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Mandela goes Green

Eddie Koch

A hunting trip converts the ANC leader to conservation.

The picture on the left shows Nelson Mandela proudly posing with a blesbok he shot while on safari with game wardens from kaNgwane’s wildlife department. The African National Congress leader has developed a passionate interest in environmental issues since spending a two-week holiday at a Lowveld nature reserve hunting and learning about innovative approaches to nature conservation.

The kaNgwane Parks Board is renowned for its methods—including hunting and culling of overpopulated species—that allow nature conservation to be combined with rural development.

Mandela told The Weekly Mail, after returning to his office in Johannesburg this week, that he believed it was vital to promote environmental conservation and to devise new methods to protect this country’s fast-dwindling plant and animal species. He spent his annual leave at the Mthethomusha Game Reserve in kaNgwane and used the opportunity to hold extensive and wide-ranging discussions with some of the country’s top ecologists.

“It is important for conservation and rural development to be combined,” he said. “Nature conservationists must take into account the needs of people around the reserves. They need to encourage education programmes about protecting wildlife and always act in co-operation with the local communities.”

The ANC deputy president also developed a passionate interest in hunting as kaNgwane conservation officials took him on safaris into the bush. In this way he participated in a programme to generate revenue for rural communities that have donated land for the reserves. KaNgwane’s approach to conservation, especially its promotion of big game hunting, is likely to create controversy among animal rights groups.

But the kaNgwane Parks Board’s philosophy’ is that conservation should benefit local communities and its officials recognise that delicate environmental areas will never survive unless they address the land issue in South Africa and the burning need for rural development. They consider hunting a crucial method for generating tourism that provides jobs and revenue for social upliftment programmes in the communities that live next to the reserves.

It “involves little capital investment,” says kaNgwane Parks director Jeremy Anderson, “and allows us to encourage lucrative forms of tourism while simultaneously carrying out a culling programme that ensures the most rational use of the resources in the reserve”.

Mandela noted that rural people had, in the past, frequently been dispossessed of their land so that conservation areas could be created. Many saw reserves and the game wardens who run them as an integral part of apartheid’s oppressive institutions.

He said land for the Mthethomusha Game Reserve had been donated to the kaNgwane Parks Board by Chief Charles Bongani Mpakenias, leader of the local Mpakeni clan. The sensitive approach adopted by conservation officials has created a tremendous respect among local villagers for their efforts to protect species that exist in the rugged reserve that straddles the southern border of the Kruger National Park.

The reserve is administered jointly by kaNgwane Parks and a tribal trust company to represent the interests of the Mpakeni people. Profits are split between the two groups, although the community sometimes receives 60 percent of the revenue generated by tourism.

This is channelled into the building of schools, clinics and other social services in consultation with the community. The money is also used for literacy projects, children’s creches and other welfare programmes.

The success of the kaNgwane programme, which refines ideas that have been practised in Zimbabwe and Kenya is illustrated by the fact that Mthethomusha’s rangers seldom experience a poaching problem. Yet an area of the Kruger National Park just two kilometres away is a favoured hunting ground for organised bands of poachers.

In kaNgwane only overpopulated species are hunted. As a result local people develop a deep respect for animals and other species to be protected.

“If a man poaches he is stealing from the tribe,” says Karl Lane, head of kaNgwane Parks’ communication section. “For example, a hunter will pay R15 000 to shoot a buffalo and if the animal is killed by a poacher the tribe loses this income.”

While being exposed to these ideas and participating in the culling programme at Songimvelo, another nature reserve run by kaNgwane, Mandela appears to have excelled himself as a sharpshooter.

“We went out on two trips and on each occasion he had only one bullet in his rifle,” said Anderson. “The first time he got an impala and the second time he bagged a large blesbok roan by shooting it through the heart ... a perfect hunter’s shot.”

Mandela’s new enthusiasm for green issues puts the ANC in the forefront of efforts to include environmental rehabilitation and protection in the building of a new South Africa. ANC legal expert Albie Sachs last year drafted a detailed discussion document outlining ways in which South Africa could become the third country in the world—after Namibia and India—to include environmental right in its constitution.

Stanley Sangweni, senior member of the ANC’s economics desk, has also prepared a document which outlines the organisation’s approach to conservation and the need for sustainable development in rural areas, as well as critical ecological issues such as soil erosion, air pollution and nuclear energy.

Other conservationists who met Mandela during his stay at Mthethomusha include National Parks Board head Robbie Robinson, Wildlife Society of Southern Africa director Tony Ferrar and kaNgwane Parks chairman Johan Kloppers. “I was deeply impressed with the concern shown by the different officials that I met from the parks boards and their enthusiasm for involving the community in ecological issues,” said Mandela.

John Hanks, chief executive of the Southern African Nature Foundation, said it was vital that new governments in South Africa place environmental issues on the top of their agendas. “I was delighted to hear of Mr Mandela’s commitment to humanising conservation and of his support for the principle of consulting local people in the development of conservation projects,” said Hanks.

“More importantly, he has realised the value of ensuring that the benefits of these projects go back to local communities.” Ferrar said his meeting with Mandela had created a useful link between established conservation bodies and the ANC and hoped that it would be the first in a series of consultations between green groups and political organisations.

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