Briefing on Preparations for the 7th World Wilderness Congress


09 October 2001
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Meeting report

This Report is a Contact Natural Resource Information Service
Taking Parliament to People, and People to Parliament


The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

9 October 2001

Ms G. Mahlangu

Documents handed out:
Recommendations for Conservation of the National Wilderness Resources of South Africa (Wilderness Foundation, Wilderness Action Group, International Wilderness Leadership Foundation)
7th World Wilderness Congress (Wilderness Foundation)
(Documents awaited)


The Committee was briefed on the preparations for the 7th World Wilderness Congress that would take place the 2- 8 November 2001 in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. The briefing elaborated on the format of the programme, the speakers and issues for the Congress, and the capacity building, training and empowerment aspects of the Congress through the involvement of the local community in the entertainment and cultural programmes and some aspects of the preparation.

The Chairperson opened the meeting and stated that the briefing was organised because it was important for Members of Parliament not only to take part in but also to be informed about such events.

Briefing on Preparations for the 7th World Wilderness Congress
Mr A. Muir from the Wilderness Foundation began his briefing by giving a background on the World Wilderness Congress. He stated that it was founded by a South African in 1977 and added that it was the oldest public forum of its kind in the world. He stated that the first Congress was held in Johannesburg, and it was continued every five years after that. The Congress had additional significance because it would be the first international conference to take place in the Eastern Cape and the theme of the Congress, which would be "Wilderness and Human Communities - the Spirit of the 21st Century", was very relevant to Africa. He stated that each Congress was hosted by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and proceeded to discuss the structure of the Congress for this year. He stated that the Wilderness Foundation, a South African NGO, was hosting the Congress in conjunction with Wild Foundation, an NGO from the US, and outlined the various bodies responsible for policy objectives, liaison, programmes, fundraising, logistics, administration and marketing.

He then discussed the programme format and stated that the Congress was divided into two parts: the Wilderness Summit to take place 2 - 3 November and the Wilderness Working Sessions to take place from 5 - 8 November with a Community Day on 4th November to introduce the delegates to the wildlife, local communities and cultures of the Eastern Cape. He then moved on to the speakers at the Congress and stated that 60 main speakers had been confirmed to date. He further stated that the events of September 11 in the US had had a huge impact and resulted in the cancellation of two international conferences. The organisers of the Congress had made the decision not to cancel despite the challenges even though the planned US delegation of 155 had been reduced to 100. He then listed some of the high profile delegates including David Foreman, Michael Soule and Vandana Shiva who were still confirmed. He stated that the Congress would raise the profile of the Eastern Cape. He then moved on to the financial aspect of the Congress and stated that the expenditure budget was R2.25 million.

Mr Muir then proceeded to discuss the benefits to the local community. Scholarship and training programmes and efforts would make it easier for Eastern Cape citizens to participate in the Congress. He said that the entertainment and cultural programmes were carefully planned to empower and highlight local people. The various efforts at empowerment and events on the cultural and entertainment programmes featured the following: an international environmental film festival, exhibition of Eastern Cape NGOs, traditional dance and local musicians, Eastern Cape craft and tourism exhibition, stage and congress décor, and empowerment of black taxi drivers by training them to serve as the official transportation for the Congress. He concluded by noting that the document handed out included the draft programme of the Congress and also recommendations for information purposes.

Registration forms for the World Wilderness Congress were handed out, and Mr Muir asked Committee Members interested in attending to complete the forms and submit them.


Ms C. Ramotsamai (ANC) congratulated Mr Muir for going on with the Congress despite the events that took place in the US. She stated that community involvement was important and added that it was apparent from his briefing that the organizers took the involvement of communities seriously. She also commented that the Congress would have an impact on tourism and then asked for an elaboration on the finances.

Mr Muir stated that the Congress could be used as a tool or catalyst for sustainable development and empowerment. On the question of the finances, he said that the finances would be audited after the Congress had ended and transactions were completed.

The Chairperson stated that she understood Ms Ramotsamai's comments and added that it was unfortunate Ms Nqodi was not present for she was the Committee Member who always expressed concern that no events were ever held in the Eastern Cape.

Ms L. Mbuyazi (IFP) commended the presentation and the focus put on community involvement and empowerment by the organisers of the Congress.

Ms J. Semple (DP) commented that it was time to look at getting local participation in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Chairperson noted the presence of Mr Petersen who expressed an interest to speak to the Committee.

Mr B. Petersen, an environmental liberator, said that he came to the meeting in order to make a contribution and help President Mbeki solve environmental problems. He stated that he had spent 40 years outside looking in on the system. He believed that colonialism had brought many challenges and added that liberating the environment would benefit all South Africans. He worked with honeybees and invited Committee Members to visit his work.

The Chairperson stated that she was under the impression that Mr Petersen wanted to ask a question. This meeting was for discussion of the Wilderness Congress, so the Chairperson suggested that Mr Petersen give a written submission so that it could be distributed to Committee Members other Committees.

Ms J. Chalmers (ANC), referring to the workshop and symposia topics, asked if there was pre-congress material or more if information was available to help the Committee Members in making choices as to which sessions they should attend.

Mr Muir replied that, due to the events in the US and the resulting uncertainties, the programme had changed and there was a need to confirm participation before publishing the papers. There would be more detail on the programme available within the next week or so. Mr Muir proceeded to comment on the expectations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. He stated that, under the current mood, it would be better to tone down the expectations and estimated that the number of participants would be closer to 30,000 rather than the estimated 60,000. He stated that the Congress would serve as an opportunity to get a feel for the tone and view the current situation of the environment and conservation. Returning to the Congress, he stated that it was important to have wide participation of South Africans in the Congress and added that there were not enough Eastern Cape citizens signing up. He urged Eastern Cape representatives to help in ensuring the participation of Eastern Cape citizens. He also explained that accommodations had been reserved for Committee Members attending the Congress and confirmation of their attendance was necessary in order to hold the reservations.

The Chairperson said that thirteen Committee Members had confirmed attendance to the Congress and added that they would provide the names and funds to hold their accommodation spaces. Additionally, she would write to the Eastern Cape caucus to encourage them to support the event and raise participation. She then expressed the value of wilderness trails and asked Mr Muir to share this with the Committee Members because appreciation of wilderness was different among members.

Mr Muir explained that the wilderness school that ran wilderness trails was founded in 1961, and 100 legislators from the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces had been on the trail since 1994. The purpose of the wilderness trail was not for physical exercise but was intended to provide an insight into nature as a spiritual journey as well as an educational experience. He encouraged members to go on the trail and stated that there were two upcoming trips with nine reserved spaces for Parliamentarians. He stated that the experience of the wilderness trail would help Parliamentarians with their work and give them an experiential learning opportunity.

The Chairperson stated that the nine spaces reserved for Parliamentarians would be filled by Committee Members and, if necessary, Parliamentarians outside the Committee.

Mr Muir said that going on the wilderness trail would change perceptions of conservation and conceptions of wild areas and reserves. He believed that conservation and wilderness had a negative perception in the past and added that conservation was in the process of realigning with the new processes in this country. He stated that experiential learning was a great way to change people's perceptions. He mentioned some programmes designed to change perceptions of wilderness and conservation such as the Table Mountain walks conducted by volunteer youth for black youth.

Mr Muir said that one of the objectives of the Congress was to look at legislation. He claimed that the legislation was inadequate because the Forestry Act was only an indication to preserve the environment. He mentioned the inherent value of wilderness and commented on the functional value for humans such as the healing powers of the trails. He stated that the new Biodiversity Bill showed a concern for preserving the environment and added that they lobbied to get wilderness into the Biodiversity Bill. Wilderness was one of the eight protected areas in the Biodiversity Bill, and Mr Muir said they would continue lobbying to hold that position. He stated that the Bill had gone through four drafts and wilderness was included. He argued this was vital and should be mentioned in the Minister's presentation at the Congress.

Mr E. Moorcroft (DP) asked why Baviaanskloof had not been proclaimed a protected area.

Mr Muir replied that, although Baviaanskloof was included in the official list of designated wilderness areas, it had apparently not been formally proclaimed because the officials had not submitted the application. He stated that Baviaanskloof was ignored because of the politics between the Eastern and Western Cape governments.

Ms Chalmers stated that it would be useful to know the declared wilderness areas in South Africa and have a map of the areas.

Mr Muir replied that a list of the declared wilderness areas was included in the document handed out and stated that a map could be made available.

The Chairperson then gave the floor to Mr Caas from GLOBE-Southern Africa.

Mr F. Caas from GLOBE-Southern Africa thanked Mr Muir for giving GLOBE the opportunity to hold the session on the role of legislators in protecting wilderness areas. He stated that he had distributed registration forms for the session and asked Committee Members interested in attending to fill out the forms and submit them. He also mentioned the conference GLOBE had planned in October to prepare Parliamentarians for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Chairperson stated that it was important to share the information with officials at the provincial level, and the meeting was adjourned.

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