmental and community concerns.  

In South Africa, we have the right to speak out when dramatic changes are planned that will negatively affect us and our rights to freedom, security, and an environment that is not harmful to our health or wellbeing, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

As citizens we cannot assume that everyone in power has the best interests or the greater good at heart. Civil society … ordinary people … can make sure wise decisions are taken that protect us, our  environment, economy and society.  

When we stand up, and join together, we can and do make all the difference.


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Why was GEKCO objecting?

These developments promote urban sprawl and would encroach into wetland areas without adequate buffers as confirmed by specialists. The applications propose four-storey apartments with thousands of units and large warehouses or retail outlets where paving covers the entire property. These projects are motivated on a road network including the K56 and PWV5 highways that don’t currently exist and would require massive public investment and construction through many more wetlands.

Wetlands are vital for the health of our planet and the safety of communities living up and downstream. Healthy and functional wetlands help to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, including flooding and drought. If we have any hope of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities and ensuring human and ecosystem wellbeing, we have to ensure the wise, sustainable use and management of wetlands. 

These sensitive ecosystems are also refuges for wildlife. The wetlands north of Johannesburg are home to threatened species such as the African Grass-Owl and Giant Bullfrog.

The global COVID-19 pandemic showed the world that we need to live cleaner lives and respect wildlife. GEKCO believes development can be done wisely and responsibly if wetlands and critical biodiversity areas are protected as wildlife corridors.

Are there better alternatives?

Absolutely. The City of Joburg generally does not promote high densities on the edge of a City due to the loss of green spaces and lack of infrastructure. It creates an unwarranted burden on the City to build or maintain new infrastructure where there is already a maintenance backlog.  

In terms of the City’s own vision, Joburg promotes development closer to the core of the City as there are vacant and derelict industrial and residential areas closer to the City in urgent need of upgrading. These areas are also closer to employment hubs and public transport infrastructure. 

What is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit?

The Centre for Environmental Rights, lawyers who work with communities and civil society organisations in South Africa to realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice, has called this  “Another SLAPP suit – this is an outrageous attempt to discourage citizens and activists from excercising their rights of participation.”

From Wikipedia: “A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

In the typical SLAPP, the plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs, or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism.” 

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