iSimangaliso, SANBI, SANParks & SAWS 2022/23 Annual Performance Plans; DFFE briefing on Wildlife Welfare Forum; with Minister

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

19 April 2022
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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The Portfolio Committee met virtually to be briefed on the annual performance plans of the entities falling under the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment for the 2022/23 financial year.

iSimangaliso said that a land invasion in the Futululu indigenous forest had been resolved amicably. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was involved in various projects to uplift the adjoining communities. The park had hosted a successful investor summit to advance its ecotourism and commercialisation strategy. It had increased its marketing budget for the 2022/23 financial year to attract more visitors.

Committee Members were assured that job security issues at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife had been addressed. Members asked how the iSimangaliso Wetland Park would prevent further land invasions. The park was praised for developing outreach programmes to educate and bring awareness to young people, especially in rural areas and townships.

The SA National Biodiversity Institute was congratulated on the state of the Harold Potter Botanical Garden at Bettys Bay and they were also asked about plans for national gardens in the North West province. Members raised concerns about steep admission fees for local people at national botanical gardens. They asked what had been done to make sure that the public felt responsible for the protection of these conservation areas.

SANParks told the Committee they were working in a constrained financial environment as the tourism sector had been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Committee Members expressed concern about the level of rhino poaching. They said they were becoming impatient about the slow pace of a disciplinary hearing involving the SANParks CEO and two other staff members. They inquired about SANParks policy on local and international donations of game.

The SA Weather Service said its income had been significantly reduced by the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the aviation sector. Aviation generated revenue had decreased by more than R100 million in 2020/21 compared to previous financial years. The Committee asked questions about the forecasting of severe weather effects such as those that led to flooding in KwaZulu-Natal. They asked why the weather service had only a 70 percent radar capability after big investments in radar infrastructure.

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment on the steps being taken to establish a Wildlife Welfare Forum. This followed recommendations by the High Level Panel appointed by the Minister to review policies, legislation and practices related to the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros.

Meeting report

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The Chairperson of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Prof Thandi Nzama, introduced the presenting team as Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Ms Qhamu Mntambo, Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Opening Remarks

Prof Nzama said that the floods around KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) on 14 April allowed the sea and river water to mix and opened the mouth of the St Lucia Estuary.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park had experienced many challenges, such as an invasion of the Futululu forest. A team led by Mr Bukhosini had had engagements with the traditional authorities. The land invasion matter was taken to the High Court after they had established the source of the problem. The court granted an interdict prohibiting anyone from entering, invading, clearing land or erecting buildings in the protected indigenous forest. “I am happy to report that an amicable solution has been reached and the community has stopped any further occupation attempts at the world heritage site,” she said.

Prof Nzama said that the park continued its efforts to use available resources to ensure that it complied with legislation and maintained the status of the heritage site. The park aimed to achieve a clean audit opinion for the current financial year. It was striving to deliver on its mandates in line with the corporate strategy of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the National Development Plan (NDP) objectives, as well as government and environmental sector priorities. The park was striving to be financially sustainable and reduce dependence on state grants.

Efforts were being made to advance the ecotourism and commercialisation strategy. The park held a successful business and investment summit on 25 March 2022 that identified numerous developmental nodes. The development of these nodes would ensure that the park contributed to tourism opportunities for local communities. The park had transformed its socio-economic landscape by empowering historically disadvantaged communities living within and adjacent to the park. The programmes related to the three major social ills: poverty, unemployment and inequality. The community beneficiation strategy strove to ensure that communities benefited from the economic activities of the park.

The park had over time managed to forge strong stakeholder relationships with the Amakhosi people, parks and fishing associations, traditional councils and local communities. Various programmes led to job and education opportunities through bursaries and capacity building projects.

The park was committed to recruiting and maintaining an adequately skilled and transformed workforce to deliver its mandate. Employee performance contracts and workplace skills plans were in place to address underperformance and apply corrective measures.

Annual performance plan

The Committee was told that the proposed annual performance plan (APP) aimed to:

Continue the implementation of the approved iSimangaliso Wetland Park Strategic Plan which was aligned with environmental sector priorities;
Implement key interventions in line with the post-COVID-19 Green Economy Recovery Plan;
Implement a strategy on gender-based violence and femicide.

Challenges facing the park were mostly related to a constrained budget and lack of capacity due to an inability to fill positions. The park had increased its budget for marketing to attract more visitors. The total revenue for 2022/23 was expected to be R376.139 million, coming from the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), operational grants and park revenue. The post of technical executive manager would be filled. The number of financial consultants would be reduced because capacity had been built for the next two years.

(See attached slide presentation for details of the programmes.)

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

The Chairperson of the SANBI board, Prof Edward Nesamvuni, introduced the presenting team as Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, CEO; Ms Lorato Sithole, CFO; Mr Elliot Mashile, Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Ms Carmel Mbizvo, Head of Branch: Biodiversity Science and Policy Advice.

Opening remarks

Prof Nesamvuni said he was confident that the APP and strategic Plan for 2022/23 would enable SANBI to achieve its mandate. The board had established mechanisms to provide ongoing oversight and foster accountability for the implementation of the set targets. “SANBI reflected on the achievements and the challenges that were faced in prior years and organised the delivery programmes.”

Financial sustainability and good governance were the foundations on which SANBI must implement its mandate. The entity aimed to strengthen its financial outlook through effective management of the resources from the government and through a focus on increasing income generated through SANBI’s operations. This would be achieved by:

Implementing a marketing and commercialisation strategy;
Investigation of SANBI's intellectual property to unlock economic value;
Promoting use of science-based products;
Facilitating the implementation of donor-funded projects;
Strategic partnerships.

Prof Nesamvuni said SANBI would continue to provide technical support to the work of the DFFE on the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other biodiversity-related agreements.

SANBI would actively participate in job creation and employment programmes led by the DFFE. SANBI prioritised the creation of temporary job opportunities for local low- and semi-skilled labour in national gardens and strategic ecosystems while contributing towards human structure and capital management development. They continued to explore opportunities and source additional funding to support nature-based tourism activities, scientific work, and conservation and education opportunities that would assist in advancing local skills and generate revenue.

Annual performance plan

The Committee heard that key priorities for 2022/23 were:
Repositioning of the National Zoological Gardens to contribute to conservation, research, recreation, tourism, education, awareness and the fight against illegal wildlife trade;
Creating job opportunities through environmental programmes such as the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative and Groen Sebenza;
Development and implementation of green energy and water conservation strategic plans;
To operationalise a High Level Panel Implementation Plan;
Developing frameworks to support mainstreaming of Strategic Water Sources Areas into municipal planning and decision making.

The financial considerations for 2022/23 would be to:

Implement a differentiated pricing structure taking into account the balance between price sensitivity and increased input costs. One of the gardens had been used as a pilot project.
Consider Public Private Partnership arrangements for infrastructure development and attraction initiatives;
Diversify and increase revenue through resource mobilisation;
Review the true cost of delivery of funded projects;
Explore the commercialisation of scientific services including research activities. SANBI was targeting research institutions and universities.

Projected total income and expenses for 2022/23 was R990 679 million.

(See slide presentation for details)

Discussion

Ms C Phillips (DA) said she had read in a press article that some of the communities were taken to the mouth of the St Lucia estuary to show them that it was not blocked by cement. Was it explained that it was not literally cement but that the sand became hard as cement? What was the amicable solution reached with the land invaders?

Referring to slide 6 of the iSimangaliso Wetland presentation, she asked what the local supplier percentage was. Were the presenters aware of how the staff at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife felt about their job security? What were they doing to address this? How often did the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority meet with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife?

How much of the invasive species that the Committee saw during an oversight visit in December had been cleared? What happened to the wood that was cleared? Was any income generated from it? In January 2021, the Committee was shown the fences that had been repaired at iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Had the whole park not been done? She had seen a huge yard full of fence poles. When would those poles be used? What was the cost of the special events to promote the park, as highlighted on slide 11? What was the cost of the eThekwini investor summit? Did the People and Parks meetings include meetings with the farmers, both small scale and commercial? How were these meetings advertised and where were they held? Were there attendance registers for all the meetings? What was the current pass rate for the bursary beneficiaries?

Ms Phillips congratulated SANBI on the present state of the Harold Potter Gardens. What were their plans to bring botanical gardens to the North West Province? Could she have a list of the new botanical gardens they were busy with? What was the Wrench bequest and what were the projects that the money would be spent on?

Mr D Bryant (DA) asked if those who had invaded the land had left. He asked if SANBI had increased tariffs for foreign visitors. What was the current tariff structure? Were any steps being taken to reduce the steep charges for locals at some of the facilities, particularly at Kirstenbosch Gardens?

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said the conservation of public natural resources had been regarded as an elite concern. Local communities that lived close to conservation areas were alienated from the spaces. “It has become obvious that not everyone has access to these zoological and botanical gardens.” What had been done to make sure that the public felt responsible for the protection of these conservation areas? How did you make them have a sense of ownership of these areas?

The Chairperson said that in the light of the physical constraints experienced at both SANBI and iSimangaliso Wetland Park they were expected to shift to generating their own revenue to sustain their operations. For example, SANBI had said that they were going to raise 20 percent of their revenue from their own sources. Did this amount vary from year to year or was it constant?
What was the infrastructural status of the National Zoological Garden (NZG) in Pretoria? What actually happened regarding the iSimangaliso fence and the court case? How would they prevent land invasions from recurring?

Responses from iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Prof Nzama said the land invasions were a serious matter, meaning that communities had to be engaged on a number of occasions. When the situation got really worse, there was then a need to get support from the South African Police Service (SAPS). Hence, the matter ended up in court. Fortunately, iSimangaliso Wetland Park was working with Ezemvelo Wetland Park for a court interdict to stop the land invasions. The amicable solution she had mentioned referred to the current situation where the communities had stopped invading the land. It did not happen automatically, it was after a number of engagements with local communities and authorities by the iSimangaliso team to explain the significance of a protected area. “At the moment, the communities do understand that it is in their best interest to protect the world heritage site.”

It was only through continuous engagement with the communities that it would be possible to completely stop the land invasions. Apart from explaining the importance of the protected park, the iSimangaliso team would continuously indicate the benefits and opportunities of the protected area to the community.

Prof Nzama confirmed that the local communities were taken to the estuary’s mouth to show them that it was not cement but sand that had hardened with time. “I believe that numerous challenges will be solved due to the natural breaching that currently occurred.”

A number of consultations had taken place with various stakeholders regarding the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife staffing process. All stakeholders, including unions, had come to an understanding that it was beneficial to address staff members properly. The staff members were now aware that none of them would lose their jobs because they had already been placed in position at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

The fear of job losses had been taken away. However, there were employees that had already reached their retirement age and would soon go on retirement.

The iSimangaliso CEO, Mr Bukhosini, said the park had thoroughly engaged with the local authority regarding the land invasion issue. “It is quite a complex issue and not even the local community was excited about the invasion. Some of the people just followed the land grabbing group and joined them.” Among the issues that were resolved during these engagements was a misconception that the

Futululu indigenous forest did not belong to the state. “We had to provide them with the gazetted documents and proclamations to prove to the local communities that the land belonged to the state.”

Mr Bukhosini said that the local communities were taken to the estuary mouth by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park team to demonstrate that there was no cement there. “As much as we can tell them that the sand dune hardened, we also need to acknowledge that we are dealing with a misconception that was created amongst the members of the local community. The demonstration eased up a lot of tension and the misconception was cleared. We are all aware that there is a report that the Minister is working on and we will deal later with the issues once the process has been analysed.” Local communities now knew that what they had been previously been told was not true because they had witnessed the facts.

The local supplier percentage information would be provided in written format.

Mr Bukhosini agreed with Prof Nzama, that there was job security at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

A contractor at St Lucia’s estuary was dealing with the clearing of the invasive plants. The wood would be left there to stabilise the dunes so that they would not block the river.

He added that the Park had a number of fences that had to be repaired and maintained. People cut the fences during poaching activities and the fences also rotted because of the wet nature of the area. The poles Ms Phillips had seen were used to repair those areas.

In hosting the investor summit, financial support had been given by KZN tourism, Sibaya Casino, and KZN Trade and Investment. The expenditure to date amounted to R500 000. Other support came from partners of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

People and Parks was a structure that was developed to respond to land claimants’ issues. It was managed by conservationists to ensure that the claimants commercially benefited from the activities in the park. Farmers were not land claimants or members of the People and Parks Trust. There were attendance registers and meeting minutes. Public invitations were sent through the People and Parks structure to alert its members to the upcoming meetings.

The pass rate of the students who already understood the tertiary system had been 91 percent the previous year, but it was calculated at 75 percent overall to accommodate new entrants who were still struggling with the new university environment.

Mr Bukhosini emphasised that no one was occupying the Futululu indigenous forest site. Conservation areas were no longer viewed as something for the elite. “If you see in our APP, we have got a number of people who were granted free access to the Park to ensure that the park is seen as a public resource. We provide a sense of ownership to the local communities, especially those who understand the socio-economic issues prevailing in the Park and the surrounding communities. There is free entry to Jabula Beach at St Lucia Bay. We are working on improving the infrastructure at the site to access all necessary facilities at Jabula Beach.” The park did not only provide employment but also created business opportunities. Most of the repairs and construction work were done by people from the local communities.

Responses from SANBI

SANBI’s CEO, Mr Munzhedzi, said that SANBI was pursuing a new garden in the North West province in collaboration with North West Transport and other relevant state institutions. “The process is a bit slower than we thought it should be.” The National Botanical Gardens Strategy aimed to make sure that all the biomes in South Africa were well represented.

The Wrench Bequest was a part of the Joan Wrench family’s financial contribution towards conservation activities. The funds had supported a number of young people to further their postgraduate conservation studies through the Joan Wrench Scholarship.

Tariff structures at all gardens were differentiated for local visitors, depending on the services offered by each garden. The admission fees varied for adults, children, and students. There was free access for senior citizens on Tuesdays. SANBI looked at a number of areas for revenue mobilisation. The numbers varied because revenue was generated both nationally and internationally. SANBI always aimed to get at least a 10 percent increase on its own revenue that could be controlled.

The facilities at the National Zoological Gardens were very old and SANBI had a programme to attract investments in key infrastructure so that they could offer more diverse tourism experiences.

Further discussion

Ms Phillips said that the last meeting held with both small-scale and commercial farmers was in March 2021. This was one of the causes of land invasions. The “amicable solution” referred to talking to people. That had been happening for years, yet it did not stop people from invading the land.
Although the mouth of the St Lucia estuary had been breached, the level of the Umfolozi river had risen and there was more flooding than before. Why was iSimangaliso interacting with the communities if they could not solve some of their volatile issues such as flooding of the Umfolozi river? The plight of the residents of St Lucia could not continue to be kicked down the road. There was no amicable solution. Land invasions were always facilitated by opportunistic people, but there were a lot of people in the community who invaded because they were desperate and their cries had not been heard.

The Chairperson said that she was glad that iSimangaliso had addressed the development of outreach programmes to ensure that education and awareness programmes were brought to schools, (slide 16), particularly in rural areas and townships. She said that she did not see any targeted outreach programmes in SANBI’s presentation.

Prof Nzama said that there were no longer invaders in the park and no land invasion activity was taking place. The iSimangaliso team was aware that they could not solve all the issues on their own. A multi-stakeholder approach was required to deal with some of the issues.

Mr Bukhosini said the Park took all its stakeholders very seriously, especially because its survival largely depended on how best they managed stakeholders’ issues through engagements. When he took over as CEO in 2018, there was a high court ruling against farmers in favour of iSimangaliso. They met and agreed on a win-win situation. He had been to the sugar mills to address the farmers. The meetings led to the nomination of people who would represent them on estuary issues. A symposium was held with the farmers. The sugar mills supplied sugar and other food parcels to distribute to the destitute families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the artificial breaching was conducted, a group of scientists opposed iSimangaliso’s actions. An independent panel was appointed to investigate issues around breaching. Part of the methodologies included stakeholder engagements. iSimangaliso could not engage with various stakeholders in the park because they would be deemed to be influencing the stakeholders’ responses. Once everything had been finalised they would go back to re-ignite that relationship. The relationship did not die. They had recently met with some stakeholders and discussed a number of issues.

He highlighted that issues about the constant flooding were always raised. The notion that Futululu was invaded because of the challenges the people experienced was factual to a certain extent. There were also elements of criminality in the process. He agreed it would have been prevented if iSimangaliso did not stop the engagements because they did not want to be seen influencing the outcome of the report. They wanted the process to be as independent as possible.

He assured the Committee that it was agreed in the symposium that the park needed to work collaboratively with its various stakeholders. He concluded that there was a court interdict against land invasion. If there were current land occupants they would have been arrested. “We have parted ways on a positive note with the inkosi and the select committee of the land grabbers. There is now a full understanding in terms of what is happening.”

Mr Munzhedzi said that SANBI has prioritised education programmes. There was a range of scholarship funds. They had also established a work learning programme to offer opportunities for young people, especially from universities of technology, a year experience to finalise their studies. Groen Sebenza targeted unemployed graduates to work for SANBI for three years to prepare and mentor them for a work environment. There were also postgraduate bursaries. The internship programme was continuing. There was money from the Wrench Bequest to enable disadvantaged children in the Cape area to visit the botanical gardens. SANBI's investment in the career programme was an investment in human capital development for the biodiversity sector’s future.

South African National Parks

Opening Remarks

Ms Pam Yako, Chairperson of the SANParks board, said that the APP had not changed substantially from the previous one. However, there were contextual changes that would be raised in the presentation. SANParks was operating within a constrained environment because the tourism business had been affected by COVID-19. This had affected the ability of the entity to deliver on some of its mandates. SANParks revenue had been affected significantly, but there was currently an improvement. They were hopeful, notwithstanding the fact that the tourism industry, according to the World Tourism Organisation, would recover fully only in 2025. “We are starting to see an increase in our occupancy and we hope it stays that way.”

SANParks had already started work on a Vision2040 strategy because they believed that there was a need to get citizen support in the work that they did. Their job was to look after the national parks for current and future generations.

The SANParks board had taken up the land claims issues at the Kruger National Park. An ad-hoc committee was involved in negotiating and addressing some of the challenges that the communities faced. They would report to Parliament at some point on the progress since serious strides had been made.

The presentation highlighted issues raised by the High Level Panel report and also issues related to climate change.

SANParks was looking at strengthening its own capability in terms of cultural performance, marketing and communication strategies. “A lot of people are concerned about the fate of our national parks. People always write about us in the media.” They were concerned about the issue of rhino poaching. Various methods had been put in place to ensure that the poaching was minimised as much as possible. The SANParks team was also looking at customer safety and service in the parks.

Annual performance plan

The presentation was delivered by Mr Dumisani Dlamini, acting CEO, SANParks.

The Committee was told that new targets had been added to the 2022/23 APP. They included:

Implementation of policies on elephant, rhino, lion and leopard related to recommendations of the High Level Panel (HLP).
Implementation of interventions to improve hospitality service delivery standards;
Development and implementation of an integrated marketing and communication plan;
Finalisation of organisational re-engineering;
Implementation of initiatives to enhance a culture of high performance;
Finalisation of succession planning interventions.

The presentation highlighted that the SANParks 2023 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) was set within an uncertain economic environment exacerbated by the devastating impact of Covid-19 on Tourism revenues:

Projected total income for the 2022/23 financial year was R2.826 billion. Tourism contributed about 62 percent of the total SANParks income. The projected increase in tourism income was based on the assumption that the entity would gradually improve its revenue as the COVID-19 lockdown regulations were relaxed;

The planned expenditure was informed by the projected income of R2.826 billion.

(See SANParks slide presentation.)
 

South African Weather Service

Ms Feziwe Renqe, Chairperson of the SA Weather Service (SAWS) said the SAWS was ready and eager to fulfil its mandate locally and internationally. This included predicting weather conditions, reducing disaster risk, weather modelling, research and innovation and air quality, and climate information.

The year 2022 offered the entity an opportunity to rebuild itself towards a more desirable and productive future post-COVID-19. The devastating impacts of the lockdown would impact livelihoods for many years to come. It would receive new challenges from the public and stakeholders at large in its efforts to mitigate the impact of severe weather, natural disasters and climate change. In instances like the current La Nina phenomenon, the role of the SAWS was to warn the public about imminent extreme weather, severe thunderstorms and flooding. The recent events in KZN showed the severe impacts that weather could have on people and infrastructure. It was befitting that the SAWS should fine-tune its services and public communication to build a well informed, weather aware nation that was resilient to climate risks.

Amidst rapid technological change and development, there was a need for stakeholder management. Products and services had become more sophisticated and complex. The SAWS would invest in research, innovation and infrastructure maintenance. It would continue to invest in its diverse, scarce and skilled personnel so that they were effectively organised for optimal service delivery. The SAWS would continue its efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts and help drive economic recovery and reconstruction plans, including enhancing the state’s capacity to deliver.

The COVID lockdowns had significantly affected the aviation sector. SAWS revenue was affected as air travel declined. Aviation revenue decreased by more than R100 million in 2020/21 compared to the periods prior to COVID-19. The SAWS had developed a turn-around strategy to generate much needed commercial revenue. It was on its way towards rebuilding its revenue generation capabilities to counter the effects the pandemic had on the implementation of numerous capital and infrastructure projects. The capital expenditure funding had to be converted to the operational budget to fulfil SAWS operational objectives. Therefore, the SAWS had considered the establishment of an alternative commercial enterprise in its business model analysis.

The SAWS would continue to serve the interests of the people of South Africa and internationally by serving on various platforms of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and international civil aviation organisations.

Annual performance plan

Mr Ishaam Abader, CEO, SAWS, delivered the presentation on the APP. Mr Norman Mzizi, CFO, delivered the financial part of the presentation.

The Committee heard that the revenue turnaround strategy, as part of their commercial strategy, would tap into the following opportunities:

Integrated multi-sector data and infrastructure management.
Weather smart research and innovation.
Developing innovative and relevant products and solutions for various sectors, including the media.
Linking with international agencies and funders to broaden the revenue-generating mechanisms.

Total projected revenue was R548.635 million against total expenditure of R455.361 million.

(Refer to slide presentation.)

Discussion

Mr Paulsen asked how it was possible that the country had not been warned timeously by the SAWS about the extent of the storm on the east coast of South Africa a few days previously. What happened when they saw that a severe storm was forming? Was their technology not that advanced? What did they do with that information?

Mr Bryant said he was disheartened to hear the acknowledgement by SANParks that the rhino population numbers were going to decrease, particularly in the Kruger National Park. It was good to see that SANParks was starting to take rhino poaching seriously. It was known that the vast majority of rhinos were now in private reserves. Was SANParks liaising with some of these private reserves to discuss rhino species sustainability? Which budget goal did anti-poaching fall under?

Mr Bryant said that he was impressed by the presentation from the SAWS. Forecasting when it came to the KZN disasters was less the issue than was the preparedness and the adaptation of the local government and entities in that area. There was certainly a lot of warning about the potential damage and devastating consequences of flooding. “We have to look at what the municipality does to address these warnings.”

Ms Phillips asked for the percentage of the rhino population poached instead of just numbers.”This will help us to see if we are indeed curbing rhino poaching.” Was the DFFE considering any kind of an intervention to account for the 75 slaughtered rhinos at Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park?

She said that the radio infrastructure at the SAWS was at 70 percent. A number of big radar projects had been launched since 2010. What had happened to that infrastructure? Had it not been maintained? Had it not been upgraded or updated? Why was there 70 percent availability when so much had been spent on the radar infrastructure?

Mr Bryant said that there had been an acting CEO for quite a long time. A disciplinary and screening process was going on. Could the chairperson comment on that? Was there any progress? When could the Committee expect the report? When would there be a proper CEO?

Ms A Weber (DA) said that she had the same concern. The CEO, the social transformation manager and risk manager from Skukuza were on special leave. The disciplinary action was taking a long time. They were still receiving salaries. They were not suspended but on special leave. SANParks paid double salaries, for those on leave and the people acting on behalf of them. The incident occurred in May of the previous year. It had been almost a year now. Could the board comment on these matters?

The Chairperson asked how sure SANParks was that there were a reduced number of rhino fatalities due to its anti-poaching efforts rather than a reduced rhino population. Had they considered that the poachers were reluctant due to the lower rhino population? What was the magnitude of poaching at the Kruger National Park and what were the strategies to curb the poaching? Did SANParks have a wildlife donation policy for local and international donors? What was the DFFE’s view on having a single wildlife donation for the whole country?

The Chairperson said that she did not recall the SAWS meeting its annual performance targets on radar and infrastructure availability. She had been told that the target had remained unchanged for a very long time despite the significance of radar technology for both local and international aviation. She asked what proportion of the budget came from commercial activities.

Minister’s comments

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, said that she had been very careful when she spoke earlier in relation to questions Mr Bryant had asked about the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. She said she had been very careful to talk about the fact that research had been done. A plan was in place. The question was how over a period of time the plan was mainstreamed into government budgets. At no stage had she blamed anybody for the KZN floods. “When we are facing a crisis of this magnitude we need to understand all factors at play. I really do not want to be involved in the cheap politics of pointing fingers and allocating blame in the face of this human tragedy. I think it is very inappropriate and wrong. Mr Bryant can say what he wants to say but I asked him to not put words into my mouth.”

Responses from SANParks

Ms Yako said the disciplinary report process was not in the board’s sphere of control. They had written to the independent chairperson to say that she was taking too long to make a ruling. She had indicated that she was going to give them something the previous week, but they had not heard from her. The board was equally concerned and would like the process to be as fair as possible. They were in a very difficult situation. They did not want to interfere with an independent process.

Dr Luthando Dziba, Managing Executive, Conservation Services, said that SANParks had reported for more than three years on the decline in the rhino population in the Kruger National Park. They had continued to acknowledge both the decline and the challenges in dealing with the scourge of rhino poaching. It remained a complex social-ecological problem. SANParks were working with partners across the board, both public and private, to manage initiatives such as the metapopulation management of rhinos. They were working with NGOs involved in rhino conservation, such as WWF South Africa and the Wilderness Foundation, to come up with collaborative measures across the board to ensure rhino conservation. They had been given a mandate by the Minister to inclusively lead the rhino conservation efforts.

SANParks made rhinos available for conservation by the private sector, especially in stronghold areas that were relatively safe from poaching. Close to 300 rhinos had been sold to private owners at reasonable prices and they were doing well. SANParks had other rhinos in small rhino parks where the rhino population was thriving. It had increased by more than six percent in the previous financial year.

Dr Dziba said the SANParks team had not worked out the percentage of the rhino population that was poached. The information would be submitted in writing. SANParks acknowledged that this was a complex issue. They had not done any significant research to determine whether the decline in poaching was a result of a decline in population. There had been a respite from rhino poaching during the hard lockdown because all travel was prohibited. There were still a significant number of incursions in the Kruger Park. SANParks believed that rangers and other anti-poaching measures contributed significantly to reducing the poaching of rhinos.

A substantial number of rhinos were poached with the use of snares. Hunting dog tracks were also seen in the park. There had been cases of animals being poisoned. This had huge ramifications for eagles and hyenas because they fed on poisoned carcasses. Besides rhinos, the poached animals included nyalas, zebras, impalas, buffaloes, and waterbuck. Poachers had been caught with hippo meat.

SANParks had a section in its integrated wildlife management policy that dealt with wildlife sales and donations. The international donations were dealt with by the DFFE through the Minister. The policy stated that SANParks could not be approached directly by any international donor. The donor had to follow protocols that were governed at the national level through the DFFE.

The Minister said she had never in her life authorised any donation. “I have always been told by yourselves that you run an open process inviting bidders and you have answered parliamentary questions to that effect. I am a bit shocked at your response.”

The Chairperson asked how the issue of international donations could be resolved.

The Minister replied that she did not know and that it would never happen under her watch.

Dr Dziba clarified that the Minister was correct in saying that there had never been a request to her. There had been a request from the government of Chad to South Africa in 2018 which had been processed as a bilateral request between governments. The approved request was passed on to the SANParks board for further consideration and implementation. The same applied when game was donated to Mozambique. There were currently no requests that required processing by the Minister. National donations were processed according to a clearly stipulated policy. The process included assessment of the suitability of land for the type of animals requested. He apologised to the Minister for not clarifying what he had stated.

Ms Yako said that when there was a request for a donation, the SANParks policy determined whether the donation occurred.

On the actual percentage of rhinos poached, Ms Yolan Friedmann, member of the SANParks board, said this was very tricky. Doing a census of the rhino population was never a perfect science. “Unfortunately, we never get the actual number of the rhino carcasses on the ground. The numbers are always extrapolated and the numbers are misused by the press and the members of the public.” She said it was understandable that people would want to know the actual number of dead versus live rhinos because it gave them a sense of comfort if the percentages were lower.

Responses from the SAWS

Mr Abader said that real-time forecasts by the SAWS were used by TV, radio and other channels. They had recently moved on to Youtube and Twitter to make sure that weather messages were disseminated. He added that the radar infrastructure was expensive, amounting to more than R40 million per installation. The radar had a lifespan of about 15 to 20 years. The SAWS was trying to have the radar infrastructure declared a national keypoint. He said that the commercial revenue for the 2022/23 financial year would be roughly 26 percent of the budget. It was close to 40 percent pre-COVID. They were hoping to reach the 35 percent mark in 2024/25.

Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, Executive: Information Systems and Security, highlighted that the radar installations were old infrastructure. The SAWS struggled to make ends meet in the radar maintenance budget. Members could take comfort in the fact that the SAWS was one of the few countries that ran a well working radar infrastructure. The numerical weather prediction models were complemented by the radar infrasture to give precise warnings of extreme weather events. A budget had been set aside for equipment to support the radar infrastructure, such as hydrogen generators and uninterrupted power supplies. The 70 percent target did not mean the SAWS was failing the country. The radar infrastructure was complemented by the numerical weather prediction models through satellite information.

The base for weather impact warnings was developed by a collective. The SAWS was trying to bring in social science so that it understood the vulnerability level of each area that received flood information. The impact of floods varied from region to region. Some areas were impacted by 50 mm of rain in a few hours while others were not. The soil texture and topography also contributed. “We are learning along with the construction industry so that we rebuild differently after this disaster.”

Further discussion

Mr Bryant said he had expressed his own opinion about the KZN flood preparedness issues. “I by no means suggest that it is the Minister’s opinion. I was just referencing the discussion we had earlier. I apologise if I crossed the fence. It was certainly not my intention.”

Ms Phillips said that she completely understood that the percentage of poached rhino would be a moving target. However, it would give an indication of whether the actual poaching was going up or not. She added that she was not part of the Portfolio Committee in 2010 when the radar infrastructure was launched. She was under the impression that it was a doppler radar. Could she be corrected on this?

Mr Abader said that the SAWS had only X and C band radar infrastructure.

Mr Ndabambi explained that the SAWS first used C band radar installations which were vulnerable to frequency interruptions, for example, those at De Aar and Qheberha. In 2010, the SAWS received S-band radars with higher resistance to frequency interruptions. The only radar with a doppler facility, which scanned both vertically and horizontally, was at Bethlehem.

Ms Phillips referred to a press statement which mentioned 12 new doppler weather radars. Were all 12 radars deployed in Bethlehem?

Mr Ndabambi said he was certain that there was only one doppler radar. He said the two X-band radars referred to by Mr Abader had a shorter range of 100m and were used around mountainous areas.

Presentation: DFFE on Wildlife Welfare Forum

Minister’s remarks

The Minister reminded the Committee that the presentation on the Wildlife Welfare Forum was a follow up to a meeting held in the previous term. This was a new structure and it came from recommendations by the High Level Panel (HLP) on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. The Department was busy with a White Paper.

Presentation

The presentation was made by Ms Flora Mokgohloa, DDG: Biodiversity and Conservation.

The Committee heard that the HLP was appointed by the Minister to review policies, legislation and practices related to the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros.

The HLP recommended a One Welfare Approach to the welfare and responsible treatment of wildlife. The Wildlife Welfare Forum’s inception meeting was held on 28 February 2022. Terms of reference were prepared and discussed by the DFFE and the key stakeholders from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD); national and provincial conservation authorities and entities; the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA); South African-based welfare organisations and South African-based organisations representing rehabilitation facilities and sanctuaries.

Once finalised, the terms of reference would be submitted for approval by the Minister. A follow up meeting was scheduled for April/May 2022

Discussion

Mr Bryant asked when the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) objectives highlighted in slide 4 of the presentation would be effective. He asked that the Committee be given a copy of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the DFFE and the DALRRD. He asked how many meetings would be held between the DFFE and the DALRRD.

Had the role of the NSPCA been considered in the development of standard operating procedures? Was there a meeting between the NSPCA and the DFFE? Regarding the delegation of powers as highlighted by the amendments, how would the delegation take place going forward? Why were there well-being standards for only five species? What about other species? When would the norms and standards be published for public participation? When would the establishment of the Welfare Forum be concluded? What was the role of the Welfare Forum compared to the Wildlife Forum? Could they be merged into one forum? How would the One Welfare Approach be applied across the board?
 

Would it not be tricky with the two separate forums? What were the practical steps regarding the high court judgement on animal welfare? He noted that the scheduled meeting between the DFFE and the DALRRD was not on the DALRRD term agenda. Was there official agreement that this meeting would take place?

Responses

The Minister said her understanding was that the legislated amendment to the NEMBA objectives had been voted for by the National Assembly. In normal lawmaking terms, the amended law must be approved and promulgated by the President. She assumed that the National Assembly would have put that process in place.

Referring to Mr Bryant’s question about two forums, she said that the DFFE had set the Welfare Forum to do the work because there were issues to be addressed like: What exactly was meant by a One Welfare approach? What was meant by well-being? How were these terms going to find expression and be translated into policy in practice? She highlighted that the Wild Welfare Forum was an umbrella body. The DFFE realised that there was a need for working groups to focus on specific issues, hence there would be a group that would focus on the transformation charter. It was not something that could be achieved in the Wildlife Forum because the interests were too divergent. Policy reform and creation required specific working groups. Anything that would have an effect on the sector must go through all proper public consultation processes. The Minister said the MOU had been concluded. The first meeting to implement the MOU would take place the following day, 20 April.

Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General, DFFE, said that a copy of the MOU will be supplied. She said that she had been told that the DALRRD was no longer available for the scheduled meeting. It had been postponed until 4 May, when they would look into technical implementation of the MOU.

Mr Bryant said he had seen many reports of animal cruelty in the captive lion industry. Was a request made to the DALRRD, in terms of Section 10 of the Animal Protection Act, to introduce welfare regulations for the treatment of lions in those facilities?

The Minister said the best way for Mr Bryant to get an answer to his questions was to pose a parliamentary question to the Minister of the DALRRD. Her department was currently examining the possibility of setting up a process for those who would like to voluntarily leave the industry. They were taking legal advice on how to lead such a process. They were aware that there would be some who would want to leave the industry voluntarily. They did not have an answer at this stage but they did know that the Portfolio Committee was very concerned about this issue.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

 

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