People & parks in South Africa

23 February 2004

During the fifth World Parks Congress, held in Durban in September 2003, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa launched a book highlighting South Africa’s progress towards environmentally friendly practices since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

“People, Parks and Transformation in South Africa – A century of Conservation, A Decade of Democracy” shows the different phases the country has taken in environmental conservation pre- and post-1994.

The first national parks to be established in South Africa were the Kruger National Park in 1926, followed by the Kalahari Gemsbok, Addo Elephant and Bontebok National Parks in 1931 and the Mountain Zebra National Park in 1937.

These parks “were set aside for game animals, but early policy also included the killing of all predators,” Moosa said at the launch of the publication. “People, too, were largely excluded – indeed, the establishment of early parks mirrored the apartheid policies which gained momentum at the same time. People who owned land were forcibly removed to make way for animals, and parks became elitist playgrounds for a minority, while the majority of the population was excluded.”

This, Moosa said, was no longer the case, as land was being returned to its rightful owners, with communities electing to become partners in conservation through the establishment of contractual parks.

“As the 3rd most biodiverse country in the world, South Africa is putting considerable effort into addressing the shortcomings of the past. Today, when faced with the challenges of managing more than 10 000 elephants, it is hard to believe that less than a hundred years ago, we only had about 100 elephants left in the entire country.”

South Africa set itself the target of increasing land under formal conservation from 5.4% in 1994 to 8% by 2010, and its marine protected areas from 11% percent to 20% by 2010.

The country is well within reach of this target, with close on 400 000 hectares of land having been added to SA’s conservation areas since 1994, including the proclamation of four new national parks – the Cape Peninsula, Agulhas, Namaqua and Vembe Dongola national parks – as well as expansions to the Addo, Marakele, Augrabies Falls, Mountain Zebra and Karoo national parks.

Last October, Moosa also unveiled a R76-million plan to expand seven of South Africa’s national parks through the proclamation of 121 000 hectares of land for conservation – the single largest proclamation of land for the country’s national parks since 1931.

And in February 2004, Moosa announced plans for five new marine protected areas which will result in 19% of South Africa’s 3 000km coastline being protected.

“We have also, during this period, proclaimed five more sites on the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International importance”, Moosa told the World Parks Congress. “Five sites of outstanding cultural and natural heritage have been inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list, and more are being prepared for consideration.”

South Africa has also:

  • Put in place new policies and legislation to safeguard the country’s biodiversity that are based on principles of equity, accountability, participation, the right to a clean, healthy and protected environment, and the right to have the environment protected. 
  • Established voluntary partnerships between government, communities and the private sector to establish conservancies and biosphere reserves. 
  • Transformed the country’s institutions, included communities neighbouring parks in management committees, and made parks more accessible to the majority of South Africans. 
  • Become a full participant in global efforts to conserve biodiversity. SA has signed and ratified conventions such as the World Heritage Convention, becoming one of a few countries in the world to have promulgated legislation specifically to give effect to this agreement. 
  • Taken on a leadership role in ensuring sustainable development in Africa through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), proactively seeking to establish cross-border parks with the country’s neighbours. Four Transfrontier Conservation Areas have been established since 1994, and two more are in the pipeline.

“All of this means we are committed to meeting the needs of all our people today, while safeguarding our biological heritage for future generations”, Moosa said. “Many of our plant and animal species are under threat from over-harvesting, land use changes and alien invasive species – and especially from climate change.

“This is a challenge no country can deal with on its own, and we need to work with our global partners to ensure that we find ways of dealing with these threats to our globally important biodiversity, so that we can achieve our goal of sustainable development and ensure that biodiversity brings benefits to all for centuries to come.”

New National Parks

  • Cape Peninsula National Park – 1998
  • Vhembe Dongola National Park – 1998
  • Agulhas National Park – 1999
  • Namaqua National Park – 1999

New Ramsar Sites

  • Natal Drakensberg Park – 1997
  • Ndumo Game Reserve – 1997
  • Seekoeivlei – 1997
  • Nylsvley Nature Reserve – 1998
  • Verloren Valei – 2003

New World Heritage Sites

  • Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – 1999
  • Robben Island – 1999
  • Cradle of Humankind – 1999
  • Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg – 2000
  • Mapungubwe – 2003 reporter

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