Chief Operating Officer, Ms Lize McCourt’s speech on the occasion of the Highway Africa Conference

Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, 08 September 2014

 

Programme Director; Peter Ndoro;
Acting Vice Chancellor, of Rhodes University, Dr Mabizela;
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr  Clayton;
Ms Phochana, Executive: External Communications, Telkom;
Head of School of Journalism & Media Studies, Professor  Strelitz;
Members of the Diplomatic Core;
Esteemed Members of the Media, editors fora of Africa and South Africa;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

All protocol observed

It is my distinct pleasure to address you at the the Telkom sponsored Awards gala dinner of this Highway Africa Conference  as South Africa marks its 20th year of freedom and democracy. Congratulations to the 7 Highway Africa fellows, the young people from various tertiary institutions that received certificates for participating in the Young Journalist Programme and the women to still be recognized later this evening.

I must hasten to add at the beginning that Minister Molewa due to multiple commitments including the National parks week and People and Parks celebrations and Deputy Minister Thomson, due to ill health, could not be here with us tonight and asked me to stand in for them. I carry their greetings and well wishes to all of you.

Since our first democratic elections in 1994 we have placed human rights at the heart of our nation’s development agenda. As a matter of fact, throughout the continent, the fourth estate - the media – has been with us every step of the way, assisting in disseminating development communication and education; providing a vital platform for discussion; and playing the role of agitators for change where challenges have arisen.

As our nation’s democracy approaches the age of young adulthood, I would like to also wish a very happy 18th birthday to the Highway Africa Conference. You to are emerging from adolescence! May the storms and tantrums be behind you ...The very existence and success of this event – the largest annual gathering of media professionals in Africa – speaks to how far we have come as a continent in the past two decades, particularly in terms of freedom of speech and the media.

This year, we meet under the theme Social Media from the margins to the mainstream. The chosen theme reflects the changing nature of communication amidst the development of internet and mobile technologies. These technologies – among them Facebook, BBM, WhatsApp and Twitter – now allow every individual with a mobile phone or computer the ability to connect from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world, to tell their own story, voice their opinion, debate and so forming opinions, perceptions .... And if you have your finger on the fast pulse of social media, you would know that debates, commentary, etc through Social media on news events from traditional media platforms such as print, TV, radio, etc,  is immediate, inclusive and reaching a wider audience than the traditional platforms themselves ... Take this weekends  e-toll article for example - from the time that the news papers with the story that the ANCs  top 6 are allegedly divided on the matter hit the streets to the rather heated debate on ANN with Ms Haffejee and The DSG and thereafter the matter and also general debates on e-toll was covered and debated on Twitter and FB - by the time there are letters or editorials in next week Sunday papers ... This matter will be old news and any further publications really almost be of academic value only.

The impact and potential of these technologies are tremendous and the question that must be asked and answered is:  how do these technologies and the theme of this conference connect to the development concerns of Africa? And more importantly, how do we exploit the unprecedented ability of these platforms to promote the continent’s development agenda? Ending poverty, inequality and unemployment - that is, ushering in an era of sustainable development.

The important role of  those of you attending the 2014 Highway Africa Conference in safeguarding our heritage and to foster sustainable development cannot be over-emphasized. The power to tell the story of the challenges Africa faces, and to highlight the solutions proposed by the Governments of Africa and ordinary citizens, lies with you. Utilising all media platforms, including online and social media - truly facilitating a boundless Africa.

It is the media who have the ability to communicate widely and credibly to promote Africa as an investment destination, a future world super-power, a leader in renewable energy and a home to the sustainable cities of the future.

The story about Rhino poaching is a good example of how through the media, social media and other platforms, we can both learn and educate, debate, share information, whistle-blow etc ... Unfortunately, it is also often through especially social media platforms that facts get distorted, good initiatives get discredited and fraudulent initiatives such as opportunistic  fundraising get launched and attract participation.

What then, is the story that should be told on Facebook & Twiiter? What are the initiatives that should be promoted? In South Africa, the story of the rhino is not only about the decimation of a species at the hand of unscrupulous crime syndicates; it is also a development story. It is a story about  African pride, it is the story of our heritage and a story about our commitment to the land –to conservation, to sustainable use, to communities, to the people of Africa. Ultimately it must be a story of hope.

South Africa remains committed to protecting this African treasure, an important member of the internationally recognised Big Five and the Government of South Africa has declared: NOT ON OUR WATCH will this species go extinct.

Wildlife worldwide is under siege.If you would google "elephant", "rhino" "abalone" cycad, etc ... Wildlife crime around these species will no doubt feature, and in some instances dominate. While we battle to eradicate the scourge of rhinopoaching in South Africa, fellow Africans are, for example, struggling to curb elephant poaching. Wildlife crimes rank among the topfour crimes committed worldwide annually, alongside drug smuggling, human trafficking and the illegal arms trade. We haverecognised that poaching is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade  It is a crime not to be taken lightly and a multi-pronged integrated strategy is necessary to address it. The strategy require government, citizens, business, the media and the international community to work together and play their respective roles ... If we say "NOT on OUR WATCH" it must not be interpreted as "we, the government" but rather " we, the people"

From the  South African government side we have introduced a number of legislative and policy amendments to address rhino poaching.

Among these was the approval in August 2014 by the South African Cabinet of an integrated strategic management approach to combating rhino poaching. 

This strategy include inter alia the following elements:

  1. strengthening the frontline anti-poaching efforts,
  2. policy and regulatory tightening,
  3. build on the excellent biological management reputation of South Africa,
  4. disrupting criminal networks,
  5. establishing and stimulating alternative economies for local communities, and
  6. strengthen and continue collaboration at international level.

Time does not really allow going into detail on all 6 elements and I will accordingly touch on only two  or three. The over-arching biological management interventionincludes the strategic translocation of an estimated 500 rhinos to strongholds as soon as is possible to reducethe threat to these animals, expanding range and increasing numbers. Our previous experience has shown that biological management, which includes translocations, has resulted in the growth of rhino numbers in South Africa.

The rhino will be translocated from high threat, high population areas to areas of less risk innational parks; provincial reserves, communalareas and privatereserves, as well as rhino range states within the Southern African Development Community. Besides range expansion and population growth, the creation of rhino strongholds, or safe areas, is also expected to contribute to the expansion of conservation-friendlyland uses; improved capacity and infrastructure within protected areas; and the implementation of the sustainableuse policies.

This will then also assist with the second area of strategic intervention to achieve long-term sustainable solution namely the creation of economic alternatives for communities. Taking into account the government’s sustainable utilisation policy, community ownership as well as economic opportunities associated with conservation and wildlife based land uses create Economic choices for communities, particularly those living next to protected areas, ensuring that a live rhino is more valuable to these communities than a dead rhino.

International collaboration will further strengthen efforts to address not only rhino poaching, but illegal wildlife trade in general. On this level, South Africa has concluded a Memorandumof Understanding relating to Biodiversity Conservation and Management with Mozambique. The signing of this MoU in April 2014 was the third Biodiversity Management MoU to be concluded by South Africa with rhino horn consumer and transit states since December 2012. The other two MoUs were signed with Vietnam in 2012 and the People’s Republic of China in 2013.These agreements highlight cooperation in areas such as biodiversity law enforcement; wildlife tradeand community development through a biodiversity economy, and cross-border security operations.

South Africa’s strategy for the conservation and management of rhino is flexible and is able to be amended and adapted to meet the needsin the field and respond to new research and information.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was encouraged by the report received from my colleagues whom participated in the educational tour with 30 journalists to the Amakhala Game Reserves outside Grahamstown earlier today.  The eagerness of journalists to learn about the scale of poaching, anti-poaching tactics and strategies, the regional and global efforts to contain the illegal trade and the various campaigns being undertaken to raise awareness are truly heartening. Also encouraging are the efforts of NGO's, citizens, educators  whom presented their initiatives aimed at ensuring a bright future for these magnificent animals and especially the enthusiasm of the Youth reminding us that this is their inheritance.

All the journalists or media practitioners present here have access to social media; so too the majority of the invited guests and sponsors here tonight. Social media has become the main form of communication for many across Africa. Let's use it, let's update our status on FB, tweet, WhatsApp, to have a conversation about Rhino conservation, to spread the message of wildlife action, to call for action and more action to safeguard our natural heritage and to strengthen democracy by holding our principals, responsibly, accountable.

The stories that the journalists shall write and publish after the visit to Amakhala will go a long way in raising awareness and assisting our efforts to engage ordinary citizens in the effort to conserve our heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing. It is fitting that Highway Africa - which amongst others, champions the optimal use of technology to communicate - is hosted at Rhodes University. It is the youngsters who were born in freedom across the continent, and who are natives of the digital age, who will inherit the Earth we leave behind. I understand that it is also some of these young journalists that will be awarded certificates tonight for the promise they hold and the achievements they have already realized through the Future Journalists Programme.

May I also call on these young spirits with their boundless energy, creativity and passion to use the new communication technologies we now have and which is to come, to ensure our legacy is an Africa which teems with natural resources, flora and fauna to the benefit of our people.

It is our time. Mayibuye iAfrica.

I thank you