Crime halts Ndumo plan

2008-11-14 00:00

Smuggling of drugs, guns, stolen cars and poachers’ spoils across the border into Mozambique via the Mbangweni Corridor is the main reason that there has been no progress in solving the dispute that continues to threaten Ndumo, one of the province’s oldest game reserves.

Conservationists this week challenged Environmental Affairs MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu to come clean on the real reasons behind what they see as a failure by government to resolve a land claim dispute that boiled over in June this year when 2 000 people tore down the reserve’s eastern fence and marched in to clear farming plots.

They said the environmental price is too high — 14 buffaloes were recently put down to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and corridor disease to livestock, while the fate of six black rhino that were bound for Ndumo remains uncertain.

A deal brokered by Mthimkhulu in August, which allowed locals to enter Ndumo to farm a selected 20 hectares of land (but not live on the land) was rejected. Locals have since threatened to return to the park to farm. The boundary fence has not been repaired.

“The real problem is a criminal element that has wound the local communities up and who use the Mbangweni Corridor as a conduit for all that is evil and have done so for many years — guns, drugs, bush meat — you name it,” said Tim Condon, head of the Zululand Wildlife E Forum.

Conservationists living closer to the conflict, who asked not to be identified, said the trafficking problem has existed for years.

They said poaching is on the increase both in Ndumo and the neighbouring Tembe Elephant Park and that the Ndumo conflict threatens to disrupt the development of the Bhekabantu Community Conservation Corridor, which will be central to the proposed Lubombo Transfrontier Park.

The Bhekabantu Reserve will cut off the Mbangweni smuggling route.

Sifiso Keswa, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s acting executive director for biodiversity conservation, said yesterday that although they have identified a need to boost the black rhino population in Ndumo, the process of relocating animals from Umfolozi has not begun. Negotiations with the local community are progressing well and he said he is confident that the boundary fence will be up again by year-end.

Khulekani Ntshangase, a spokesman for the MEC, said crime is not new to the area and that sensationalising it would detract from the real challenges facing both the government and the local people.

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