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Stronger links between communities and protected areas in KwaZulu-Natal
Local community forums for protected areas have for many years been an important point of contact between nature conservation managers and the people living in an around parks in KwaZulu-Natal. As one of the elements of nature conservation policy and strategy of the parastatal KZN Wildlife, this has involved the development of interactions and partnerships through which KZN Wildlife and communities engage in co-defining and realizing nature conservation value and opportunities. Over the past ten years, community conservation programmes have expanded exponentially, with conservation managers and local communities initiating and supporting an enormous variety of programmes, involving resource use, community development, biodiversity education and tourism partnerships.
South Africa's transition to democracy and the removal of the imbalances of the past has given further impetus to programmes which concern parks and people. In particular, a primary thrust of government policy is to democratize the state and society, and involve people in decisions which affect their everyday lives. An important aspect of this is the restitution of land rights lost due to racially discriminatory laws. The development of a new law establishing KZN Wildlife in 1997 offered an opportunity to strengthen this relationship between parks and people, and the concepts of statutory Local Boards for protected areas and of a Community Trust were introduced.
Appointed by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, after a public nomination process, the objects of the Local Boards are to promote local decision-making regarding the management of nature conservation and heritage resources within protected areas as well as to promote the integration of the activities of the protected area into that of the surrounding area. The powers of the Local Boards are circumscribed by the policies, norms and standards determined by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Board, which is responsible for biodiversity conservation throughout KwaZulu-Natal, including areas which fall outside of protected areas. The most important mechanism whereby the Local Boards will influence decision-making is through their powers to compile and monitor the implementation of management plans for protected areas. These management plans must, among other things, promote the development needs of the people living in or adjacent to protected areas, promote educational programmes, and determine local policies, including resource management and zonation, the development of ecotourism, and scientific research.
After a lengthy communication and preparation phase, the Minister has now appointed the first four Local Boards, and a process of capacity-building and initiating their work has begun. One of their most important functions is to manage the disbursement of funds from the Community Trust. This fund was established in 1998 to ensure that communities living adjacent to protected areas benefit directly from tourism activities. Each visitor is required to pay a community levy upon entry to the parks, and in the first two years of operation, the capital raised has exceeded US$ 1.2 million.
The Local Boards are responsible for receiving proposals for the use of these funds, and payments made to date have contributed to the building of additional classrooms at a school, the establishment of a crèche, the construction of a community hall, and the development of a heritage site. The latter project is the result of the settlement of a land claim over a component area of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park World Heritage Site. The Land Claims Court awarded the claimant community restitution following their loss of rights of beneficial occupation. Because restoration of the land could not be considered, the proceeds of the Community Levy will accrue to this community in perpetuity, and a heritage site will commemorate their former occupation and contribution to the global heritage. In another park, ten traditional authorities have pooled their levy to invest in an equity share in a tourism development, which will also create employment in an area where there are few other economic opportunities.
The introduction of these structures for community governance and participation will no doubt be a challenging and interesting phase of nature conservation development in South Africa, and will, it is hoped, contribute to greater social equity and sustainability for protected areas.