Riemvasmaak Community Melkbosrand Deproclamation: adoption


25 November 2003
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

25 November 2003

Chairperson: Ms G Mahlangu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
The Cape Vidal Memorandum. Statement to the 5th World Parks Conference (Appendix)
Minutes of proceedings, ATC of National Assembly, 2 November 1998

The Riemvasmaak Trust delegation requested that the portion of the original farm Riemvasmaak known as Melkbosrand, 4137 ha in extent, be deproclaimed from being part of the Augrabies National Park so that the Riemvasmaak community could gain control over the land and set in motion various initatives for managing it as a community conserved area, thereby creating jobs.

Negotiations had been ongoing for nearly eight years, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the National Council of Provinces, SANPARKS, the District Municipality and the community were unanimous that the deproclamation be effected, which was the prerogative of the National Assembly.

The Committee supported the deproclamation with no amendments.

The Chair expressed her concern that only six Members were present whereas ten were required for a quorum.

Mr John Simon (Chairman of the Riemvasmaak Trust) explained that he was there on behalf of the people of Riemvasmaak who had suffered under the Apartheid regime. The new government brought dignity to the people who had been forcefully removed from their land.

The breakdown of negotiations with SANPARKS led to the Melkbosrand area still remaining within the Augrabies national park. The community demanded the deproclamation of the land as a national park. They intended creating their own community conservation area and tourism association for the benefit of the community, like more jobs. He submitted a supporting letter from their District Municipality as well as the minutes of all the meetings they had had with SANPARKS. They requested a speedy resolve as, after eight years of delay, they were finding it increasingly difficult to keep their people calm.

Mr Steve Collins (GTZ-Transform, working on a project between the Department of Environmental Affairs and the German Government) said that the original hope was that a piece of community land being part of a national park would add value for tourism and job creation, and would give protection as a conservation area. Unfortunately in the previous eight years the co-management which was envisaged to provide benefits to the community had not actually come through.

The community proposed to establish a community conserved area, not change the land use, but have more direct control over Melkbosrand. At the time there were no facilities and no job creation.
There had been a time when the community of Riemvasmaak was divided on what was to happen with the land. In June 2003 there were elections for the Riemvasmaak Trust, a new committee was elected, and at the AGM it was resolved that the land should be deproclaimed and returned to the community, but kept as conservation land.

Riemvasmaak had already built chalets for tourism and established a 4x4 network, and new farming and mining initiatives had been undertaken to provide jobs. The community were less dependent on getting water from Melkbosrand because new boreholes had been sunk. Thus the need for moving onto Melkbosrand for stock farming had decreased.

There was support forthcoming from the District Municipality, the WWF and IUCN South Africa in working towards putting into place a management plan. Initially they intended to invite the private sector through a tender process to assist in creating lodges for tourists. Eventually, after the envisaged development had taken place, it could perhaps be made part of the Augrabies National Park. At the time the relationship with SANPARKS was not adding value but just creating tensions and was a barrier to moving forward.

Mr September (ANC) asked whether Augrabies had originally been part of their land and whether they were claiming that back.

Mr Collins replied that Melkbosrand had not originally been part of Augrabies, but was proclaimed and incorporated with Augrabies Park when land north of the river was set aside for army exercising purposes. That was still the position regarding Melkbosrand, even after the land had been restored to the community.
SANPARKS' big fear had been that the community was going to erect shacks on the nothern bank of the river opposite the waterfall, which would ruin the thriving tourist industry on the southern bank.
The request was to deproclaim Melkbosrand and give the community control over it, which they did not have while it was part of Augrabies National Park.

Ms Freda van Coller (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) said that her Department had submitted the relevant documents to Parliament during 1998 and believed, after talking to SANPARKS, that it was time to come to a conclusion. The community really wanted the land, and the Department, together with SANPARKS, was willing to exclude the land from the Park.

The Chair welcomed additional Members who had arrived, so that a quorum was attained. She was sure that there was harmony, and that SANPARKS would not be unhappy. The deproclamation could only be effected by Parliament.

Ms van Coller stated that some delay was due to the fact that the Committee had decided to visit the site which had not materialized, and also by the community itself because they could not come to an agreement. Only Parliament could deproclaim Melkbosrand.

The Chair stated that Parliament was willing to do so.

Mr Francois Rogers (Director, Office of the Ministry) confirmed that the Department felt that the time was opportune to proceed because there was harmony.

Mr J D Arendse (ANC) thought that what the community intended to do with the land was commendable, but was wondering whether they would be able to compete for the same clientele with the tourist facilities that existed at Augrabies and be successful.
He was concerned that, even though the Chairperson of the Riemvasmaak Trust had given the assurance that no change in the land use was envisaged, there was no guarantee for that.

Mr Simon was sure that they would be successful, because they had trained people but no jobs. SANPARKS did not even employ their guides. The Department of Labour had trained people for abseiling, river rafting and tour guides, which meant that they had facilities and people who were not practicing what they had learnt. Their local government had close ties with them and supported them. The WWF was sponsoring a capacity building programme for their benefit. They had a tourism project and he was of the opinion that they would succeed.

Mr Arendse pointed out that it was the volume of business which was going to be critical in achieving success. Seeing that they were competing for the same tourists as Augrabies what marketing strategies were contemplated?

Mr September was concerned that, whereas Augrabies had already had an ongoing business, the Riemvasmaak community had nothing going yet, although they had back-up from Germany. There was no bridge at Augrabies and visitors at Augrabies could therefore not reach Melkbosrand easily.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) agreed with Mr September and enquired, seeing that Melkbosrand was fenced, whether they intended to retain the fence and run it as a little community owned park, and whether it would be viable as such.

Mr Moss (ANC) enquired whether there were other poverty relief programmes for which they had applied.

Mr Collins replied that they had a product consisting of hot springs, a 4x4 trail, and chalets which were built with poverty relief money. During 2002 nearly 2 000 tourists visited Riemvasmaak. Melkbosrand which was not being used for tourism at all, but could add to the existing attractions of Riemvasmaak.
Tourists at Augrabies did not visit Melkbosrand because, if they wanted to they would have to cross the river at the nearest bridge which was at Kakamas to the east. That meant that they were not really competing.
With the support from the District Municipality and the Northern Cape Province they had attended Indaba's, and produced pamphlets marketing themselves as part of the green Kalahari. There was an agricultural grape producing project for poverty relief, roads were being upgraded, and electricity and water supply improved. Existing fences at Melkbosrand would be left in place to retain its integrity as a game conservation area and a Build/Operate/Transfer arrangement entered into with the private sector.

Mr September said that mention had been made about differences of opinion which had existed but were replaced by unity among the community, and asked what the differences of opinion had been.

Ms van Coller replied that previously the older folk wanted the land because it was theirs, but that the younger folk thought that it would be more viable under SANPARKS.

Mr Simon, who was elected as chairman at the last meeting, explained that the differences were not in the community but between the leadership. At the meeting it was proposed by Michael Booysen and seconded by Hendrik Booysen that "Melkbosrand moet gedeproklameer en onvoorwaardelik aan sy regmatige eienaars teruggegee word."

The Chair read the closing paragraph from a letter from the Distrct Municipality supporting the request for deproclamation and concluded that they now had similar requests from the Minister, the Council and the community.

Prof Mbadi (ANC) moved that the recommendation by the Minister be adopted to expedite the deproclamation of Melkbosrand.

Mr Arendse seconded the motion of Prof Mbadi.

The Chair regretted the fact that the Committee did not undertake the trip to visit the locality. The Parliamentary Committee would definitely visit, probably after the December holidays.
People had been hurt for a very long time, and it was important to restore dignity. It was going to require not just ten or twenty years to correct the many wrongs that were happening.

Mr Arendse read out the correct wording of the motion, without amendment, which would be sent to the National Assembly.

Mr September called attention to the fact that there were only ANC members present at the meeting.

Mr Collins pointed out that the Riemvasmaak community had made a commitment to the other communities who jointly issued a statement to the 5th World Parks Conference through the Cape Vidal Memorandum that they intended to established a community conserved area. It was also set out in the Integrated Development Framework. They saw the value of conservation but wanted to see benefits and were keen to establish partnerships that would create benefits.

Mr Moss asked whether the Department of Public Works would give the land back to the Riemvasmaak community.

Mr Collins replied that the community had ownership but not control because it was part of the parks system.

Meeting was adjourned.


From the following South African communities:
Richtersveld, Khomani San, Riemvasmaak, Makuleke, Mbila, Nibela, Mnqobokazi, Kwajobe,
Bhangazi, Sokhulu, Mabibi, Mabaso




5-7 SEPTEMBER 2003

As South African communities who were removed or threatened with removals from protected areas to make way for wildlife, this statement represents our vision for the World Parks Congress. At a joint meeting of communities and social and natural scientists on the eve of the WPC, community representatives discussed issues related to the restitution of their land in protected areas. For each community represented here, the lack of clarity around land ownership and rights has or continues to fuel the conflict between communities and conservation agencies. Representatives from the following communities attended the meeting and will be present at the World Parks Congress: Richtersveld, Khomani San, Riemvasmaak, Makuleke and communities in St Lucia (Mbila, Nibela, Mnqobokazi, Kwajobe, Bhangazi, Sokhulu, Mabibi, Mabaso). We all agree that our land can be managed for conservation in perpetuity, provided that we are actively involved in this process.

Conservation in South Africa has been made possible through the suffering of rural communities. Prior to 1994, protected areas were created through a regime of forced removals, fences and fines. We saw the ending of apartheid in 1994 as an opportunity to reclaim the land of our ancestors, our rights and access to natural resources, which are necessary for survival and new economic opportunities. Even though our vision for the use of our land is development linked to conservation, we have been disappointed by the slow pace of settlement of land claims in protected areas.

One of the few successful cases of restitution of land and rights has been the case of the Makuleke community who, with the support of resource people, have managed to reclaim their land. They have been able to use that opportunity to reclaim their dignity as well as create partnerships that are bringing real benefits to their people. In most cases, the story of conservation and communities in South Africa is still one of frustration and broken promises. Conservation agencies in South Africa developed under apartheid, and have taken time to transform. The fact that South Africa is hosting the WPC with its theme of 'Benefits Beyond Boundaries' gives us hope that they are accepting a more progressive and humanistic approach that doesn't view nature as divorced from communities, but rather recognises their interdependence.

In the last two days, we have evaluated the draft outcomes of the WPC against the following issues

- access to, control over and rights to land, resources and commercial opportunities
- clear and defined roles, responsibilities and interests of different role players

In general, we support the spirit and intentions of the Durban Accord and Action Plan. However, it reads much like the policy we have lived with during the last 9 years without their practical implementation. We have agreed upon specific actions that must be implemented if the commitment to 'Benefits Beyond Boundaries' is to be proven.

- Clear land ownership and rights are the basis for secure access to resources and the ability to unlock the benefits that can come from partnerships. However, too many of our communities still do not have secure land title and are not in a position to participate in partnerships and realise the benefits that can come from conservation and tourism. The following actions are required:

- Urgent resolution of all outstanding land claims affecting conservation areas in South Africa.

- Equal treatment and respect for community and private owners that are prepared to make their land available for conservation.

- We welcome the WPC emphasis on the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in the governance of protected areas. The challenge for us in South Africa is to put this theory into practice. We have noted that there is a lack of capacity in both communities and conservation agencies for effective co-management. The following actions are required:

- As land owners we must be involved in policy formulation, drafting of management plans, and natural resource use plans.

- Understanding that where communities might not currently have expertise to undertake certain functions, we have the right to appoint others to act on our behalf or give us advice.

- Co-management is not necessarily an end in itself, but should be seen as a means for building the capacity of communities to become full managers should they want to.

- Real inclusive management requires champions and strong committed leadership from conservation and communities.

- Our traditional resource use practises that contribute to conservation should be integrated into management plans and practices in protected areas.

- There is a need for an enabling national framework for co-management that sets the parameters and principles but allows flexibility to adapt to local contexts.

- We acknowledge that protected areas are fundamental to the conservation of biodiversity. Given that we lost our livelihoods through forced removals, the tangible economic opportunities available to us are mostly through tourism. This requires:

- An enabling framework that provides us with the necessary support from conservation and government agencies to enter and establish equal partnerships that generate real benefits for our communities.

- We value and acknowledge the role that resource people, such as financial, legal and technical advisers, play in facilitating beneficial partnerships.

The communities that attended this workshop are at very different stages of negotiating land settlement and co-management agreements with conservation agencies. We would like to highlight some of the immediate needs of the communities attending this workshop.

For communities in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park:

We support the creation of the World Heritage Site, however the urgent settlement of outstanding land claims, that includes the transfer of title, is required to enable us to fully participate in negotiations for benefits and decisions for the continued use of our land within the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.

For the Riemvasmaak community:

Due to the breakdown in negotiations with SANParks to establish a co-management arrangement for the Melkbosrand land that we own and which still falls within the Augrabies National Park, we demand the deproclamation of the land as a national park. We intend to create our own community conservation area and associated tourism development for the benefit of our community.

For Makuleke community:

We support the establishment of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, however our land was incorporated into this park without our prior consent. We need recognition and respect for allowing our land to be incorporated into the GLTP and a commitment to involving us in all future developments regarding the GLTP.

For Richtersveld community:

Transfer of the title deed for the communal land in the Richtersveld, including the National Park, to our community as agreed in the referendum held in December 2002. This will enable us to enter into negotiations with tourism developers and effectively take part in the co-management and development of the Transfrontier Conservation Area, including the national park and the community conservancy.

For the Khomani San in the kgalagadi Transfrontier Park:

Acknowledging the Khomani San as owners of a section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with the rights to harvest natural resources and access to local economic development opportunities. This includes the ability to sell our arts and crafts to tourists inside the Park and actively share in the tourism developments.

This forum has provided us with an historic opportunity to share experiences with communities in similar situations, to learn from each other and to articulate a common appeal to our government and the World Parks Congress. We urge the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to convene an annual forum of communities and conservation agencies to assess progress around land restitution, and whether benefits really are being extended beyond the boundaries of protected areas.


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