Greg Martindale with Eric Buthelezi, the chairman of the 192-family Emcakwini Community Trust who, despite years of trying to attract government investment in his 19000ha land-claimed Babanango farm, nevertheless remains committed to the wildlife economy option.

Greg Martindale with Eric Buthelezi, the chairman of the 192-family Emcakwini Community Trust who, despite years of trying to attract government investment in his 19000ha land-claimed Babanango farm, nevertheless remains committed to the wildlife economy option.

By Richard Compton

The SA government is either marginalising or intentionally ignoring investment in the eco-tourism and related ‘green’ industries that hold such profitable potential for thousands of hectares of community-owned landholdings throughout KZN.

Instead, “spurious, quick-fix solutions” like inappropriate mining locations are being encouraged that are stifling the realisation of the ‘green economy’ where appropriate rural land can be realistically utilised for more profitable and sustainable, long term community upliftment.

In the face of proven facts, just why is our government ignoring the many thousand hectares of community-owned land that stand frozen in damaging subsistence livestock and agricultural practices when there is such potential in this ‘green’ economy? Why are they promoting damaging and illogical mining locations that fly in the face of the governments own commitment to establishing two million hectares of community-owned wildlife ranches, 60 000 new jobs and stocking half a million head of game on these areas within the next 10 years?”

Greg Martindale is one of South Africa’s leading experts in Biodiversity Stewardship, a burgeoning profession specialising in identifying such land and motivating its protection and transformation into viable and sustainable community-run businesses.

His recent focus centres on the outrage that has greeted the possibility that a coal mine could be established on the boundary of KZN’s largest and most historic protected ‘Big 5’ area, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP). It has been proven that aside from the damaging, satellite impact this coal mine will have on HiP, the 32 000ha Wilderness section of the iMfolozi game reserve would be destroyed, whilst the 16000-strong Fuleni community will have to be relocated.

The physical location of this mining venture is utterly inappropriate and at the same time goes to the heart of government’s neglect of alternative local economies. Here’s a perfect example where they can act responsibly and intelligently by looking at empowering various Amakhosi to use nearby land for alternative purposes.”

Such purposes, he said, lay with the wildlife sector, which has huge employment potential. It provides – and has proven to provide – a multitude of opportunities for the development of small, medium and micro enterprises for rural communities, thereby addressing rural poverty and issues like food security and climate change.

Notable amongst these is tourism, hunting, and the development of the venison market, production of game meat, curing and tanning of hides, taxidermy and other associated enterprises.

Martindale established national acclaim when managing the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Unit programme for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, where in the space of four years , he unveiled and helped proclaim 100 000ha of such land in KZN and incorporated it into this Stewardship umbrella.

Before establishing his own NGO, Conservation Outcomes, he also identified a further 175 000ha in KZN that holds similar promise for the future.

To demonstrate what he called the “the complete lack of government planning” Martindale highlighted the imminent establishment of what is termed the ‘Big 5 Reserve’ where three Amakhosi have agreed to donate some 7000ha of their land and fuse it with HiP in the interests of following the principles of this green economy.

It is one of the most progressive community orientated developments in KZN’s history where HiP could, in time, very well expand right up and beyond Opathe Game Reserve outside Ulundi, providing sustainable, long-term benefits to communities. Instead, I see prospecting for this Fuleni coal mine being allowed slap bang where this reserve is proposed. It appears that government departments are not talking to one another.”

KZN was “littered”, he said with successful examples of partnerships between private enterprise and communities, ones that proved alternative income streams beyond those of mining and other harmful developments. One of many is Nambiti Private Game Reserve outside Ladysmith which was established as part of the land restitution process.

The original livestock farms employed 19 people. Today, more than 220 people are employed, often in specialised positions such as chefs, field guides and lodge management staff, all at considerably higher salaries than agricultural minimum wages. The reserve’s turnover exceeds R4 million a month, a huge source of sustainable economic growth and development in a particularly poor rural area.”

Another example lay with the 12 000ha Somkhanda Game Reserve, near Mkhuze in northern KwaZulu-Natal, which was also land claimed back in 2006 by the Gumbi community:” It has since been developed for tourism, trophy hunting and the live capture and sale of game. It employs more than 100 people and is yielding real benefits to the community as its game numbers increase and its tourism ventures grow.

Internationally renowned Phinda Game Reserve was another example where two-thirds of the land was successfully claimed in the 2000’s and is now run as a partnership between communities and private owners, AndBeyond:”

The community have received vastly enhanced incomes, employment opportunities and economic development as a result of this”.

Martindale was widely featured last year when he publicised similar potential for a largely neglected 19 000ha community-owned farm in Babanango in Northern Zululand. Its expanse and topographical magnificence made it a “perfect, overriding opportunity” for government to become involved in realising the lands potential for the community, especially by introducing wildlife and developing a local economy around hunting, hospitality and the venison industry.

Martindale’s commentary is topical; following Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s recent payment of some R300 000 to the resident land claimants of Ithala Game Reserve as part of a co-management agreement, which has been operating for the past two years. This sum represented the proceeds garnered from a hunting concession on the reserve.

This article appeared in the Witness on 7 December 2015, under the title, “Green revolution turns blue”.


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