Dune mining for St Lucia?

2009-01-02 00:00

If eco-tourism cannot provide a viable solution to poverty in and around the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the government’s 1996 decision to ban dune mining could be overturned.

This is just one of the disclosures in the iSimangaliso Park’s integrated management plan (IMP), which is available for public comment until February 18.

According to spokesman Roland Vorwerk, the IMP consolidates the extensive planning, public consultation, assessments and strategic and legal decisions, starting with the 1996 no-mining decision. The plan takes a gloves-off look at the challenges facing one of KZN’s two world heritage sites and includes the vision, policy and planning framework for the next five years.

The forested sand dunes of iSimangaliso are rich in titanium ore and a company’s application to mine for this heavy metal was overturned only 10 years after it was submitted, thanks to global pressure and the economic argument that conservation-based tourism could equal the benefits of mining.

However, the IMP suggests that, despite conservation achievements and growth in tourism, the region remains underdeveloped. The uMkhanyakude and neighbouring districts, where 80% of the population lives below the breadline, are among South Africa’s poorest.

“Despite its conservation significance, iSimangaliso as an entity and the biodiversity and economical processes of the region as a whole, including both terrestrial and marine environments, are under threat,” the IMP states.

One of the greatest worries is that because the poor rely on natural resources, the “depletion and degradation of natural resources in communal areas has put increasing pressure on the resources inside the park”.

Other problems are a lack of infrastructure to support tourism development, such as roads, physical constraints, such as sensitive vegetation types, problematic soils, topographical factors and the mosaic nature of the park, and institutional, legal and financial factors.

The IMP notes that another problem has been the slow resolution of land claims in the area. So far, 75% have been settled.

“The slow progress of the settlement of the land claims … has created uncertainty and in many cases worsened the relationship between iSimangaliso and the land claimants … In some areas, there is strong expectation that beneficiaries … will eventually replace the state management agency and have the right to develop tourism facilities and farm without any regulation from conservation authorities,” the IMP warns.

Additional hurdles include crime, HIV/Aids, malaria, a lack of transformation in the tourism sector, poor service and a skills shortage.

While IMP outlines tourism development as an imperative, it warns that iSimangaliso is not an economic panacea for KZN and calls for multi-levelled interventions to ensure sustainable conservation.

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