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Wednesday, 03 June 2009 00:09

South Africa Announces More National Parks

By Staff Writer

Johannesburg, May 29 - In a drive to protect the environment, set aside spectacular landscapes for future generation and attract more tourists, the South African government plans to establish new national parks and increase protected areas. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has budgeted to buy lands for conservation.

South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, announced this in a speech today, presenting the Ministry's budget to the parliament. The Ministry was to introduce "new parks" and a "new approach" to conservation, Mr Schalkwyk said.

He said that South Africa was to take its international responsibilities seriously, the Minister emphasised. As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, South Africa is committed to the goal of ensuring that at least 10 percent of all land is protected, "which will in turn help us to ensure the long-term future of our natural resources."

Minister Schalkwyk revealed that over the next three years, the South African government has budgeted rand 123 million (euro 16 million) - or rand 41 million (euro 5.4 million) annually - for land acquisition for new national parks. "We expect a further rand 160 million [euro 21 million] per year over the same period to be added to our efforts by the local and international donor community," the Minister said.

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry was also to be contributing more than 33,300 hectares of indigenous forests for the realisation of the proposed Garden Route Mega Reserve initiative - a giant reserve in the Cape provinces - and the Blyde Canyon National Park, a spectacular valley close to the Krüger National Park.

These initiatives are connected to the South African government's long-term plans of developing three "mega-reserves", streching over large landscapes and environs. This includes the Tankwa Karoo-Cederberg reserve - stretching from the Great Karoo to the West Coast - the Baviaanskloof reserve in the Eastern Cape and a mega-reserve stretching from the Great Karoo south over the Swartberg mountains to the southern Cape coast.

Minister Schalkwyk announced that the government also planned to finalise the amalgamation of the Qwaqwa Protected Area in the Free State with the Golden Gate National Park - "establishing the single largest grassland National Park in South Africa thus far." These two parks lie in the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, at the Lesotho border.

To realise these conserverstion schemes, the Minister of the coservative NNP party said there would have to be made changes in South Africa's legislation regarding protected areas. His Ministry was to present legislative amendments to parliament, "addressing issues of cooperative governance with provincial and local authorities, and empowering our Department to conclude fair negotiations with communities and private land owners for the inclusion of some of their land in our protected areas."

For the first time, the management framework will be in place to make sure that protected areas function as an economic engine for the area in which they are situated, Mr Schalkwyk said. "This is a key part of our vision to reconcile communities with their environment," he added.

The Minister, who is also responsible for tourism to South Africa, also saw this environmental issue as a part of South African efforts to increase increase tourism in the country. South Africa is one of the continent's major tourist destination - including its many national parks - and the industry is looking back on years of solid growth.

The Environmental Affairs and Tourism portfolio embodies the best of the New South Africa, the Minister concluded. "It embraces the understanding that poverty alleviation, job creation and real growth requires the long-term protection and appreciation of our natural resources," the holder of the portfolio added. (END/2009)

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