The hunt for land & a living

2013-09-12 10:00

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In Limpopo, hunting is a key part of land reform, writes Yolandi Groenewald.

In Limpopo, just above the Phalaborwa gate of the Kruger National Park, lies some of South Africa’s most valuable land – most of it owned by the state.

Alongside this land are some of South Africa’s poorest communities, eking out a living.

Most of these communities have gazetted claims on the prime conservation land in and around the state-owned Letaba Ranch Provincial Park.

When their land claims are eventually finalised, there are promises of huge economic benefits to the communities, whose members still collect water in wheelbarrows and live off government grants.

Developers are lining up to partner with the communities in huge ecotourism projects that also hold the promise of jobs.

No deals can be made until the complex set of claims (many people or families have claimed the same pieces of land) are finalised.

The land claims commission is struggling to sort out the claims, and can’t say for sure when, or if, the communities in question will gain title to the land.

People here spend their time doing two things: waiting for their land and jobs, and hunting.

There is little else to do.

Limpopo’s department of economic development, environment and tourism, as the land’s environmental caretaker, has started awarding hunting quotas to the communities on Letaba Ranch and Mbaula Ranch.

Big game like buffalo and elephants are hunted.

The Mbaula community was one of the first to benefit.

“Hunting gives us a way to get revenue for our community while we wait for our land,” says one of Mbaula’s chiefs, Elvis Mabunda.

He is among the members of the community whose land claim on the ranch has been stalling for a decade.

“We use the money to build daycare centres for our kids and drill boreholes,” says Mabunda.

But some members of the community dispute his version. They say they don’t know where the money goes.

A concerned elder and senior member of the Mbaula community says: “We hear there is hunting going on, but we only see it when they come to drop off the meat from some elephant that has been killed.

“We are desperate for something to happen here. But hunting is not the answer.”

Cobus Lombard, a facilitator who has helped some of the communities negotiate hunting quotas with the department, agrees that the hunting option has its pitfalls.

“But these people are desperate for some benefit while the claims stall. People want to see something happen, otherwise they will break down the reserves’ fences for grazing their cattle.”

Mabunda says: “We try to do the best we can with what we have.”

According to him, the money made from hunting was paid into a trust, and the leaders of the community were then to decide what to do with it.

The Selwane community, which borders Mbaula, was also awarded hunting rights on Letaba Ranch for the first time this year.

Timothy Malatji, a Selwane leader, told City Press the community had pushed government hard to be able to access the quotas.

Another claimant community, the Makhuvas, are still waiting for their land claim on Letaba Ranch to be gazetted and are also eager for hunting quotas.

The communities sell their quotas on to professional hunting outfits with rich foreign clients who are willing to pay $30?000 (R308?000) to shoot an elephant, or up to R200?000 to take aim at a buffalo.

They are reluctant to disclose the details of their deals with hunting outfits, but it is generally accepted that community trusts receive half of what’s paid.

Most of the communities’ deals are with well-established, white-owned hunting outfits, which has led to tension with black professional hunters in the surrounding areas who are pushing to get involved in the industry as well.

One of the conditions of new hunting rights on Letaba Ranch being awarded to communities was that black professional hunters should be the first to benefit.

But young, up-and-coming hunter Daniel Maphophe insists this isn’t happening.

He says the so-called old boys’ club was unduly influencing community leaders with braais, cars and luxury accommodation to secure the precious hunting rights.

Theo Pistorius, who runs a hunting company and has been involved with the Mbaula community, told City Press that residents did not appoint hunting firms without careful consideration.

“The communities carefully evaluate which of their hunting partners can do the most for the community, such as building schools,” says Pistorius.

He adds that communities would also favour firms with a proven track record of bringing in rich American hunters who will pay hundreds of thousands of rands to shoot big game.

“There will always be a young gun trying to make a quick buck. The hunters that are being brought here to hunt big game such as buffalo and elephants have to trust the (lead hunter). It has to be someone with a good track record who can keep calm when a buffalo storms at you.

“The old hunting firms go to American hunting fairs to win hunters for these safaris. It takes years to build a good reputation,” says Pistorius.

Malatji told City Press the community had approached Pistorius about its hunting rights.

“But Pistorius was too expensive, and the community decided to go with another hunter from Tzaneen, with the blessing of Pistorius,” he says.

Malatji confirmed that Maphophe had approached the community and that he was awarded two elephants and two buffalo to hunt.

But the deal fell through and Maphophe was left hanging.

According to the department of economic development, environment and tourism’s spokesperson, Moloiwa Phosa, they are aware that in poor communities any potential revenue will be contested.

He says: “As such, great care is taken in awarding any hunting rights or quotas.

“The actual allocation of hunts by the communities is monitored for compliance by the department.”

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