Minister Edna Molewa’s speech at the 2018 African Ranger Awards, Cape Town
07 August 2018
Thank You Programme Director;
UN Environment Executive Director and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, Erik Solheim;
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China in South Africa, Songtian Lin;
Chairman of the Alibaba Group and Co-Chair of the Paradise Foundation, Jack Ma;
Chairman of the Alibaba Foundation, Lijun Sun;
Our most honoured guests, our Rangers and wardens from Kenya and South Africa,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Molweni. Goeie dag. Sanibonani.
In this, the 20th year of formal diplomatic relations between us South Africa, Nan Fei - and the People’s Republic of China, and even many more years of friendship that go back decades, I want to welcome our special guests from the Alibaba Group and the Paradise Foundation to our beautiful country.
You will know, Mr. Jack Ma, that Cape Town is called The Mother City; having been established way back in 1652 as a refueling station for ships bound for the East. This Mother City is also home to one of the world’s richest floral kingdoms, the Table Mountain National Park. Although your time here is brief I encourage you to visit the park, one of 19 national parks run by South African National Parks (SANParks) in seven of our nine provinces.
South Africa is the third most mega bio-diverse country in the world – and we owe this honour to two things. Without them we would not be a country with such abundant flora and fauna that it draws thousands of tourists to our shores every year.
The first, is SANParks itself, an internationally renowned conservation authority that falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
SANParks’ mission of “A sustainable National Parks System, Connecting Society” is integral to our vision of a society, and indeed a continent, where our natural capital is not just a thing of beauty, but a driver of socio-economic development.
In line with our objective to give communities across the continent a real, tangible stake in wildlife management, and to reintroduce species that have long become extinct, South Africa through SANParks earlier this year donated six black rhino to Chad; where they are being reintroduced to the Zakouma National Park for the first time in nearly half a century. Two years ago South Africa also donated seven lions to Rwanda, where they were reintroduced to the Akagera National Park.
Through such programmes, it is our vision to see a proliferation of biodiversity in other parts of Africa; and to be a continent united in conservation. It is a vision aligned to that of the Paradise International Foundation, the proud sponsors of today’s awards.
The second essential element, Ladies and Gentlemen, without which we would never be able to undertake our successful work – is our RANGERS. It is because of THEM that current generations are able to still see our species in the wild. It is because of THEM that future generations will not only be able to see a lion, a rhino or an elephant in a text book, but in reality.
We know that this blessing, of being rich in biodiversity, has turned us into a target from unscrupulous international criminal syndicates involved in the illicit trade in wildlife.
We are managing and conserving our biodiversity in the face of a multitude of threats. They are varied, complex and multi-faceted and range from climate change, to environmental degradation to poaching. Our RANGERS are the most exposed to these challenges.
Whether they are battling wildfires caused by extreme weather events brought upon by an ever-changing climate, or confronting heavily armed poachers inside our national parks – it is our rangers who are on the frontline.
As the country with the world’s largest population of rhino, South Africa is battling transnational syndicates who lure vulnerable communities to become involved in rhino poaching.
As a result, the work of a ranger has become more diverse and complex, and regrettably, militarized. Just last month we lost a young field ranger in the Kruger National Park, just days before we commemorated World Ranger Day. Field ranger Respect Mathebula was the first ranger to be killed by poachers in the park in more than 50 years. Yes we have been losing a few poachers due to other forms of accidents which our RANGERS face on a daily basis. All these are equally important lives which we so regret loosing.
Hundreds of rangers are killed annually across the world in the line of duty. They don’t only fall prey to the poacher’s gun, but are targeted by insurgents in conflicts such as that in the DRC, Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as by criminal syndicates involved in activities like illegal logging in countries such as Senegal.
As leaders of governments, business leaders and leaders of non-governmental organizations, we have to send a resounding message: this has to stop! We cannot afford to lose a single man or woman who has dedicated their life to conservation.
It starts with a recognition that poaching is not a one-dimensional problem, and cannot be solved by militarization alone. It necessitates an integrated approach that draws together all sectors of society, be it government, the private sector, the NGO and donor community and importantly, communities.
We can and must address the factors that incentivize our people to become involved in the illegal trade in wildlife. We must alleviate poverty and unemployment in areas surrounding conservation areas. When communities are brought into the mainstream of conservation through the creation of socio-economic opportunities for them from this same wildlife, the incentive to be involved in illegal activities will be addressed. We have no words to express our most sincere appreciation Mr Jack Ma, for this encouraging African Rangers Awards. We therefore also thank you for your partnership with South Africans to support more small entrepreneurs in the fields of ICTs.
These will go a long way in more creation of jobs for among others those who may be easily lured into wrong-doing. A very big thank you!
At a broader level with all other role-players, we must deepen our collaboration across borders. The examples I highlighted earlier show the possibilities of more that can be done, when our conservation efforts are synchronized and we work together. Various fora already exist at a multilateral level through which we work, including but not limited to CITES. We must share our knowledge and information around the illegal wildlife trade through mechanisms such as Interpol and others.
We must do more to boost the morale of our rangers who work in extremely trying circumstances. They must know that their work is not in vain. These African Ranger Awards are indeed a step in the right direction and we once again commend the Alibaba Group and the Paradise Foundation for this pioneering initiative. I am pleased to hear that it will run over ten years and I’m sure, Mr. Jack Ma you will consider adding on another ten, and another!
I want to issue an appeal to our donor community that is already doing so much to support the work of our rangers to do even more. We rely on you to help keep our RANGERS and other people safe, whether they are out on night patrols in our game parks, or on the high seas working to prevent poaching and smuggling of our marine resources. Work with us, come to see what our rangers do, and become more involved.
In conclusion, I want to pay tribute to all of our finalists this afternoon, for there are no winners or losers.
You are all winners and our respective countries are truly and immensely indebted to you. We hold the environment in trust for future generations, and you have assumed this responsibility with selflessness, with pride and with dedication. You have done so, often at a great personal cost to your lives and families, and foregone many of the pleasures of a relaxing life that we take for granted. Your country, your countries, appreciate and thank you.
I once again want to thank the organizers of these awards for this giant step you have taken. I trust we will continue to count on your support well into the future.
I thank you.