Efforts to combat wildlife crimes and improve waste management were some of the key focus areas highlighted by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, during the debate of the department’s budget vote in the National Assembly on Friday.

The Minister told parliamentarians that the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Crime recently adopted by Cabinet was a big step in the ongoing battle against wildlife criminal activities, which include rhino and abalone poaching. “Due to the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve becoming a rhino poaching hotspot, this year our department will support Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to combat rhino poaching and related wildlife crimes. We will also invest R40 million to improve the boundary fencing as part of our assistance,” the Minister said.

In the Kruger National Park, the department is focusing on improving worker well-being, so they can resist poaching syndicates and are not lured into the illicit wildlife trade. These improvements include career path development and training; ranger wellness and counselling programmes; improvements in staff housing; putting in place an anonymous tip-off line; and setting up liaison committees with local communities.

Meanwhile, to ensure greater visitor safety, the Minister said, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa has installed hi-tech surveillance equipment at Numbi Gate. In addition, the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism is supporting a community training and development initiative to improve security around this access point.

The Minister also announced her department has a developed a draft strategy and action plan to combat trade in illegally harvested abalone, which is currently in the consultation phase. The department is also leading a process to develop marine sector plans as part of the marine spatial planning process. Ten draft marine sector plans have been published for public comment with the aim of promoting the co-existence of different sectors.

Minister Creecy also spoke about waste management challenges, including poor landfill practices and sporadic household waste collection, as well as unacceptable levels of illegal dumping in many parts of the country. To support municipalities, she said, the department will focus on improving cleanliness in Mafikeng, Mangaung, Bhisho and the other provincial capital towns, as part of the re-invigorated Presidential Good Green Deeds programme.

The Expanded Public Works Programme is supporting the cleaning and greening initiative by assisting in litter picking in prioritised streets; clearing illegal dumps; planting trees; and promoting recycling services. “Our Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes for paper and packaging, electrical, electronic and lighting sectors have begun the important work of diverting waste from landfill sites,” she said.

Last year, over one and a half million tons of paper and packing was diverted from landfill through recycling, recovery and treatment. Nearly nineteen thousand tons of e-waste was diverted from landfills over the same period.

Also participating in the debate on the budget vote, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Mr Pogiso Modise welcomed the budget, saying it empowers the department to implement conservation strategies, manage protected areas, combat wildlife crime and ensure the sustainable use of our natural resources.

“By investing in environmental protection, we create opportunities for green jobs for sustainable industries, such as the secular economy and ecotourism contributing to the overall wellbeing of our nation and fostering a resilient and thriving economy.

The committee Chairperson said, based on scientific projections, climate change will worsen environmental challenges. He implied that the budget allocation towards combating and mitigating the impacts of climate change should increase. “Despite the challenges, I have confidence in the department’s capabilities and its commitment to achieving its set targets for the 23/24 financial year,” he said.

Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament Mr Dave Bryant referred to an expose titled “Landscapes of Fear” by investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer, which revealed the details of the criminal syndicates controlling rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade from South Africa to China. “75% of Kruger National Park’s rhinos have been decimated by these syndicates since 2009. Our endangered pangolin, abalone and succulents are also being targeted and being smuggled to China and more must be done to increase the pressure to curtail the domestic Chinese markets. 

“82 vital game ranger posts remain unfilled in Kruger Park and this budget only provides enough money to fill a handful of them. Our wild rhinos are destined for extinction if we do not provide enough boots on the ground as soon as possible to take on the poachers,” he said.

Mr Bryant also criticised the centralised control over the granting of fishing rights saying this was destroying the industry. He argued that fishing communities would be better served if the Minister exercises her authority in terms of section 78 of the Marine Living Resources Act and devolves the responsibility for the granting of certain fishing rights to competent local authorities.

Mr Nazier Paulsen of the Economic Freedom Fighters questioned whether the department was able to carry out its mandate when many municipalities are failing to carry out environmental management functions. “Our municipalities across the country are failing to deliver services like refuse collection. The irony is we have a national waste management strategy and the Waste Act, which are not implemented. We are losing the fight against waste,” he said.

Mr Paulsen also spoke about the need to restructure the fishing industry to address historical imbalances and to achieve equity in all branches of the industry. “The fishing rights process under this ANC government has been nothing but a fantastic catastrophe. There is also no strategy on how previously excluded communities can participate in the forestry industry,” he said.

Sakhile Mokoena
22 May 2023