A MPUMALANGA municipality is challenging the high court decision ordering it to re-evaluate South Africa's richest man Johann Rupert's multi-million rand exclusive Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane.
The Nkomazi Local Municipality initially valued the sprawling property on the banks of the Crocodile River and neighbouring the Kruger National Park at R1.3 billion but its owners disagreed, saying it was worth R330 million.
Leopard Creek Share Block, which owns the luxury estate, objected to the municipality’s decision but instead the market value of the property increased to more than R1.56bn after Leopard Creek had claimed its market value as of July 2017 was R450m.
In July 2013, Leopard Creek in Malelane, Mpumalanga was valued at R750m.
The golf course resort successfully challenged the re-evaluation at the Mpumalanga High Court in Mbombela, where Judge Brian Mashile reviewed and set aside the municipality’s decision and referred the matter back to a differently constituted valuation appeal board.
In addition, in his April 14 ruling, Judge Mashile ordered the valuation appeal board to consider and weigh the evidence of witnesses of both parties (the municipality and Leopard Creek).
However, Nkomazi Local Municipality spokesperson Cyril Ripinga told the Sunday Independent that the judgment was being challenged.
”The Nkomazi Local Municipality has received the judgment and after consultation with the municipality’s legal team a decision was taken to appeal the judgment,” Ripinga said this week.
First opened in 1996, Leopard Creek covers 360 hectares with 251 residential sites, of which 80 border the Crocodile River and 171 bush or golf sites overlook the Kruger National Park.
It is described as an exclusive club of like-minded individuals who share a passion for golf and its membership is limited and controlled as Rupert indirectly owns most of the share blocks, which enhances its exclusivity and adds value.
Rupert directly or indirectly owns 50 stands and Leopard Creek Investments, of which he is one of the directors, owns 47. He owns more than 50% of the shares in the share block company.
According to Forbes, Rupert and his family are worth US$12.3bn (over R238bn) largely derived from Swiss-based luxury goods holding company Richemont, which he chairs and owns Cartier, Dunhill and Mont Blanc, among other brands.
Leopard Creek also boasts an 18-hole golf course designed by legendary golfer Gary player, tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool and a gym, among other facilities.
Its exclusivity is maintained through strict rules relating to ownership of share blocks, which allows for a single company to own a development while allowing individuals to buy the right to use a specific space within the development.
The court heard that share blocks cannot be marketed on the open market or through independent agents.
In Leopard Creek’s case, share block owners intending to sell are forced to market through its portal and access to the sales information is restricted to existing owners.
Any potential buyer at Leopard Creek must be nominated by existing owners and a background check is conducted, interviewed and accepted by its committee before a sale can be concluded.
Leopard Creek’s exclusivity is also attached to Rupert as he also controls what can be available in the market.
Levies, water and electricity are about R15 000 a month and R41 000 a year for full annual membership of the golf course, which costs on average R30m a year to maintain.
One of Leopard Creek’s witnesses, property developer David Nagle, testified that the network of people surrounding Rupert creates significant value that would disappear if the present system was removed. The value is associated with the owner and not the land, the court heard.
The Leopard Creek Country Club also has a fully stocked bar, whose annual turnover on catering and liquor sales is R45m annually.
Between November 2017 and April 2018, Rupert spent R48m replanting the grass on the course’s fairways.
Leopard Creek Share Block director Dillie Malherbe did not respond to requests for comment.