Deputy Minister of Tourism, Ms Elizabeth Thabethe’s address on behalf Minister Edna Molewa at the launch of National Parks Week

Golden Gate Highland National Park, Free State, 17 September 2017

 

Programme Director,
Her Majesty: Mofumahadi Mmathokoana Mopeli,
Executive Mayor:  Maluti a Phofung Local Municipality, Cllr Vusi Tshabalala,
Local Mayors present this morning
Chief Executive of SANParks, Mr Fundisile Mketeni,
Chief Executives of our partners – FNB and Total SA,
Officials from government Departments
Distinguished guests and members of the media

Ladies and gentlemen

It is my absolute pleasure and of course an honour to be in your presence this morning, in this beautiful part of our province – the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

Last year, led by Minister Edna Molewa, we celebrated the launch of National Parks Week at the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape. This year is the turn of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

This tells us that through this Programme supported by First National Bank and Total, we are able to extend access to our national parks to ordinary South Africans who wouldn’t normally have access to them.

Programme Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am told that since inception in 2006, just over 100 000 people in our country have accessed our national parks during National Parks Week.

South Africans inhabit a country that occupies only 2% of the earth surface, yet is endowed with immense wealth of natural resources, including a vast array of biodiversity such as plants and animals and, of course our conservation areas – South Africa’s national parks. This is a picture that has stood us in good stead by catapulting us as a tourist destination of choice for millions of South Africans, and visitors from all over the world.

This natural endowment has placed us in the position of being the third most mega biodiverse country on the planet, making us a country renowned for our conservation practices, and as a destination of choice for particularly eco-tourists.  It is for this reason that we are here today to launch National Parks Week 2017.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South African Tourism launched its ‘I Do Tourism (IDT)’ campaign at the 2017 Tourism Indaba in Durban. ‘I Do Tourism’ is an initiative that seeks to remind South Africans of the importance of the tourism industry and the role citizens can play as advocates for South Africa and for tourism.

The purpose of the campaign is to show the economic and social value of tourism in South Africa. Therefore, we believe strongly that the National Parks Week is an excellent opportunity for South Africans to respond to   to the ‘I Do Tourism’ campaign.

In June I attended a function in Welkom with the Free State Tourism buddies who have been trained by amongst others Golden Gate Highlands National Park (GGHNP). These Tourism Buddies received their national certificates which are the equivalent of NQF level 6.

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park was the largest “host employer” in this programme that saw about 100 unemployed youths from the Free State enrolled in this programme for a  period of 12 months.  Fifteen of these Tourism Buddies have been employed to assist with the arrangements for this weekend, I am told.

This tells us that all our people from all walks of life also need to enjoy the variety of tourist attractions in their close proximity and the economic opportunities they present.  Some of these tourist attractions   are our prestigious national parks.

Our national parks are historic landmarks, and cultural and natural treasures that make us all proudly South African.

One of the main reason to celebrate National Parks Week is acknowledging the successes of our national parks as a system. It is a painful reality that the process of establishing parks before the advent of democracy in South Africa was characterized by the alienation of black people from their land and property.

During the colonial and apartheid era, the creation of parks saw thousands of communities forcibly removed from their land and relocated to new areas, or losing their land completely.

These conservation strategies of the past failed to consider the interests of local people and disrupted existing indigenous management systems. It is therefore safe to say that the history of conservation in South Africa is closely tied to our political history and control over access to land and natural resources.

It is incumbent upon us all as South Africans – government and private sector – that we implement programmes such as National Parks Week as one of the programmes which represent a fundamental shift from the colonial approach, and the government is ensuring that we allow our people access to these parks in order to connect to the very core of our nature.

This provides an opportunity for each one of us to Know Your National Parks!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you have heard, tourism is a significant contributor to our country’s economic growth and development. Government reported in April this year, during the inaugural SANParks Tourism Investment Summit in Johannesburg, that the tourism sector accounted for 4.5% of total employment in 2015 and that these numbers continue to grow year on year.

National parks are amongst the key draw cards for tourism in South Africa and are a significant contributor to the tourism-generated global development programme of our country.

During not only National Parks Week, but throughout the year, we encourage you to discover more of our country, to learn about it and from it,  and if you haven’t already done so, fall in love with its rich beauty.

This week-long campaign from tomorrow, 18 September to 22 September, will be applicable to all the national parks managed by SANParks, with the exception of Boulders in Table Mountain National Park and the Namaqua National Park. Some of the parks will be extending the week to include the weekend.

Nature-based tourism has grown in popularity worldwide and, alongside conventioal tourism,  is recognised as a driver and critical component to the sustainability and efficacy of conservation management. Our national parks, nature reserves and Marine Protected Areas provide what we call ecosystem services that translate to Nature’s Contribution to People.

Our parks are home to our country’s fauna and flora, the source of life, providers of ecosystem goods and services, irreplaceable sources of freshwater and fish stocks, buffers against natural disasters and climate change, laboratories for education, contributors to poverty reduction and economic development, as well as creators and propellers of livelihoods.

Parks are special places where people connect to their roots, where cultures, values and knowledge systems carry on through generations. It is in this regard, that the specific objective of the National Parks Week is to open up our national parks to enable all our people to connect, explore amazing places, discover open spaces, enjoy affordable vacations, and enhance South Africa’s best idea - the national parks!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to take this opportune moment to express our appreciation, as government and South African National Park in particular, to our partners – the First National Bank (FNB) and Total South Africa – for their continued support.

I urge all South Africans, young and old, men and women, to take advantage of this opportunity to visit the national parks across the country.

I am proud to officially open the 2017 National Parks Week!

Go all out and enjoy our national treasure!

I thank you