10 Wed, Aug 2011

South African National Parks

The Department of Environmental Affairs says it endorses the construction of the proposed five-star hotel development planned for the Kruger National Park. Government says it sees nothing contradictory in the establishment of hotels in national parks, as long as they are approved through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and related processes.

Deputy Water and Environmental Affairs Minister, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, was quoted in the Business Day as saying: “We already have an existing hotel in the Golden Gate National Park and even several famous international parks around the world have hotels as part of diverse tourism accommodation offering.”

But the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) says it is essential that international stakeholders have a voice in the EIA process if international best practice guidelines and comparisons are being referenced to help justify the hotel.

WESSA says, based on the recent Scoping Report, it believes the development will result in significant environmental impact. “Upon further review of the Scoping Report, WESSA believes that given the inadequacies and information gaps in the report, it is fundamentally flawed. Accordingly, there is no defensible basis on which the competent authority (the decision-maker) could approve the report as it currently stands,” says the association in a media statement.

One of WESSA’s key concerns is that financial support from government to national parks has been steadily declining over the years. While SANParks CEO, David Mabunda says: “SANParks is the only conservation agency in the world that generates the majority (85%) of its own funding through responsible tourism operations”, this is not only an achievement, but also cause for concern.

“This means the government only contributes 15% of funding required for SANParks’ efforts to conserve our national heritage. SANParks, as the trustees of our parks, must not be led away from its core business, which is in protected area integrity management and not tourism, or else it may end up like some of the other conservation agencies in the country which are bankrupt or in serious financial turmoil,” says WESSA.

“The irony is that the more self-sustaining SANParks becomes, the more the government will look to reduce its funding to it.”

WESSA says it is vital that alternatives be explored, especially in the current context where natural resources are experiencing unprecedented pressures. “But it is regrettable that the SANParks project idea is so advanced (the tender has already been awarded to an international hotel group) that it seems there may be very little room to; firstly explore in detail any proposed viable alternatives together with the people and secondly, take to heart any true alternatives (as embedded in the EIA legislation).”

Sue Lewitton