South African National Parks & iSimangaliso Wetland Park on their mandate, objectives and challenges as well as envisaged Legislation, with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

16 September 2014
Chairperson: Mr J Mthembu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee, with the Minister of Environmental Affairs in attendance, was briefed by the South African National Parks (SANParks) and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the mandate, objectives and challenges relating to these entities. The objective of the meeting was for Members to get a better understanding on what it was these entities did to assist the Committee on its imperative oversight function.

SANParks began the briefing by looking at the constitutional and legislative context of the entity, international conventions and SANParks in relation to Outcome 10 of the National Development Plan (NDP). The presentation also looked at the vision and mission of the entity, its high-level structure, business architecture, strategic focus and challenges.

The Committee raised a few questions relating to educational awareness of SANParks at schools, tourist markets, the concept of sustainable use and the case of the previous CEO of SANParks and the suspended manager. On the specific issue of rhino poaching, Members questioned internal strategies of SANParks to tackle the issue, the remuneration of staff, how much staff was lost in the fight against the scourge and lost to syndicates as well as funds raised by NGOs to fight rhino poaching.

The briefing by iSimangaliso outlined the unique nature of the wetland in terms of being a world heritage site, biological biodiversity, unique ecological processes and superlative natural phenomena. The presentation also looked at the vision and mission of the entity, park redevelopment, education, co-management and revenue sharing, tourism skills development and a tourism platform before briefing touching on some financial analysis for the current financial year.

Members were very impressed and fascinated by the presentation congratulating the entity and Department on a job well done. Some questions were raised around land claims, beneficiation and fighting poverty.
 

Meeting report

Introductory Comments by the Chairperson

The Chairperson indicated the meeting was to get a sense of what the entities did and for Members to understand and appreciate this. The Committee and entities would be engaging over the next five years so this was important. This was also important for the Committee’s oversight work. The Committee had just wrapped up laborious public hearings in three provinces, namely, KZN, Mpumalanga and North West, where rhino poaching, climate change and sustainable development goals were discussed. It was useful to be engaging with SANParks now because most of the discussion in the public hearings was centred on rhino poaching. Parliament also expected Committees to undertake oversight visits and it was in the Committee’s programme to visit the entities and the Committee would be visiting the Kruger National Park next week.   

The Chairperson noted the apology of the Deputy Minister who was ill otherwise she would have loved to be at the meeting. He wished her well as he understood she had just come out of hospital recently.

Briefing by SANParks

Introductory Comment by the Minister of Environmental Affairs

Ms Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs, noted that coming out of the public hearings, it was important for the Committee to conduct an oversight visit to Limpopo as it was one of the hardest hit provinces. Although the Committee would be visiting the Kruger National Park (KNP), it was also ideal to know other national parks. The Department was proud of SANParks as a stable entity. The Board of SANParks was appointed through Cabinet and the term of the current board expired next year. Towards the end of this year, the Department would begin the process of appointing a new board. SANParks dealt with issues of conservation while another major mandate of the entity was to create the capacity to create jobs in the parks. At any given time, SANParks itself employed more than 10 000 people with the Department viewing the parks as economic hubs in the rural areas. In this way, parks were for conservation and economic activity.  The previous CEO of SANParks had completed his term at the beginning of this year after serving two full terms (five years each). The Department was of the view that because the previous CEO was close to retirement age, it would begin the process of appointing a new CEO. SANParks also had an acting CFO but the process of a appointing a permanent CFO was in place with interviews completed and an appointment due to be made soon.  One of SANParks managers was on suspension and the post could not be filled until the case was handled. Other than this, SANParks had a full team.

Mr Abe Sibiya, SANParks Acting CEO, explained that SANParks was governed by the broad mandate contained in section 24 (b) of the Constitution to “secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development”.

Looking at the legislative framework governing SANParks, the entity fell within the overarching provisions of the Constitution, specifically, section 24 which stated that national parks were a national competence while nature conservation and environmental matters were concurrent functions. The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) also governed the operations of SANParks. The two specific legislative instruments providing for SANParks were the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act and the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA). The Protected Areas Act regulated the proper administration of special nature reserves and national parks while NEMBA regulated threatened or protected species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations, biodiversity management plans and norms and standards.

Looking at international conventions, South Africa was a signatory to several international conventions to guide national environmental protection policies, programmes and legislation by member states. Some of the conventions included the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora (CITES), the Climate Change Convention, the Ramsar Convention, the World Heritage Convention, the African Convention On The Conservation Of Nature And Natural Resources and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol On Wildlife Conservation And Law Enforcement Protocol (1999). At international level, government was accountable to ensure execution of these convectional agreements as a signatory.

In terms of the National Development Plan (NDP), SANParks fell under Outcome 10 of the NDP - “Environmental assets and natural resources that are well protected and continually enhanced”. Apart from this, SANParks also impacted indirectly on a number of other outcomes, for example, in relation to job creation, sustainability, creating a better SA, nation building and social cohesion. SANParks also had a transformation mission to ensure effective transformation both within SANParks and the broader society and economy, through the implementation of broad-based Black Economic Empowerment in support of the Constitution of South Africa while the mandate of the entity was the delivery of the conservation mandate by excelling in the management of a national park system.

SANPark’s vision was to connect SA national parks to society while the mission of the entity was to develop, manage and promote a system of national parks that represented biodiversity and heritage assets by applying best practice, environmental justice, benefit- sharing and sustainable use.

High level structure – total of 19/21 – consolidation of garden route parks, kruger

Business architecture – tourism, constituency building and another one (i think conservation)

Mr Sibiya discussed the strategic focus of SANParks which were within the areas of:

·         Growing revenue – for organisational long-term financial sustainability;
·         Facilitating socio-economic development – connecting to society;
·         Promoting effective management of National Parks – for effective and efficient conservation asset management;
·         Integrating strategy implementation – to enhance operational efficiency;
·         Promoting effective management of Human Capital – building a learning organisation underpinned by our corporate value.

Looking more closely at the national park system, SA had approximately 550 parks and 48 terrestrial and coastal protected areas respectively and 232 conservation areas. Collectively, terrestrial protected areas exceed 7, 9 million hectares (7.5% of the country), while the coastal/marine protected areas comprised over 426,000 hectares and nearly 4 million hectares (50.6% or 3.4% of SA surface) of these (protected areas) were under SANParks management.

Mr Sibiya said SANParks had an overall park management effectiveness assessment of 80%. Looking at visitor statistics, total visitors to national parks increased by 11.4% (535,095) year on year (YOY) to 5,235,095. SA citizens were at 73.8%, while SADC and international guests stood at 1.4% and 24.8% respectively. Black SA visitors improved by 3.4% YOY to 467,018 (26.1% of domestic visitors) while the overall customer satisfaction index of SANParks stood at 79.1% (which was an improvement from 78.1%). The top five foreign guests to SANParks were Germany, the UK, Netherlands, France and USA.  Tourism Revenue grew by 14.5% (from R914 million to R972 million) while revenue from groups and conferencing grew by 33% (total of R16 million).

Minister Molewa added that the linkage with tourism was very important. Recently there was heightened activity around the promotion of local tourism as, specifically the black community, had not been touring their own country. The Department of Tourism was putting in great effort in this regard. A decision had been taken by the Department of International Relations and Cooperative Governance (Dirco) to not put every function of government, like tourism, in every country but rather to promote national interest. There were increases in the visits by other countries as not displayed in the presentation like from the African continent.

Mr Sibiya looked at tourism product development, noting the opening of the Skukuza airport which was awarded to a consortium of SA Airlink (51%), Lion Sands (10%), Fedikwe (14%) and a community development trust (25%). Scheduled commercial flights would resume on 2 June 2014 (SA Airlink) from OR Tambo and Cape Town. The airport was officially opened on 58 July 2014. With the development of the Skukuza Conference Lodge, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process was in progress and the architectural design and plans had been approved. The Lodge was scheduled for opening in 2017. With the development of the Malelane Safari Lodge, the EIA process was in progress with the lodge scheduled for opening in 2017. The national parks had branded restaurants, like Mugg and Bean, Wimpy and Cattle Baron, with the sourcing of franchise brands in order to address on-going complaints regarding food services. These brands were implemented in Addo Elephant, Kruger and Tsitsikamma National Parks but there were non -franchise brands sourced for Augrabies, Karoo and West Coast National Parks.  

Mr Sibiya indicated with access to parks, collectively, there were than 257,500 community members which accessed national parks through a range of SANParks programmes. 42,330 community members had free access to the National Parks in 2013/14 – this was 135.2% (24,330) more than the 18,000 targeted. Programmes like the SA National Parks Week, Kudu Awards, outreach programmes for the elderly and disabled, Kids in Parks, Imbewu Porgrammes and Kruger to Kasie also attracted people to the parks. 215,232 leaners were participating in SANParks Environmental Education Programme in 2013/14 – this was 0.9% (1,905) more than planned (175,580).

The challenges experienced by SANParks related to wildlife crime, notably, rhino poaching and resource protection in marine species (e.g. abalone poaching), expanded socio-economic beneficiation, encouraging black visitors and visitor safety.  

Discussion

Mr T Hadebe (DA) thought the presentation was well informed. He asked if questions raised were limited to what was contained in the presentation or could any issues be raised.

The Chairperson said Mr Hadebe was a Member of Parliament so any question could be brought up. He suggested questions of an oversight nature be raised because the objective of the meeting was for Members to get a sense of what the entities did.

Mr Hadebe noted the Chairperson's advice and commented that he would not ask the question for now. He thought that SANParks should put together packages to encourage schools to visit the parks and to get themselves familiar with the surroundings of the parks. This would also encourage adults to visit the parks.

Minister Molewa replied that from the side of DEA, there was a project called Fundisa for Change.

A SANParks official added the project was between SANParks, DEA, the Department of Basic Education and the main sponsor, Pick ‘n Pay, had been running for 10 years and had done a lot to expose kids, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to the parks. There was an attempt to integrate this into the school curriculum. SANParks was the main implementing authority of this project and it was planned on being extended to provincial parks.

Ms Lize McCourt, COO, DEA, said Fundisa for Change was an exciting programme in partnership with various environmental education organisations to develop a system to provide reading material, curriculum information, lesson planning etc with a specific focus on training teachers to teach environmental matters in an informative manner. Through this network, new information was constantly loaded onto the system.   

Ms J Maluleke (ANC) asked if SANParks had plans to overcome the challenge of rhino poaching seeing as many people said the officials in the parks were providing poachers with information.  Were there any plans to motivate the staff in the parks to accept their salaries? Internal plans to mitigate rhino poaching were very important before looking at external measures. How many SANParks staff was lost to syndicates?

Mr Sibiya replied that SANParks was dealing with issues of rhino poaching as and when they came. It was naive to think the internal system was clean when there was so much money involved in the illegal trade of rhino horn. Some of the SANParks officials were involved in poaching but all these matters had been dealt with. The officials were slapped with criminal and disciplinary charges. The conditions of service had been revised to include integrity testing as part of the conditions of service for rangers. These tests were used at random and when there were suspicions. The risk did remain because of the amount of money involved. Fortunately, SANParks had no lost any staff members of late. The only mortalities suffered were five South African National Defence Force (SANDF) officials lost in a helicopter crash because of mechanical issues. One SANDF officer and SANParks ranger was lost in what was considered friendly fire. For the last three years ago, there were no fatalities on the side of SANParks.

Minister Molewa said this was also a parliamentary question. There was a causality of a SANParks official who was wounded and had to stay in hospital for a while. The official had since recovered.  With staff remuneration and preventing staff from falling prey to poaching, there had been great improvement in the salary packages following restructuring.  Apart from remuneration, there was also the treatment of staff – currently residences of SANParks officials living in the parks were being upgraded. Their families were also taken care of. There was not full confidence that staff could be tempted and as a result there continued to be vetting of all SANParks staff to know who was vulnerable.   

Mr S Mabilo (ANC) questioned the visitor stats which he found impressive. However, he noted that none of the visitors were from Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA (BRICS) countries – these countries had massive populations so SANParks was underperforming in this regard. How did the entity envision tapping into this market? This was important because tourism was critical for growth and job creation.

Minister Molewa explained there were trends and DEA, together with the Department of Tourism and Brand SA, wanted to turnaround these trends. Sometimes Chinese tourists, for example, would visit the provincial park but not the national parks. There were trends with certain communities being nature lovers. Brazil, for example, was nature lovers but they toured their own country. The Department was working on turning these trends around. 

Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, DG, DEA, added DEA did prioritise certain tourist markets. She recalled, when tourism still fell under DEA, SA received many visitors from China but they spent very little. The definitions of tourists depended on how much was spent in the country, how they arrived and frequency of visits. China was a priority market but according to a survey done a while ago, Chinese visitors tended to organise their own tours and did not go through tour guides – going through tour guides was what defined tourism. The channels used by the Chinese meant they did not really spend in SA. These were some of the dynamics which informed tourism marketing and the value for investment.

Mr Hadebe requested that, at the next meeting of the Committee on the BRRR Report, Members receive a full report of all funds raised by various NGOs and given to the Department to fight the rhino poaching scourge and how these funds were dispersed. 

Minister Molewa answered that she had already responded to this question. The Department was not able to account for funds held by NGOs – this was just not possible. This did not mean the Department was not concerned – it had started collating information by asking NGOs in the space of rhino conservation and who were receiving funds for this cause, to register with the Department. Some of the NGOs already registered, just over R101 million had been raised. The NGOs registered were a small number but the Department did not have a mechanism to enforce registration. She wished there was such a mechanism to obtain information. Around R250 million had been donated the cause of fighting rhino poaching to the Department by the Dutch Lotteries and Howard Buffet Foundation. This Foundation had also donated a chopper as part of the contribution. As per arrangements and agreements, the Department had handed the money over to the Peace Park Foundation.  

Ms T Stander (DA) sought clarity on the term “sustainable use” – exactly how did SANParks define sustainable use? What constituted sustainable use? When could the finalisation of the case of the SANParks CEO and suspended manager?

The Chairperson clarified there was a case around the suspended manager but there was no case around the CEO.

Minister Molewa indicated that this was correct – there was no case involving the CEO. It was not possible to contest the end of a contract. The previous CEO, however, did raise an issue with the manner in which the exit package was dealt with but the matter was being dealt with at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The post had been advertised by the Department and it was in a very advanced stage of taking a Cabinet decision on the matter of the CEO. With the case of the suspended manager, charges had been laid and the outcome was being awaited. Because of this, the merits and demerits of the case could not be presently discussed.

With the definition of the concept of sustainable use, the previous law and arrangement stipulated that conservation/nature reserves and parks were to be ambient and pristine areas not to be visited and enjoyed. Now, these areas were utilised in a sustainable manner for purposes of economic activity. Some of the businesses at SANParks were part of tourist attraction and sustainable utilisation.

Ms Ngcaba added NEMBA outlined the policy position around sustainable use in SA and there were other aspects relating to sustainable use like the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). SA’s policy position was to ensure food security in agriculture through GMO produce. Sustainable use was very much within the ambit of the biodiversity branch of the Department. With sustainable use and national parks, within national parks hunting was not allowed. Controlled legal hunting was allowed in provincial parks and some of the nature reserves. The selling of animals took place at national parks but not hunting.        

The Chairperson asked about how the businesses at SANParks complemented and added value to the conservation mandate and core functions. He was referring to examples of restaurants at parks like Wimpy. It was important SANParks was not seen as a business entity and forgot about its core mandate.

Briefing by iSimangaliso

Minister Molewa introduced the presentation saying that iSimangaliso was one of SA’ most important wetlands and was listed under the World Heritage Convention. SA had identified the wetland’s Outstanding Universal Value after which it was listed under the World Heritage Convention. There were a number of inspections and motivations to have an area be listed under this Convention. Some of the political questions around iSimangaliso related to land users around the area of the wetland not getting value out of the land use. The wetland was adjacent to the Dukuduku forest and there were historical legacies of communities not benefiting. Redress had occurred in the area. SA was very proud of iSimangaliso as a World Heritage Site doing very well as an entity.

Ms Ngcaba clarified that the Minister was talking about settled land claims. There were some outstanding land claims but a core management framework was piloted in the area and was being perfected in its implementation. 

Ms Terri Castis, CFO, iSimangaliso, tendered the apology of the CEO of iSimangaliso who was in Cambridge attending a sustainable seminar. After speaking to the history of the wetland and development to get the entity to its current state noted that in 1999, iSimangaliso was declared a World Heritage Site for its unique ecological, biological processes, biological diversity and superlative natural phenomena. This was with the agreement of 186 other countries. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was truly original - there was none like it in the world. 

After looking at the vision and mission of the entity, it was noted the wetland park was redeveloped through the restructuring of key roads and fences to facilitate tourism. iSimangaliso placed emphasis on education programmes at schools and by promoting equitable access with open days, like Christmas Day, when the Park was open for free for all to visit. 

Miss Castis explained iSimgaliso had co-management and revue sharing to claimants. This year, R861 864 was shared amongst the claimants. The Park had a tourism skills development programme of which 80% of the tour guides taking part in the programme employed by iSimangaliso. Although it was not in the core mandate, the Park ran food security programmes outside the Park. One was a vegetable garden programme which was run often to ease the pressure on natural resources within the Park. Arts and craft programmes were run along with land rehabilitation programmes, game reintroductions and special stakeholder events. 

Looking at some of the financial analysis for the current financial year, iSimangaliso obtained a clean audit for the financial years running 2003 to 2013 with clean performance audits. In the current financial year:

·         1514 temporary jobs were created
·         23 permanent jobs were created
·         82 Small to Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) were used (174 supported on enterprise programme)
·         1143 people were trained
·         R881 000 in revenue shared due to communities
·         Park revenue up by 8% and accounting revenue up by 8%
·         Procurement spend 76% on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)

Discusion

The Chairperson found the presentation quite impressive and moving

Mr Mavusa Msimang, Chairperson, iSimangaliso, spoke to the issue of lands claims noting 75% of it in the area had been resolved with the three remaining cases in Dukuduku, coastal forest reserve and the Western Shores. Eight co-management agreements had been signed by iSimangaliso with the communities one community member chosen by the Minister to sit on the Board of iSimangaliso. He thought this political decision taken on this representation was a right one. 8% of the revenue, which amounted to + R800 000 a year, was passed on to the communities. Because of the value of iSimangaliso and its status as a World Heritage Site, meant not too many establishments were kept n the wetland. These benefits then went to the community with the aim of taking people into the park through a process of beneficiation. He appreciated the strong direct support received by the Minister and Department. From his role on the Board, he saw there was good management of the entity on the ground with the facilitation of work coming from government. 

Mr Hadebe found the presentation very interesting but he thought the Committee needed to visit iSimangaliso. He commended the Department on a job well done. 

Mr Mabilo thought the obtaining of a clean audit by the entity was a remarkable achievement. He commended iSimangaliso on a job well done. 

The Chairperson thought that the process of beneficiation by iSimangaliso was something other parks could learn from. One of the issues coming out of the Committee’s public hearings was poverty living alongside the parks. He thought progress on fighting poverty would come from learning from what iSimangaliso was doing. The Committee would definitely be visiting iSimangaliso to see the beauty of the wetland.  

Closing comments

Minister Molewa said she would appreciate the visit by the Committee to see what was happening on the ground, as Mr Hadebe had pointed out. Work was ongoing and she believed the sky was the limit. With the ownership of lodges, she did not believe it was difficult for the previously disadvantaged to own lodges as some had suggested. People performed these functions in their own homes so now it would just be restructuring the work for a business environment. She thought there needed to be discussion on World Heritage Sites in collaboration with the Committee’s sister Committee on Arts and Culture. 

The Chairperson agreed with the Minister on discussing World Heritage Sites with other fellow Committee colleagues. He noted the SA had come a long way given the effect of dispossession on indigenous peoples in the country. It would take a long time to correct this anomaly and if government did not do it, nobody would. This work was key to building a prosperous country united in diversity. This united diversity did not include being diverse in poverty.  He appreciated the presentations by the Department and entities which kept the Committee informed for its function of accountability

Ms Stander had four general questions to ask the Department. These questions were not specifically related to the presentations. It was indicated that in Committee would be the best forum for her to ask these questions.

The Chairperson agreed but he was concerned that bringing in questions not related to the agenda of the day might be creating a precedent for other Members. He suggested Ms Stander use ministerial questions as the platform to raise her queries.    

Ms Stander was disappointed because she thought Committee meetings were opportunities for Members to interact with the Department. She hoped that her disappointment was being recorded.

The Chairperson had chaired many meetings in his life and he would not stand in the way of Member’s asking questions based on the agenda for the day. But Ms Stander had said herself the questions had nothing to do with the presentations. From a chairing point of view, he could set such a precedent for Members to ask questions not pertaining to the meeting’s agenda. There was nothing that stopped Members of Parliament from asking questions from the relevant authorities.

Minister Molewa indicated any questions to the Department were welcomed by all means but it was important that the Committee was seen as an extension of the National Assembly. Committee’s were where Members worked according to a programme and agenda for each meeting. On today’s agenda there was no topic stated “any other business” and the two items on the agenda had been exhausted. It could happen that another agenda item be added to a future meeting to deal with such supplementary matters. The Department was willing to respond to questions in a manner prescribed. 

Ms Maluleke agreed with the ruling made by the Chairperson on setting an incorrect precedent.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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