EZEMVELO KZN WILDLIFE CHAIRPERSON MS LYDIA JOHNSON'S RESPONSE TO ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA'S OPEN LETTER TO THE HONORABLE PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA.
An open letter by the former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela to the Honorable President Cyril Ramaphosa bears reference. News24 published the open letter on Tuesday, the 22nd of November, 2022.
It is very disappointing that Advocate Madonsela is penning this letter to the Honorable President Ramaphosa based on the July 2022 information without making any follow-up on developments since receiving such an email. To escalate such a matter to the highest office in the country without conducting this essential due diligence, as well as affording the other parties a right of reply, is concerning, particularly when taking into consideration that the current Board has been prioritizing the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park (Park) since being appointed in June 2022 and continue to do so. As a result of this oversight by Advocate Madonsela, we, unfortunately, do not know the contents of the email received from a public member, Dr. Alan Sara
The open letter contains several inaccuracies which, if left unchallenged, may perpetuate a view that the KZN Provincial Government and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife ignored the Public Protector's Report written more than eight years ago. Advocate Madonsela's letter shows a need for more understanding of the entity's interventions since her report's publication.
We are very concerned that Advocate Madonsela never bothered to allow the current MEC for Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) to respond to the complaints contained in the said email emanating from a member of the public. Had the former Public Protector afforded the MEC such opportunity, he would have assisted in providing an update on the interventions implemented by the KZN Provincial Government and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to address the challenges raised. Furthermore, she would have been advised that the current office of the Public Protector is involved in the matter and has been monitoring developments and being provided with reports as late as September 2022, addressing most of the issues raised by Advocate Madonsela.
It is crucial to indicate that Ezemvelo, like many protected areas the world over adjacent to rural communities, experience the phenomenon referred to as human-wildlife conflict. Human-wildlife conflict is the interaction between wildlife and communities that reside near protected areas, owing to declining habitats and increasing population growth, with communities encroaching into natural spaces at the cost of ecosystems and species resilience. At the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, what this means is that communities are increasingly building closer to the park fence, and for those with livestock, their livestock grazes along the border fence.
Back to the issues raised by Advocate Madonsela, it is not true that Ezemvelo uses the "unjust 1950s apartheid-grounded" common law principle. The policy regulating the compensation arising from human-wildlife conflict claims was approved on the 24th of January 1994 and is called Compensation Policy Human-wildlife Conflict (HWC Policy). As can be seen, the policy was approved in the year of the democratic elections.
It is also false to allege that claims lodged for livestock killed by lions are not compensated for. According to the HWC Policy, the payment is honored on proof that the dead livestock was killed by wild animals introduced into the community adjacent to protected areas, where they previously never existed. Ezemvelo thus pays for damages caused by animals such as lions, elephants, and wild dogs. The policy provides that no payment should be made for wild animals such as leopards, hyenas, or jackals, which are free-ranging (meaning they exist outside the Park and, therefore, may not necessarily be from Ezemvelo Park), and they also lived long before the establishment of the protected area. Some of these animals remained outside when the Park was established.
Ezemvelo continues to pay compensation for claims lodged by the communities as it has always done so in accordance with this policy. In the year 2022, Ezemvelo has paid more than R1.2 million for claims lodged by communities for livestock loss. The MEC for EDTEA was closely involved with the community around this issue. One of the recommendations made by the former Public Protector's report was that the compensation policy needed a review. Reviewing the compensation policy began a few years ago as directed by the remedial action. The review's essence was to include previously excluded species, including compensation for human injury and loss. However, Ezemvelo had to reconsider reopening the consultation process as communities demanded extended periods of public participation, which period was eventually interrupted by Covid-19 lockdown regulations because public involvement could only happen through mass community meetings.
As late as June 2022, during Okhukho & Nqulwane protests, even though the policy review had been finalised, communities were still decrying the consultation process and requested that additional public participation sessions be added before finalizing the policy. Ezemvelo and the MEC obliged and added extra dates to cater to the Okhukho & Nqulwane communities' requests. The draft policy has now been completed, and owing to the legal and financial ramifications flowing from the requirement to impose levies and fines on private game owners and the provisions of section 66 of the Public Finance Management Act, Ezemvelo is currently in the process of consulting both the Provincial Treasury and EDTEA.
HLUHLUWE IMFOLOZI PARK FENCING CHALLENGES
We want to put on record that the member of the public that sent an email to Advocate Madonsela was present when the issue of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park fence was discussed at the special Portfolio Committee on Conservation & Environmental Affairs held in August 2022 and is aware of the recommendations that were deliberated upon.
In June 2016, as part of its commitment to implementing some recommendations of the Ubuntu Report, Ezemvelo awarded a R35 million fencing contract to SA Fence and Gate PTY (LTD) to fence 162km of Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. Some of the conditions of this contract were that the service provider should use local labour. Disagreements erupted between the service provider and some community members. Ezemvelo launched an investigation that revealed several irregularities regarding the project management and service rendered. Ezemvelo further instituted a civil case against SA Fence and Gate to recover the money used. The civil case is still pending at the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
While we acknowledge that there are areas where the fence needs strengthening, the evidence on the ground has shown that, in most cases, animal escapes happen at the river crossings. Ezemvelo undertook a field assessment in July 2022 to finalise specifications for the Western Boundary fence replacement requirements. The exercise found that an estimated 38.2km of fence requires extensive work. This area has been identified as critical and has been targeted for urgent repairs.
It is also inaccurate to allege that there are elephants freely roaming outside the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, as charged by Advocate Madonsela. Concerning the recent increased level of wildlife crime, such as rhino poaching, and the associated animal escapes where poachers and illegal hunters have left holes in the fence to gain entry into the Park. At a meeting convened by the Board Chairperson with community leaders, including Amakhosi and other community structures, the traditional leadership admitted to a tendency by some community members to cut rolls of fencing material. In one instance, 500 meters of the fence were cut and removed to get park managers to respond urgently to communities' demand to create permanent jobs.
Since the recent community protests erupted in July 2022, Ezemvelo has implemented various interventions with various community structures to improve relations between Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park and the community. Our interventions have also helped to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Regrettably, Advocate Madonsela's letter fails to note the achievements already attained since those July protests. Ezemvelo and the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park community jointly developed an action plan to address the issue of the animals escaping from the Park. Ezemvelo took the following steps to resolve the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park problems.
- Two hundred fifty-one (251) community people have been contracted as fence liners – helping with monitoring and patching holes in the park perimeter fence.
- Community fence liners contracted by Ezemvelo immediately patch all identified holes in the fence.
- A budget of R9.8 million was secured to commence with priority perimeter fence patching.
- Engineers visited river crossings to assess engineering solutions and submitted their report in September 2022.
- Ezemvelo is currently adjudicating the fence project.
- Extra field rangers were mobilized from other parks to assist with tracking escaped animals and guarding escape hotspot areas.
- The helicopter was deployed to assist in tracking escaped animals.
- A lion call-up was initiated to lure escaped lions back to the Park.
- Ezemvelo secured four extra collars for the Mthembu pride of lions to help with regular tracking.
- We conducted the school's educational awareness campaign about wild animal behavior and how people should react if they encounter escaped animals.
- The current MEC for EDTEA, the honorable Mr. Duma, has also engaged the affected communities and seconded a senior executive from EDTEA to take over the reins of acting as Ezemvelo Chief Executive Officer from the 01st of September 2022.
- Ezemvelo organized a one-stop shop information-sharing session attended by various community structures. Several Government Departments and Entities were invited and allowed to highlight their funding programmes and how the community should access such funding opportunities.
- The Portfolio Committee on Conservation & Environmental Affairs met with all stakeholders to agree on what needed to be done.
- The entity has a commitment of an extra R40 million from the National Government to install the smart fence around the park.
- There is a collaborative effort between Community Leaders and Ezemvelo to find lasting solutions.
- A meeting with Inkosi Biyela was held to discuss the impact of illegal sand mining next to the uMfulawozi Private Reserve that is compromising the perimeter fence. Inkosi Biyela committed to working with Ezemvelo to address this matter.
- Ezemvelo continues working with all communities living adjacent to the protected areas. Through the community levy fund, Ezemvelo funds projects identified by the community. The recent projects outside HiP include financing the creation of dams, repairing boreholes, and purchasing 2-in-1 maize machine.
In conclusion, it should be understood that human-wildlife conflict will not be eradicated due to the dependency on natural resources and access to land. Irrespective of the circumstances, Ezemvelo continues to work towards reducing prevalent human-wildlife conflicts that dominate the relationship between Ezemvelo and the neighbouring communities of the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. Thus, it is unfair to dismiss the fact that Ezemvelo is committed and dedicated to doing all it can to mitigate the risk of human-wildlife conflict. As such, it goes without saying that while executing the core mandate of biodiversity conservation in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife will, by all means endeavour to take the necessary precautions to enhance the safety of the neighbouring communities and wildlife, in order to create mutual benefits of co-existence.
For enquiries, you can contact Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Communications Manager.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife: Communications Manager
Tel: +27 (0) 33 845 1743
Cell: +27 (0) 83 284 9586