Mbabane: Eswatini’s largest logging company Montigny Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andrew Le Roux minced no words about allowing residents to remain at a small community within the confines of the company. The CEO was speaking at a meeting with chiefs of communities around the Usutu area at Mhlambanyatsi in December last year. The meeting was meant to foster communities around the Usutu area to grow wattle trees which the company would buy.
Emaplazini, as the community is called has existed for over a hundred (100) years. This is long before the first company; Usutu Pulp Company came through in the 50s. Through property rights an agreement was reached with Usutu Pulp Company to get the dwellers to remain within the confines of the company.
A resident of the area who preferred anonymity said it was true that there were unknown people who found residence in the area. He said people do as they please because there is no authority structure in place.
Le Roux expressed concern over an influx of people into the place some of who have tampered with the smooth operations of the company. Le Roux said the Emaplazini community has not been engaged in talks with Montigny all to come to an agreement of some sort and consequently they are without an authority structure, which has led to strangers coming through and erecting illegal structures which they turned into their homes. Some have come to the community through natives who obviously sought their hands to be greased. The concern, said Le Roux, is that these people account to no one and can do as they wish, to the extent of meddling with Montigny’s projects. Most of the people came in as farm dwellers and have lived off through developing the land.
Human Rights Commissioner Sabelo Masuku told this publication that everybody has a certain status and user rights like the Khonta system, without which settlers are called squatters, who are often subjects of forced evictions. An agreement between farm dwellers and farm owners should be reached through the Farm Dwellers Control Act of 1982, which was not the case with Montigny and the Emaplazini farm dwellers.
Following evictions of farm dwellers in the 1950s and 60s, in 1967 the government introduced the Farm Dwellers Act to regulate relations between farm owners and occupants. Masuku said in the case of an amicable agreement to remove farm dwellers there should be an alternative to settle them somewhere, or compensate them.
He said as a company they are out to make significant progress, working towards the growth of the business and an economic turnaround in Eswatini and they need people, especially from within Emaplazini and the neighbouring communities who will capture their vision and be like minded. Le Roux mentioned that they were in talks to ensure removal of illegal immigrants and as a company facilitate proper settlement, not in bad faith but in an effort to protect the company’s resources. In the past the company has suffered loss due to forest fires which depleted the company of millions of Emalangeni. Forest fires in the company have been due to mainly reckless honey harvesting. Many of the culprits could not be tracked but with the introduction of new systems like the tracker dogs K9 program the tampering of the company’s resources has slowed down.
Montigny Investments Limited is a Swati owned and managed company that has grown significantly since it was founded by the Rijkenberg brothers in Nhlangano in 1997. It owns and manages more than 50 000 hectares of plantations in Eswatini and beneficiates most of the timber felled in the kingdom. Due to the company’s marketing strategy and the high demand for its products, Montigny also sources timber from other plantations and saw mills and is now the biggest producer of wet-off-saw timber products, which are used in planking, crating, palliating and carpentry in Southern Africa. The company is also exploring expansion opportunities.
First country in Africa
Montigny believes that Eswatini could be the first country in Africa to be totally independent of fossil fuels and generate 100 percent of its energy from renewable resources, given that it produces enough timber and sugar residues to meet its current energy needs.
Over the past 19 years the group has grown from a small sawmill supplying timber to one mine into a multi-faceted organization with an annual turnover in excess of E1 billion. Most notably, Montigny concluded the purchase of Usutu Forest Products from SAPPI South Africa in July 2014, which includes all the plantations, the pulp mill site and the villages of Mhlambanyatsi and Bhunya.
The company now owns and manages 80 000 hectors of land in Eswatini, including 50 000 hectors of timber, five sawmills, two chipping operations, a chipboard plant and the two villages. An additional 15 000 hectors of commercial wattle plantations are being established.