Berg World Heritage Site to get bigger

2011-12-14 00:00

DOCTOR Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is preparing to proclaim the Upper Tugela region of the Drakensberg as part of the larger uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (UDP).

In doing so, he said he wanted finally to be able to fulfil all the conditions that the World Heritage Convention set in 2000 in listing this World Heritage Site: “The conditions were clear — that the Upper Tugela would be proclaimed a nature reserve and become part of the greater UDP.”

The mountains of this Upper Tugela region form a critical component of the Maloti-Drakensberg mountain system. With no existing formal conservation status and no legal protection, the region effectively cuts the UDP in two.

“I am now prepared to work towards delivering to the convention, the nomination dossier to extend the UDP site to include this Upper Tugela region,” said Mkhize.

His announcement comes against a backdrop of successes that Ezemvelo and other stakeholders have achieved in engaging the relevant amakhosi who occupy and manage much of this land, often referred to as the Mweni-Busingatha Gap.

Recently, both inkosis for the amaZizi and amaNgwane communities announced their willingness to fence off some 45 000 hectares of their joint landholdings for wilderness ­purposes. Both Inkosi Menzi Hlongwane and Inkosi Mthethwa Miya also expressed a desire to fuse this community-occupied land into the UDP.

Aside from the larger conservation priorities of the Drakensberg and this successful community engagement, Mkhize said his motivation was multifaceted, including growing concern with human encroachment on the upper reaches of this sensitive region and the accompanying degradation of the land lower down.

Asked why it has taken some12 years for Ezemvelo to reach this stage, he said people should understand the history surrounding land settlement in this region.

“You can go back to 1875, when the then colonial government implemented the recommendations of Theophilus Shepstone by locating Zulu people into the region between Cathkin and Royal Natal to serve as a buffer between the white farmers and the San cattle raiders. I see this as the first determinant of the apartheid era and the resultant jigsaw occupation of land that has bedevilled this country ever since.”

The historical hostility that developed between white pioneers and the resettled ­Zulu communities translated into lingering resentment.

This resentment has endured. Despite the enormous significance of the UDP being proclaimed a World Heritage Site (both cultural and natural), there was an “understandable political reluctance”, he said, to engage in a project that would effectively deprive these communities of further land.

“But time has moved on, and Ezemvelo and other stakeholders have worked particularly hard over the past four years in creating the necessary trust to engage in incorporating this missing UDP region. I now feel the time is right to move forward, both for the community’s wellbeing and in the greater interest of South Africans.”

Aside from the threat of human encroachment and unsustainable land-use patterns, Mkhize spoke of the critical importance of ensuring the “magnificent natural integrity” of this region.

He said this could be interpreted in many ways, such as preserving wilderness as well as protecting sensitive and vulnerable alpine ecosystems, rare fauna and flora, wildlife, heritage and the like.

“The truth, of course, is that there are very real economic considerations tied into the proclamation of this greater UDP. It’s well known that this region is part of the greatest source of fresh water for this province — and a major contributor to Gauteng’s water supply. And this can’t be jeopardised.”

Nevertheless, Mkhize said a certain caution had to be exercised once this proclamation and integration of the Upper Tugela region into the UDP was complete.

“As an organisation, we have to appreciate fully the need to put in place a proper management plan in order to ensure this region is controlled as a protected area. Such a plan must also consider the economic benefits that should accrue to these communities. Conservation has to serve people, not just the environment.”

• Patrick Compton writes on behalf of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

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