Property developers are contesting the appeal launched by Friends of Sibudu and Sibudu Trust to prevent the construction of a low-cost housing development 300m from the potential heritage site.

Excavations at Sibudu Cave, situated in a cliff face alongside the uThongathi River, have unearthed artefacts dating back 77 000 years. This has prompted the shortlisting of the cave for UN World Heritage status.

However, plans for the nearby 621ha Wewe/Driefontein Development, which will comprise mixed-use property, have concerned local non-profit organisation, Friends of Sibudu, who feel the development will infringe on the integrity of the site.

KDC Projects and Developments were granted approval to go ahead with the development, which included endorsement from Amafa, KwaZulu-Natal’s heritage agency.

Themba Tshutsha, a director at KDC Projects and Developments, met the Qwabe Traditional Council, who own the tribal land upon which the cave is situated.

“It was a good meeting,” said Tshutsha. “We all support the cave and I personally feel that a solution can be found without this having to go to court.”

Tshutsha said Amafa had requested a 150m buffer bet-ween the development and cave site, but the developers had willingly given another 150m.

“It’s a pity the concerned group did not come to us in 2010 when the decision was made, but there will be a meeting soon with Friends of Sibudu, the Qwabe community and the municipality so that a solution can be found.”

Dumisani Khuzwayo, induna of Qwabe, said the community was concerned that they hadn’t been consulted by the archaeologists involved in the site excavation.

“There has been no communication with us. We have no problem with Sibudu Cave or the development, but we all need to meet so that we are part of the discussions.”

Khuzwayo said a meeting was set to be held next month involving all the stakeholders.

“We have this cave here, but the students in the schools right next to the cave do not know about it. The Friends of Sibudu must involve the community in its plans.”

Sibusiso Welcome Mdabe, mayor of Ilembe District, met Friends of Sibudu on site last month, where he committed to retaining the archaeological wonder and supporting the development of the cave into an international tourism attraction.

“I will be meeting with the developers in the next few weeks to discuss the buffer zone,” said Mdabe.

Gordon Tomlinson, from Friends of Sibudu, confirmed that the appeals lodged by themselves, as well as the Sibudu Trust, had been responded to. However, he didn’t want to comment further while legal processes were under way.