SANBI & SANParks Q3 & 4 2021/22 Performance

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

06 September 2022
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee met with South African National Parks (SANParks) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in a virtual meeting to receive briefings on their third and fourth quarter performance reports for 2021/22.

SANBI boasted an improvement in its overall performance, increasing its achievements against its targets from 89% in the previous financial year, to 93% in this financial year. Its achievements included an unqualified audit opinion, which had flagged internal control deficiencies that had been identified by the external audit process. This meant the annual internal audit plan had to be reviewed to ensure that all the gaps were attended to. This would be monitored quarterly by the board. SANBI had also reduced its irregular expenditure from R146 million to R8 million, which was related to contracts that could not be terminated because of ongoing work. The entity's financial position was solvent, and its assets exceeded its liabilities.

SANBI had a genetic services unit, which was working towards international compliance for forensic analysis and implementing the International Society of Wildlife Forensic Science standards and guidelines. The Presidential Employment Stimulus programme created 954 job opportunities.

SANParks said its 2022 budget had been set within the context of an uncertain economic environment exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 on tourism revenues. It was expected that international travel restrictions, lockdowns, and the discovery of new Covid-19 strains would continue to have a negative impact on tourism revenues over the medium term. In preparing the 2021/22 budget, it had initially projected a deficit of R 645 million, which was further reduced to R489 million by delaying specific infrastructure projects, but this had eventually been adjusted further to breakeven following non-approval by the National Treasury. This led to many divisions not having a budget for the rest of the year.

Members asked about the transformation efforts of the entities; the terms and conditions of employee bursaries; cost containment; joint education and awareness programmes; the poaching of succulents in the Northern Cape; the decline in the rhino population, and if it was nearing functional extinction; the benefits associated with the accreditation of SANBI of direct access entity to the Green Climate Fund; the impact of the Presidential Youth Employment initiative; the need for more land for the expansion of facilities; and how land claims were affecting the parks.


Meeting report

Briefing by South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
Prof Edward Nesamvuni, Chairperson, SANBI Board, said that the entity’s performance for the 2021/22 financial year had been 93%, which was an improvement compared to the previous financial year's 89%. However, there were areas that had presented challenges to SANBI in achieving its targets.

Some of its achievements included an unqualified audit opinion, which had flagged internal control deficiencies that were identified by the external audit process, and therefore the annual internal audit plan had been reviewed to ensure that all the gaps were attended to. The audit and risk committee had approved the audit improvement plan, which would be monitored quarterly by the board. Secondly, irregular expenditure, which amounted to R146 million dating back to 2005, had been drastically reduced. The R8 million on the books had been incurred in the previous financial year due to recurring contracts that could not be terminated without interrupting the enabling operational areas of SANBI’s business processes.

Thirdly, SANBI’s financial performance had improved compared to the previous financial year due to lighter Covid-19 regulations, which had enabled more visits to the facilities. The financial position was solvent, and its assets exceeded its liabilities. SANBI had the genetic services unit, which was working towards international compliance for forensic analysis and implementing the International Society of Wildlife Forensic Science standards and guidelines. These were based on the ISO 17025 in March 2022. 

Important to SANBI was human capital development and transformation. It remained a key strategic goal for the entity. In support of it, the board approved the Transformation Charter in November 2021, which articulated the entity’s position and its commitment to transformation.

SANBI’s role in decision support was critical. It fulfilled its primary mandate by generating and coordinating scientific evidence required to support policies and decisions relating to better management and conservation of the country’s biodiversity.

One of the most important highlights was the Garden Expansion Programme. Beyond the establishment of the Kwelera National Botanical Garden in the Eastern Cape, SANBI had pursued the establishment of new national botanical gardens in the Limpopo and North West provinces. Throughout the process, SANBI worked with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), the Department of Agriculture, Land and Rural Development (DALRRD), provincial conservation authorities, agencies, and community leaders. Following these engagements, the Minister formally launched the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden on 22 May. The engagements were ongoing in the North West province.

The Institute's work on adaptation continued to prioritise efforts to build resilience to climate change through SANBI’s Adaptation Fund projects. The lessons learnt through this project were informing its work towards unlocking finance for better solutions, climate change, and the development of several green climate fund project proposals. For the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme, SANBI had created 954 job opportunities.

SANBI 2021/22 Quarter 3 and 4 Performance
Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), SANBI presented the reports which covered challenges that impacted the achievement of targets, the third quarter organisational performance, and the financial performance.

The Covid-19 pandemic was cited as the biggest challenge for the entity to achieve its planned targets. Accompanied by that was the inability to generate income at the desired levels through SANBI’s Botanical and Zoological Gardens, limited admissions, and large events. It was therefore exploring other forms of
revenue generation streams and enhancing marketing and commercialisation activities. In the interest of the well-being of the staff, because of anxiety and loss of friends and family members, it had increased wellness and employee support.  There had been limited field-based and face-to-face interactions with communities, partners, and beneficiaries, mainly just online engagements. The decreased visitor numbers and restrictions on mass events had led to financial constraints.

(See Presentation)

Mr N Singh (IFP) asked about the payroll being off target in the third quarter, which was a red flag for transformation. He asked for more details regarding the transformation of the entity. Secondly, he asked about the bursaries for graduate students, and what contracts the entity had with these students. Were they employees of SANBI? Lastly, on the 25% operating expenses increase, what lessons had been learnt during Covid-19 to ensure that expenditures were trimmed and certain functions that did not perform being dropped, yet still maintaining a quality service?

Mr D Bryant (DA) commended SANBI for achieving a significant section of its targets, even though the entity was significantly affected by Covid-19. Its performance should be commended, despite the findings on its audit outcome. He was pleased that the Kids-in-Gardens project had resumed -- the importance of children spending time in these facilities was something that Members had raised on previous occasions. There was a need to sort out the payments for the staff development programme.

He asked about the ongoing issue of succulent plant poaching across the country, particularly in the Northern Cape. Were there any ongoing studies into the poaching of succulents, and had any of these plants been officially deemed critically endangered species? Access to the botanical gardens had been raised in the past couple of years in order to ensure that South Africans could afford to access them on a regular basis and that it was not only for privileged people and tourists. Were they measuring the number of locals that were visiting these gardens?

The Chairperson said that the entity measured the creation of job opportunities through the Presidential Employment Programme and asked about the impact and the extent the entity had on fighting unemployment, inequality, and poverty. Were these beneficiaries kept permanently or for a specific period? Secondly, were all the botanical gardens affected by land claims? If some of them were affected; which ones were they, and how was it being resolved? Thirdly, she asked for more details on the establishment of the botanical garden in the North West province. How was the entity planning to secure more land to establish new botanical gardens in the future?

What did it mean that as an institution, SANBI was accredited as the direct access entity for the Green Climate Fund and the associated benefits for the country?

Mr Nesamvumi replied that the jobs created were for a limited period, but the entity was working hard to align all the human capital instruments. The entity had a Sebenza programme that was unfolding so that when the job opportunities were created, long-term and medium-term opportunities were assessed for these beneficiaries and students. Some of the students were assigned for a much longer period when they completed their post-graduate programmes. The job opportunities were for the short-term.

Mr Munzhedzi said that the question around the payroll was not something that the entity was proud of. They knew that 1% of the payroll must be spent on staff development and training. The current annual performance plan was working along those lines to ensure that that was achieved. In the year under review, there had been reprioritisation of the budget to other forms of operations. The grant covered all the expenses, and the operational expenses were covered by their own income. When there was no income due to Covid, it had been difficult to keep to the 1% target, but since the lifting of regulations, that target had been adjusted accordingly.

The current board had approved the Transformation Charter, which covered a whole range of issues beyond the employment equity (EE) targets prescribed by law. It covered broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE), geographical access, and access to the services provided – all areas pertaining to transformation were covered in that. SANBI had made strides to ensure that they interface with all the workers in different gardens, and that process was still ongoing. Areas of concern associated with transformation were addressed through this Charter.

Bursary students were contracted to come on board for two to three years. They were remunerated differently, depending on their qualifications, and taken through a programme that was crafted with mentors, with a proper incubation programme to ensure that they were ready for the work environment. Through the organisations that were hosting them, they may be taken over or may find other opportunities. There were some students who were part of the integrated learning programme, and they would qualify only once they had been exposed to experiential learning

He agreed with Mr Bryant on the matter of succulents. It was an area of concern, and they were working with an integrated team including the DFFE, SANParks, and the provincial authorities in the Northern Cape, to set up an institutional mechanism to respond to this. This included law enforcement as well. SANBI would come in to keep and care for the confiscated succulents while the investigations unfolded. It was keeping records of what could inform the future of succulent poaching. A trend analysis was part of the work SANBI was doing on this. It was concerned about this matter, hence the integrated response to it.

Mr Munzedzi said that every Tuesday, senior citizens could access the gardens for free, which was part of enhancing access for senior citizens. The pricing systems took into consideration a number of things depending on the location, input costs, and offerings in that particular area.

The young people who were taken through the Presidential Employment Initiative were there for a certain period. Some of them had been able to find opportunities, using the experience gained. There were two instalments of these intakes. Some students came in later, but others had to work six to eight months and the allocation was for that specific financial year. Records were kept of those who came on board. After a time period, they would exit and leverage the experience that they may have received.

SANBI worked with sister departments regarding land claims. When it was assigned by the Minister to be the management authority, all those matters should have been resolved. However, land claim processes were continuous. The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden was affected in this regard, and the process unfolded until SANBI was cleared to take over and continue with the management of that garden. In the North West, SANBI was still continuing its work in partnership with the authorities and agencies in the province and had completed the analysis for the areas that had the potential for an establishment. This process had not yet been completed, but the analysis was being done.

There were areas where expansion had taken place on the existing establishments and gardens. For new facilities, this was still ongoing for the North West province.

Ms Lorato Sithole, Chief Financial Officer, SANBI, said 43 young people were absorbed through the Presidential programme across the gardens through the funds that were raised with SANBI’s partners. These young people were now in their second year of employment.

The Chairperson sought more details on the Presidential employment initiative in writing. Once the contracts were terminated, was the impact of the training assessed? It could not be a rubber stamp project.

The issue on land claims had not been clearly responded to, and she requested the entity to submit a detailed report in writing.

Last year, the Committee instructed SANBI, SANParks, and the Marine Living Resource Fund, including ISimangaliso, to develop a joint outreach programme that would ensure that education and awareness programmes were brought to schools, particularly the ones that were close to the gardens and were in rural areas. It appeared that each entity was working with a silo mentality, and this was different from what the Committee had recommended. Some of the children had never had sight of those parks and gardens, even though they were within their communities or closer. In the 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President pronounced that the biodiversity economy was a priority, and it was central to South Africa’s tourism industry, bearing in mind the resilience of communities to climate change. The Department had committed to working with SANBI to ensure that it was financially stable and sustainable. What was the status update on the implementation of some of the projects without relying on the fiscus?

Mr Munzhedi said that SANBI was the coordinator and played a critical role in supporting the work of the Scientific Authority to provide scientific advice that would inform action when it came to trade and related matters. On trade associated with the biodiversity economy on the wildlife side, SANBI provides non-detrimental findings and advises if the proposed trade would impact South African wildlife. There were many other areas where SANBI provides advice.

The grant covers the compensation of employees, but operations were covered by the revenue. The access, the activities, the partnerships and scientific services provided, genetic analysis, and others, were some of the areas where SANBI was pursuing revenue generation.

Ms Carmel Mbizvo, Head of Branch: Biodiversity Science and Policy Advice, SANBI, added to SANBI’s contribution to the biodiversity economy, saying it was mobilising donor funding to support its contribution. One example was the Global Environmental Facility Initiative, which was a five-year project led by the Department, and SANBI was supporting it. It focused mainly on catalysing financing and building capacity for the biodiversity economy.

Accreditation as the direct access entity for the Green Climate Fund meant that SANBI could directly access funding without having to go through another body like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It could directly play the role of mobilising the funds for projects in South Africa around biodiversity adaptation and climate change. SANBI was to work with all departments and different levels of government on adaptation and climate change projects. It brought together all the stakeholders to facilitate the development of proposals around climate change and adaptation, following the criteria that had been set by the Green Climate Fund. These proposals were then submitted to the Fund for funding. Currently, there were six big draft proposals with different stakeholders going through the Green Climate Fund process for approval of funding.

Ms Flora Mokgohloa, Deputy Director-General: Biodiversity and Conservation, DFFE, said that the Department was collaborating with SANBI on the development of the biodiversity management plans, which were instruments used to implement measures to protect the survival of species in the wild.

On ensuring access to the gardens, if the Committee would visit any of the gardens on any given day, they would be met by a group of schoolchildren almost daily. Perhaps SANBI may need to consider a facilitated programme for the elderly, but on any given Tuesday, they were given access to the facilities for free. The DFFE might have to look at how it could get the grannies from the townships across the country to also enjoy these facilities.

The integrated awareness programme was facilitated by the Chief Directorate: Communications, which develops a comprehensive awareness programme for the whole year, and branches also provide their input. It was an aggressive campaign to encourage people to plant trees. Furthermore, they were also supporting the biodiversity and conservation branch on the upcoming launch of the Biodiversity Economy Investment Portal. It was an online investment portal and had pre-qualified several sites across the country that lend themselves to private investment. This was packaged in respect of the type of biodiversity economy investment opportunities that exist. This would be available online. There were 12 sites that would soon be profiled, and many of them were community-owned sites. This would also include all the other nature reserves under the management authority with biodiversity investment opportunities, and this would be made available to private investors. Both Isimangaliso and SANParks had hosted investor road shows, and the Department hoped that it would be creating a link for these entities via the portal.

With regards to SANBI’s financial sustainability, the government grant constituted almost 70% of SANBI’s funding requirements. SANBI had been one of the entities of the Department that had been able to leverage donor funding to support most of its programmes. Its portfolio for donor funding had expanded over the years.

SANBI also participated in the bio-prospective forum, where applications relating to bio-prospectives were considered. Entities may apply for funding to develop a particular plant derivative for economic use.  This year, the Department had offered the Khoi and San community R12 million that was paid over to them as part of the rooibos agreement.

The role of SANBI was critical when it came to supporting sciences related to biodiversity and ensuring that the driven science was translated into policy. The Department was working with SANBI on how it enhanced scientific capacity across the board in the public sector environment because one area that concerned the Department was the erosion of the support for conservation. They would soon be deciding on the model that could be put in place to ensure that they support the science that must be undertaken in the protected areas.

The Chairperson said the development of the education and awareness programme may not have been done or adhered to in accordance with the Committee's resolution. A detailed report on this must be provided by the Department to the Committee.

The Department, in response to the President’s 2020 SONA pronouncement, had undertaken that support would be given to assist entities to be sustainable and not depend on the fiscus. This report may also be submitted to the Committee. These entities were implementing agents and should be supported by the Department.

Briefing by South African National Parks (SANParks)
Ms Pam Yako, Chairperson, SANParks Board, recalled the reminder to not miss the deadlines in terms of the submissions, and the concerns of the Committee regarding the AG’s findings. The annual report had been completed and there was a full view of the performance of the entity. In certain areas, the presentation would cover the whole year. Some of the targets were cumulative. Some targets may not have been achieved in quarter three but had been met in the fourth quarter.

Most of its revenue came from tourism. The Committee would be aware that it had been a difficult time for the sector. There were green shoots of a recovery, and SANParks was also benefiting from that recovery. The tourism recovery was coming mainly from the locals, which meant that more South Africans were visiting the parks. The receipts from international tourists were higher, as they tended to spend more.

There were also challenges that the sector still experienced, but Covid had been the biggest factor in affecting the performance of the entity. Next week, SANParks would be participating in a three-day tourism leadership conference. This conference would also consider the recovery of the sector. In many areas, the entity had applied cost-cutting measures, despite the better performance of revenue.

86% of the targets had been achieved, and some had been exceeded. In areas where targets were not achieved, the presentation would provide the highlights. SANParks had received an unqualified audit opinion, with findings on compliance and performance information. This was a concern because, in comparison to prior years, the finding on performance information was new. Management had held two workshops so far to develop an audit action plan.

Rhino poaching remained a serious issue for SANParks. The animal population decline in the Kruger National Park required the involvement of the rest of the government and other law enforcement agencies. Excluding the Kruger National Park, there was a recorded growth of 6.2% of the population. This 6.2% was above the 4% growth rate target. The biggest challenge was the issue of poaching.

The entity would welcome an opportunity to present to the Committee the recently adopted Rhino Conservation Strategy, which included rhino management plans for certain parks. SANParks was in the process of costing it.

Land claims had also been one of the significant issues, but the board had commenced considering some of the recommendations of the Committee. This would be discussed at the upcoming board meeting on 21 September. The board would have the Committee’s resolutions as a stand-alone item on its agenda to thoroughly and carefully address it.

SANParks 2021/22 Quarter 3 and 4 Performance
Ms Hapiloe Sello, Acting CEO, SANParks, took Members through the presentation, which covered the overall performance during the fourth quarter, the performance against the third and fourth quarter targets, and financial performance as of 31 March 2022.

The SANParks 2022 budget had been set within a context of an uncertain economic environment
exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19 on tourism revenues. It was expected that international travel
restrictions, lockdowns, and the discovery of new Covid-19 strains would continue to have a negative
impact on tourism revenues over the medium term. In preparing the 2021/22 budget, SANParks initially projected a deficit of R 645 million, which was later reduced to nearly R489 million by delaying specific infrastructure projects -- and eventually adjusting the budget further to breakeven, following the non-approval by the National Treasury. This led to many divisions without a budget for the rest of the year. This budget cut was unrealistic for running the parks and divisional operations for the rest of the year. To date, SANParks had realised a net deficit of R223 million against a budgeted break-even. The negative variance was due to total expenditure exceeding the budget.

For the financial year ended 31 March 2022, SANParks had realised a net cash deficit from operating activities of R215 million. The net cash deficit was mainly due to the decrease in government grant funding and other donations. Net cash outflows from investing activities amounted to R215 million. Net cash outflows from financing activities totaled R46 million. Overall cash and cash equivalents decreased by R483 million.

Mr Bryant said he calculated from the presentation figures that the number of rhinos remaining in the Kruger Park was 2 433, which was a 13.4% decline (376 animals) from the previous number, which was 2 809. Another 82 animals had been poached this year. Could the Committee get a confirmation on whether this number was correct, and at what point the rhino population would become functionally extinct?

The integrity testing by polygraph had been raised numerous times, and it was a long outstanding matter. Was polygraph testing still taking place, or was it still voluntary? Was it being carried out on a variety of staff members, from senior to junior personnel? If it was still taking place, what were the results? He noted that two rangers were arrested in 2022 for being involved in poaching -- was polygraph testing used?

What was the current status of the ranger posts? He sympathised with the call for an increased budget for conservation. One could not say that the government was serious about this when it was not providing the requisite budget to protect endangered animals. Rangers were putting their lives at risk to carry out these dangerous responsibilities. He agreed that the budget for conservation had to be increased.

Over the past two weeks, one saw daily demonstrations on the access roads into Kruger Park, and trees being chopped and thrown down across the road by people in protest. About 20 trees had been cut down. Was the SANParks working with any of the local law enforcement to address this? It was a huge issue for those who wanted to access the Park. Was SANParks working with the schools, in the same way that SANBI was managing its school programme?

Mr Singh asked about the continued reliance on funding. What was the plan moving forward in terms of obtaining the funds to perform the necessary activities? With regard to the deficit, which was eventually reduced to about R250 million, what specific infrastructure projects had had to be cut back? What were SANParks' plans to mitigate the risk of the deficit?

Mr P Modise (ANC) said that in October, the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Reports (BRRRs) would be debated, and he did not feel that Members were being given sufficient reasons to debate those BRRRs enthusiastically for an increased budget for conservation. Why did one need to increase money for conservation when some members of the staff did not seem to know what they were doing? Who was not meeting the key performance indicators (KPIs)? The board and management had basically told the Committee that they had failed to bring people for free to the Parks. It was a simple KPI, and it spoke about marketing because at the centre of their preoccupation were issues of sexual assaults, one involving the Minister of Finance, and also the CEO. They did not have any other thing to market SANParks on.

They had a responsibility as the Portfolio Committee to arrive at a determination that there was chaos in the entity. It was embarrassing because a failure to make this reflection would make all of the Members accomplices. The board was not inspiring confidence at all. The 2021 APP and all the indicators were in red, which was unacceptable, and this could be attributed only to a lack of strategic management. The CEO who was fired had been the one doing the work. He was doing exceptionally well, and SANParks had been in good standing. Now it was chaotic, and everyone was in Hollywood – in acting positions. The critical positions must be filled -- SANParks could not continue having key managerial positions in an acting capacity.

The Committee could not interface with anything that was conservation-related, or that spoke about the good integrity or image of the Kruger National Park and SANParks in general. What one got was rangers who were being shot, people who were being accused of sexual assaults and harassment – this was taxpayers’ money they were talking about. The CFO and the team had come here asking for an increased budget, but he was not convinced by that. The former CEO was still litigating, yet the position of the CEO was being advertised for an appointment. The matter was still in court -- what if the court arrived at a different determination after the position was filled? What was the rush to fill this position? The Committee must make a strong recommendation to the Minister and the Deputy Minister and insist on meeting with them because this entity was doing down. The board and management must pull up their socks.

The Chairperson said that over the weekend the Committee had been busy in Limpopo with public hearings on the National Veld and Forest Fires Amendment Bill, and one community member from the Matiyane village had raised a heartbreaking matter. The fires from the game reserve had affected the nearby communities, and the fire responses were not carried out timeously. The worrisome matter was that the entity was perceived as non-compliant and threatening the livelihood of farmers and communities close to the park. She asked if SANParks was part of the local fire association and if so, whether the membership fees were paid up. Could it confirm that it was complying with the Act? If not, how soon was this going to be addressed? Management did not seem to have reached out to those communities, and clarity on this matter must be provided.

She said it did not make any sense to cite natural mortality as a reason for the rhino population decline. Why was the impact of poaching being masked? What measures were being considered to address the issue of rhino poaching? What species of animals had been transported to the national park in Mozambique? What were the terms of the agreement that were reached between SANParks and Mozambique?

She asked the entity to provide a detailed report on the issue of land claims.

Ms Sello said that by the end of the financial year all the posts would be filled. Funding had been ring-fenced from the human capital budget to finance priority positions and ranger posts, which also fell under priority posts. Regarding the children’s access to the parks, there was a programme called ‘Kids In Parks’ which had been in slumber for the past two years because of Covid. This year it would be kickstarted, and it would host 5 000 children in 11 different parks and communities. In 2019, SANParks had registered 70 000 visitors to Parks Week, so a target of 80 000 was not out of reach. She said the decline had not been a matter of marketing but was due to the Covid regulations that had been imposed over the past two years.

SANParks had achieved an 86% performance against its targets. A formal report would be submitted regarding the issue of the fires.

Law enforcement agencies in and around the Kruger National Park were very active. Warnings were put out early about road closures, and tourists and staff members were alerted timeously. SANParks keeps its communications lines open to communicate these matters timeously with its staff and visitors.

Ms Lize McCourt, Chief Operating Officer (COO), SANParks, confirmed that SANParks was a member of various fire protection associations. It was a team player in preventing fires, and it was up to date with all its membership fees.

She said integrity testing was more than just polygraph testing -- it included lifestyle audits. The polygraph testing policy had been reviewed, and it was currently heading to the board for consideration by November. The main reason for the delay was around the compulsory implementation and retrospective compulsory application, which was not part of the conditions of services when people were being appointed. The new policy was applicable across the whole organisation, but there were elements of voluntary participation that would need to be honoured as a result of the legal restrictions, as per the labor law. The entity was not only relying on polygraph testing, as there was an information-based system where there were triggers that required the entity to investigate an individual or staff member.

The rhino management strategy would be shared in writing with the Committee.

Mr Dumisani Dlamini, Chief Financial Officer, SANParks, said the Peace Park Foundation was one of the strategic partners of the entity on matters of conservation. During the past financial year, SANParks had received R24 million, but it was not the only source of funding. In the last financial year, it managed to raise a total of R132 million for the year. Out of that funding, only R24.4 million came from Peace Parks.

SANParks was concerned about the deficit, but the main reason for it had been the pandemic. He pointed out that SANParks was turning over R300 million in 2004, and it had moved to R3.3 billion pre-Covid-19.

The infrastructure projects had not been reduced, but repurposed. Many strategies had been employed during the pandemic, and many entities in the portfolio had converted some of the infrastructure money to fund operations. In this case, they had obtained approval from the Minister to repurpose R235 million to fund operational pressures for the past two years. This had not been utilised. The infrastructure programmes were continuing as planned.

SANParks had engaged the ministry and National Treasury to find a solution to reduce the deficit. People costs accounted for 48% of the costs, and operations accounted for 47%. To continue implementing cost containment measures, it would mean that operating costs had to be slashed, but they had already been cut by R400 million in the previous financial year. The entity spent R1.384 billion on people. The entity had been avoiding touching this line, but if the funding model did not change, they might have to reconsider.

Dr Luthando Dziba, Managing Executive: Conservation Services, SANParks, said that the number of rhinos in the Kruger National Park was 2 458, made up of 2 250 white rhinos and 208 black rhinos. For a species to be functionally extinct, it would have to be reduced to a point where it no longer played a significant role in its ecosystem or would have to be reduced to a point where it was no longer able to reproduce. This was not true for the Kruger population. The population in the other rhino parks collectively had started at about 60 black rhinos and 100 white rhinos and had grown to over 600 rhinos in the other six rhino parks. To have a viable breeding population, one needed about 20 animals, so at 2 458 the Kruger population in our view was far from being functionally extinct. With that said, there were risks, and in the past, they had undertaken studies to look at the impact of the risks the population faced, which were mainly associated with poaching. At the peak of poaching, around 2013/14, it had been projected that by 2025 to 2045, the population would be at risk of being functionally extinct. Looking at the numbers right now, and seeing the declining poaching rates, with strategies that were more responsive to the challenge, those risks were much less than had been the case in 2014 when the study was conducted.

As for Peace Park Foundation funding, a commitment was made to the Mozambican government by Peace Park to translocate animals from Kruger to Mozambique. When the pandemic impacted its financial resources, it had been unable to meet this commitment. SANParks would meet with the Mozambicans and the Peace Park Foundation to find common ground on how to plan for this before making commitments in its annual plans.

Regarding the fires, all the national parks were compliant with the Act and were members of the local fire protection associations. They also wanted to follow up by providing evidence regarding Kruger Park.

Dr Dziba said SANParks had been upfront about the impact of poaching on the rhino population. Poaching was the major driver of the decline in the rhino population in the Kruger Park. All the other drivers had been quantified and they had a smaller contribution, even though they interacted to compound the effect of poaching. For example, during the 2015/16 extended drought, they found that the birth rates of animals in the park had declined. The rate at which all the other species recovered was quicker than the rhino population. This was because of the compounding effect of losing female rhinos to poaching and the birth rates that were suppressed. Unless they could stop poaching, it was going to be difficult to stop the decline in the population.

SANParks had now developed a rhino management plan for Kruger, which outlined the strategies being implemented to turn around the situation. These strategies include the security interventions and zoning of the parks to identify areas where they need to intensify the protection of the rhinos in their parks. In relation to these interventions, they had looked at opportunities to buy land suitable for expanding opportunities to introduce rhinos into those areas. The rhino population in other parks had been growing at about 5% per annum for the past four to five years, but they were starting to see a slower growth rate because of the increased number of bulls in the population. These bulls needed to be taken out of the population, but SANParks needed land to reintroduce them to the wild.

SANParks would submit a list of the animals that had been translocated to Mozambique. The agreement was in place, and it may be made available to the Committee as well if required.

Ms Yako said the entity had tried its best to perform optimally. SANParks had started the process of enhancing awareness (Vision 2040), and the main objective was to get South Africans to know what their work on conservation entailed.

On land claims, the board had established a committee to work on trying to get community issues addressed, especially land claims in the Kruger Park. This had to be extended to other parks. They were committed to seeing progress, and a report would be submitted to the Committee for an update.

A financial sustainability plan had been adopted, and it had been signed off by the Minister. There were subjective and objective issues. The objective factors included the performance of the sector, which involved the tourism sector, and the impact of Covid.

Referring to the former CEO’s matter, SANParks was governed by the law and wanted to stay within the law. This meant following the disciplinary process as it unfolds, and once the outcome came out, a decision could be taken. There was nothing stopping the board from advertising the position in terms of the law.

The Chairperson commented on the issue of the Presidential Youth Employment initiative and said a lot of young graduates were crying about being unemployed. Most of these young people were taken in and then dropped after a year or two. The Committee needed a detailed progress report on this.

Mr Bryant asked who was taking responsibility at SANParks to address the issue of the closed access roads. This should be taken up with the Minister of Police.

Ms Sello said that this responsibility would fall on her office, with support from the chairperson of the board and board members.

Ms Mokgohloa said that the Department had noted all the initiatives taking place that were related to rhinos. She would engage the Deputy Minister to take some of these matters up with their counterparts, especially those related to security and law enforcement.

The meeting was adjourned.



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