Director-General, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba and the Management of the Department
The CEO of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda
Executive Management and Senior employees at the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANParks
FNB Chief Executive: PSB, Mr. Danny Zandamela
Distinguished guests and members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are gathered here today to celebrate our national heritage through the launch of national parks week.
We are also using this annual celebration to also launch the Mapungubwe Interpretive Centre.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the concept of national parks week is not uniquely South African as it is celebrated in other parts of the world such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. What is unique in the South African context though is that ours is not just about celebration.
Our national parks have for many decades been inaccessible to the majority of South Africans. As we promote our national parks and other protected areas through initiatives such as national parks week, as well as People and Parks, we are also mindful of the urgent need to diversify the profile of those visiting and enjoying our national parks.
The Department of Environmental Affairsand South African National Parks (SANParks) have worked together since 2006 to mobilize especially those who were previously excluded and encourage them to visit the parks by offering free access during parks week. This initiative has proved to be very successful as visitor numbers keep increasing every year.
We have heard testimonies of community members living across the fence from some of our national parks and World Heritage Sites who have never entered these protected areas until they were afforded an opportunity through national parks week. It is these sorts of stories ladies and gentleman that should make us stop and reflect on what our parks mean to our people.
Our parks are a refugium for life, providers of ecosystem goods and services, irreplaceable sources of freshwater and fish stocks, buffers against natural disasters and climate change, laboratories for education, contributors to poverty reduction and economic development, as well as creators and sustainers of livelihoods. Parks are special places where people connect to their roots, where cultures, values and knowledge systems carry on through generations.
One of the objectives of national parks week is to instil a sense of pride in South Africa’s natural and cultural heritage specifically that which is protected through the protected area system. We can only have all South Africans taking pride in our parks when they start understanding the value of conservation. This ladies and gentleman calls on us all especially the protected areas agencies to start going about our business differently. It requires of our parks to work tirelessly to attract first time visitors especially the previously excluded by coming up with new initiatives. National parks week is one such initiative and I therefore call on SANParks and other protected areas agencies to do more in reaching out and attracting new visitors. This calls for the examination of the marketing campaigns to ensure that marketing messages are sent out through diverse media to reach out not only the traditional market.
I am happy ladies and gentleman to share with you that some national parks have done very well in diversifying the visitor profiles. Mapungubwe National Park is one of those parks where the numbers of the previously disadvantaged have been increasing every year. This, ladies and gentleman is reflected in both the overnight and day visitors. It is encouraging news which gives us something to celebrate as we launch this year’s national parks week.
Ladies and gentleman, we have had several launches of national parks week before but this year the launch is very special in many ways. The launch is taking place in one of South Africa’s most important and special parks (Mapungubwe). Mapungubwe is very important to all of us South Africans as it shows evidence of the largest kingdom in the African subcontinent between the 10th and 14th centuries. This was a very important phase in the history of our country as evidence shows that the people of Mapungubwe were already trading gold and ivory in exchange for glass beads and ceramics with Arabia, China and India. This was done through well-established trade routes going through east African ports.
The people of Mapungubwe ladies and gentleman, traded in gold more than 500 years before the first European settlers started the gold trade with Europe. This cultural landscape ladies and gentleman was a big city of 9000 people. This is bigger than most small towns that we have today. It is no wonder that this area is recognised as a national heritage site, national park, world heritage site, part of a biosphere and part of a Trans-frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) with Botswana and Zimbabwe. With regard to the latter, we hope that the Heads of State of the three countries will formalise the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA Treaty which will trigger heightened implementation of the recently concluded Integrated Development Plan.
The theme this year is “know your national parks”. It is therefore fitting that we gather today in a national park that is so different from what most South Africans are familiar with. A park that is centred around our important cultural heritage and has become a symbol of one of the highest “national order”, the “Order of Mapungubwe”. In this park we also find the Baobab which is also linked to national orders.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this year’s launch of national parks’ week is also important in that it is taking place in a national park that specifically protects our cultural heritage. This shows ladies and gentlemen that the portfolio of our national parks is diverse. Whereas our parks are famously known for their biodiversity, we also have very valuable cultural heritage which are being protected by SANParks and the Department of Environmental Affairs.
As a country we value Mapungubwe so much that we decided to share it with the people of the world by nominating it as a world heritage site. The site was indeed listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2003 and we also proclaimed it nationally as such in 2009. As a world heritage site, Mapungubwe joins seven other South African sites that are on the prestigious world heritage list. These include iSimangaliso Wetland Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg (KZN), Richtersveld (Northern Cape), Cape Floral Region (straddling Western and Eastern Cape) and Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa encompassing the Cradle of Humankind, Makapan Valley and Taung (Straddling Gauteng, North West and Limpopo).
The Department is working with other stakeholders towards nomination of a few more sites including some of our protected areas to be added to the world heritage list so that they can be shared with the people of the world.
The launch of this year’s national parks week in Mapungubwe is also special because this year the whole world is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention. It is therefore most appropriate that the national parks week is launched at this precious world heritage site. So as we celebrate our national parks in general, we also celebrate the international recognition that is enjoyed by some of our parks and heritage including Mapungubwe.
In 2003 when UNESCO accorded a world heritage status to Mapungubwe, they made a recommendation that an interpretation centre should be developed on site in order to explain the significant but largely invisible remains of the Mapungubwe Kingdom.
As I indicated earlier, this morning we are also launching the Mapungubwe interpretation centre. The beautiful interpretation centre building that you will get to see and tour this morning has won a prestigious World Building of the Year award in 2009. Since then, the building has won six more awards for different aspects. We should all pay tribute to the South African talent that designed the building and the many workers who built this masterpiece.
The interpretation centre building ladies and gentleman did not only win awards but its construction made a difference in the lives of our people. Many people learned crucial skills during the construction of the building including tile making and stone cladding. Over 200 000 tiles were manufactured on site using unskilled labour and thus empowering the workers with skills they may apply for a living after the life of the project. About 160 people were employed for 27 months during the construction of the Interpretation Centre. This translates into 47 876 person days. Moreover, the project saw the creation of six SMME’s which were developed into independent small contractors.
One of the iconic objects that Mapungubwe is famous for internationally is the golden Rhino artefact which was found buried with the king. In real life ladies and gentleman the Rhino which was a symbol of the status of the Mapungubwe king is today under threat. The irony is that what threatens our rhinos today is trade with Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. Unfortunately unlike during the Mapungubwe period where trade was legal and sustainable, this time the Rhino is being decimated by an illegal and brutal trade.
As we celebrate national parks week and the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, we should mobilize South Africans and the people of the world to stand against the threats that face our heritage especially the brutal killing of the Rhino. We should use every possible platform to raise awareness and encourage every person to recognize the need to do something about the protection of our heritage.
The Department recognizes other challenges faced by our protected areas such as the need to balance much needed development with conservation. Protected areas will never make sense to a hungry person as long as there is nothing about them that suggest efforts to make a difference in the lives of those that are desperate. Conflict between development and conservation become very stark in areas like Mapungubwe which are not only rich in biodiversity and heritage but are also home to a variety of minerals. The Department and the South African government in general have worked very hard in the last few years to ensure that as a developmental state we pursue our development in a sustainable manner. To this end we have ensured that there is high level coordination involving different government departments and agencies in order to create a balance between conservation and development in line with the theme of the 40th anniversary, World Heritage and Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Communities.
The Department has recently hosted an expert meeting on the subject of World Heritage and Mining bringing together experts from the conservation and the mining industries all over the African Continent. The expert meeting made some crucial recommendations which I hope will be adapted later this month as an African position by those attending the African Dialogue on “”Living with Heritage” being hosted by the government of South Africa through the Department of Arts and Culture. The African position will later be presented to the whole world at the UNESCO 40th celebration being hosted by Japan in November 2012. These are very important developments as we show the world that we value our biodiversity and heritage. At the same time we also face development challenges but our development approach is sustainable.
So ladies and gentleman, as we celebrate our parks, we should never forget that they should make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people. As we launch this national parks week, we must celebrate the conservation successes and efforts of local communities indigenous people, private individuals and volunteer organisations in making protected areas places of natural, cultural and spiritual convergence and as we do so, we should be mindful that some of our protected areas will continue to face challenges such as mining and other forms of rapid development. We should always remember the brutality that continues to be visited upon our Rhino.
Lastly, ladies and gentleman we should always realize that it takes each one of us to respond collectively and that way we can overcome the challenges.
Province Or State