Address by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Ms Barbara Creecy, MP, at the Launch of SA National Parks Week

Premier of the Western Cape, Mr Alan Winde,
Executive Mayor of the West Coast District Municipality, Mr Harold Cleophas,
Saldanha Bay Municipality, Mr Marius Koen,
Local Mayors present this morning,
Chief Executive of SANParks, Mr Fundisile Mketeni and Members of the Managing Executive
Chairperson of the SANParks Board, Ms Joanne Yawitch, and members of the Board
Senior managers of our partners – FNB and Total SA,
Distinguished guests and members of the media

 

Good Morning and welcome everybody to this richly beautiful part of our country.

This week marks the start of the fifteenth National Parks Week in South Africa and today we celebrate the occasion in the West Coast National Park, adjacent to the Langebaan Lagoon, only weeks after this area was covered in wondrous splendour as the veld took to bloom.

South African National Parks Week was started in 2006 as a way of making our national parks more accessible to communities across the country, many of whom had never had an opportunity to visit before. Since National Parks Week started 15 years ago, more than 400 000 day visitors have participated in the programme.

Day visitors only have to produce their valid South African ID cards to pay no entrance fees. Children under the ages of 16 will not need ID documents for free entry. This will apply to all parks from Monday to Friday this coming week.

Keeping the relevant Covid 19 and social distancing protocols in mind, there will be a daily limit on the number of people allowed to visit each of our parks.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to First National Bank and Total South Africa who partner with SANParks, to bring these unique conservation areas within the reach of many disadvantaged communities.

Organised this year under the theme “Know your national parks” we hope that more and more South Africans will develop a sense of pride and ownership of these iconic areas that are not only rich in wildlife, but also contribute significantly to the economies of the areas adjacent to them.

Our country’s 20 national parks represent the indigenous fauna, flora, landscapes and associated cultural heritage of the country, while contributing to the improvement of the lives of local communities and development of the country’s economy. This includes the community’s right to the sustainable utilisation of natural resources found within these pristine habitats.

As one of the 3 most megadiverse countries in the world, South Africa boasts plant and marine species found nowhere else. According the SA National Biodiversity Institute, there are over 100 000 known species of plants, animals and fungi in South Africa. Scientists believe that there are at least another 50 000 species in the country that have not yet been discovered and/ or named.

The first reason is that our unique biodiversity status means we have a significant economy which creates jobs in parts of our country where there are few other opportunities. The 2018 National Biodiversity Assessment found that 418 000 people are directly employed in the biodiversity economy with Eco-tourism alone creating over 88 000 jobs.

In addition, biodiversity or nature-based tourism generates a direct spend of approximately R31 billion in the economy annually.

The second reason is that our unique biomes perform important services which protect our country and our communities from some of the more severe impacts of climate change: wetlands store water for times of drought and help prevent flooding; our forests on land and sea absorb carbon dioxide and mitigate the effects of global warming.
And so as a nation we have a duty to protect and conserve our rich biodiversity not only because it is our unique and beautiful heritage. Conservation and protection of biodiversity also makes economic sense in a world where biodiversity loss and the effects of climate change are already taking a heavy toll on Africa’s cities, towns and rural communities.

In fact it is only through promoting conservation and the protection of natural ecosystems and the services they provide that human life on this planet will be sustainable.
It has been an exciting two years for the growth of South Africa’s conservation estate. We have added 22 Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) to the country’s coastline, bringing to 45 the coastal and ocean biodiversity areas conserved. The 22 new MPA’s increased protection of the ocean around South Africa from 0.4 to 5% of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Research and planning continues to identify further areas requiring protection and support.

The new network advances protection for offshore ecosystems and provides the first protection to several threatened and fragile ecosystem types. SANParks manages three of the new MPA’s – the Addo Elephant National Park, Namaqua National Park and Robben Island.

In the past year SANParks added 138 344 ha to the system of national parks. This included the new 135 245 ha Meerkat National Park that I declared on 27 March this year. Developed in partnership with the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the internationally-acclaimed Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project, the Meerkat National Park adds 3.4% to the country’s national park system. The new park increases the protection of the poorly protected Nama Karoo biome from 1.5% to 2% and also enhances protection of the area’s unique cultural heritage.

The Meerkat national park represents a globally unique collaboration and the creation of multi-disciplinary research platform that spans the diverse fields of Astronomy, Earth and Life Sciences.

Although the park will not be accepting tourists, it improves the conservation of three unprotected ecosystems, as well as a suite of threatened species, including healthy forests of quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma). The park will also further the protection of its rich cultural assets.

Ladies and Gentlemen, one of the reasons our successful history in conservation is well respected across the globe, is our deep seated belief that neighbouring communities must share in the economic benefits of our conservation estate. Because national parks are mostly located in rural areas, they can, and must, be the catalyst for local economic development.

In line with the provisions of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, government is working with the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights to finalise outstanding land claims affecting protected areas, including national parks.

Working together with the Commission and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) we also continue to pursue post-settlement beneficiation.

We appreciate the role of the People and Parks fora, at national and provincial levels, in advancing the principles of co-management, healthy relationships between parks and their neighbours, and equitable access to opportunities that are associated with protected areas. 

It is notable that SANParks has in recent years been actively supporting the development of neighbouring communities by getting communities living adjacent to national parks involved in biodiversity initiatives. They have extended some of their operations so that these hold educational and socio-economic benefits for neighbouring communities.

Sanparks is also actively assisting the Department’s Wildlife Economy programme to redress the historic exclusion of people from the game farming industry. This create opportunities for emerging game farmers with SANParks providing a supply of founder herds of game. The organisation also raises awareness about conservation and protected area management.

Sanparks also ensures that its goods and services spend targets enterprises in communities surrounding national parks. The annual local community SMME spend for 2019/20 was more than R44 million, while R208 million was spent on 651 SMMEs through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), creating more than 5400 full-time equivalent work opportunities in communities where little other formal employment is offered. Every day 10 000 individuals employed by the EPWP enter our national parks and do crucial work such as road maintenance and clearing invasive species.

This year SANPARKS has been allocated R193 million by the Presidential Public Employment Stimulus programme which will create a further 4246 work opportunities over the next five months because SANParks is primarily a self-funding entity generating approximately 80% of its operating budget from its eco-tourism business, fulfilment of its conservation mandate is heavily reliant on thriving and sustainable tourism operations.

As you are well aware, South Africa was not spared the brunt of the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The tourism and conservation sectors have been badly affected globally, and South Africa has been no exception.

The national lockdown this year necessitated a reprioritisation of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries budget for the 2020/21 financial year and R961 million was allocated to Sanparks to offset revenue losses due to reduced visitor numbers to our parks.

The monies allocated will be used to support all the parks existing programmes and ensure Sanparks continues to create a nature positive future for the country.

Earlier this year I announced the formation of a task team to advise me on how we can adequately support our national parks and conservation efforts as we emerge from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

We understand this as a first step towards greater cooperation between provincial and national government and in our efforts to rebuild and rethink the ways in which we finance and manage our protected areas. Such partnerships can and will ensure the future sustainability of nature-based tourism and its longer term employment potential.

Ladies and gentlemen as I conclude allow me to quote from our first democratic President and Grandfather of our Nation who said:

I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment.

I thank you.