A sense of national pride in our parks

2016-09-18 06:09
MANE COURSE Two male lions saunter around a South African national park. Picture: Panorama primary

MANE COURSE Two male lions saunter around a South African national park. Picture: Panorama primary

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South Africans are people of the land.

Our country is richly endowed with natural resources, including plants, animals, rivers, marine areas and mountains, unspoilt forests, parks and unique ecosystems – some of these are found only here, and nowhere else on earth.

The protection and preservation of this land are common to all of us, regardless of our backgrounds.

But historically, enjoyment of this land and all it offers had been the preserve of few. From the expanses of our great national parks to sitting on a simple park bench under the shade of a tree, this was a privilege afforded only to certain South Africans.

Accepting, as we do, the fundamental link between human contentment and access to means of recreation, whole generations grew up never knowing what it felt like to feel the sand between their toes on a beach in St Lucia – or the wind in their hair ascending the heights of the Golden Gate National Park.

This week, SA National Parks (SANParks) celebrates the SA National Parks Week under the enduring theme: Know Your National Parks.

The aim is to make these beautiful corners of our country accessible to all of South Africa’s people, so visitors will be granted free access to parks.

The SA National Parks Week comes as we prepare to host the 17th conference of the parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) from September 24 to October 5.

The conference will deliberate on the role of Cites in securing the livelihoods of people living with wildlife and ensuring communities are considered with regard to interventions implemented in terms of this convention.

The sustainable use of indigenous biological resources is fundamental to the development of South Africa’s economy.

In this regard, game farming, the hunting industry, ecotourism and bioprospecting play a significant role.

South Africa’s 19 national parks play an important part in protecting the country’s array of indigenous fauna and flora, while contributing to the improvement of the lives of local communities and the development of the country’s economy.

Because all our parks are situated in rural areas, some of which are in the poorest parts of our country, these protected areas are an important employer for communities living adjacent to parks.

Through skills development programmes, sustainable job creation, the procurement of goods and services from marginalised communities, support for local tour operators and support for community development, SANParks has contributed significantly to the social and economic upliftment of thousands of people.

The existence of a well-managed and diverse national park system is a key component of the tourism economy.

Our natural capital, in the form of our ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources, holds enormous potential for accelerating development by means of the green-economy agenda.

SA National Parks Week provides a much-needed opportunity to foster a sense of national pride in our parks among all our people.

We want all South Africans to know of our national parks, to know where they are, to read up about them, to tell their children about them and to visit them in increasing numbers.

With the awareness raised by SA National Parks Week, it is hoped that South Africans of all persuasions will not regard visiting a game reserve or a protected wetland as something reserved for “elites”, but within their reach and within their means.

Molewa is minister of environmental affairs

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