Sol Kerzner’s Fish River Sun Resort ‘Plundered Beyond Recognition’ by Gangs

Posted on: May 3, 2023, 10:50h. 

Last updated on: May 3, 2023, 01:52h.

A former casino resort built by the late South African gambling mogul Sol Kerzner has been invaded and “looted and stripped” by local gangs, according to Moneyweb, a South African financial and business news site.

Fish River Resort, Sol Kerzner, South Africa
The Fish River Resort, formerly the Fish River Sun, seen above, has been plagued by a group that claims to be the rightful owner of the land on which the venue is built. (Image: Restaurant Guru)

Kerzner, who died in March 2020, opened the Fish River Sun resort in the country’s Eastern Cape province in 1989. Many people credit Kerzner with being the father of the modern integrated resort. The casino, which has been earmarked for redevelopment into South Africa’s premier film studios, has been “plundered beyond recognition,” according to Moneyweb.

But for the past six months, a group claiming to be the rightful owner of the site has blocked entrances, intimidated developers, and even chased away a British film crew making a reality TV show, according to local reports.

The threats culminated in the group taking over the property in August 2022. They were evicted by court order.

The Daily Dispatch, another South African news outlet, reports that the group returned last week to burglarize the venue. Every room in the resort was looted, with thieves stealing stoves, fridges, TV sets, computers, and other electrical equipment.

Troubling Visionary

Kerzner, aka “the Sun King,” was undoubtedly a gambling industry visionary. His company, Sun International, opened its flagship Sun City resort in 1981, complete with artificial volcanoes, man-made lakes, and fire-breathing animatronic statues. At the time, the better-known gaming visionary, Steve Wynn, was still selling an “old-school” casino experience at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas.

Kerzner built his properties largely in South Africa’s “homelands” during the Apartheid era. These were nominally independent states, recognized by no country other than the South African government, where the regime forcefully removed millions of black citizens to segregate them from whites.

The homelands’ sham independence allowed Kerzner to offer the kind of risqué entertainment that was illegal elsewhere in the country and got him some serious tax breaks. This drew criticism from anti-apartheid campaigners, who boycotted his properties.

Land Claim Settlement

The land on which Kerzner built the Fish River Resort was the subject of a 22-year land claims battle, resolved last year. The case was brought by a group of AmaXhosa people, known as the Prudhoe Community, who lived on the land before it passed into the ownership of white farmers in the 1850s.

The AmaXhosa still lived and worked on the land until they were forcibly removed by the apartheid government in 1986 and 1987, just two years before Kerzner opened the Fish River Sun.

In 2022, the land was awarded to the Prudhoe Community over another group, the Amazizi Community, which also claimed it. The land was placed in trust for the Prudhoe Community, which leased it long-term to MahalaX, the digital company that planned to develop the film studio.

MahalaX co-founder Sonny Fisher told Moneyweb his company walked away from the deal following the harassment, which he blamed on “five or six gangsters.”

It is unclear from local reports whether the invading group has links to either the Prudhoe or Amazizi communities.