Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 117



Feature
this holds consequences for both the people and the
environment itself.”
According to Ramutsindela, the peace parks project
came at just the right time, as it brought together all the
questions he was grappling with.
“The mission of transfrontier conservation areas
(peace parks) in southern Africa is very noble. It aims
to promote biodiversity, sustainable development and
peaceful co-existence. However, not enough thought
was given to the impact these new spaces would have
on the people who previously inhabited them,” says
Ramutsindela.
Empowering local people
“While the animals gained habitat, the locals in these
remote areas lost theirs, and received very little in
return. The few who can read and write can work in
the peace-park projects, or as tour guides; but the
ordinary people who would have otherwise used the
land to feed their families are left impoverished and
desperate. These are the same people who until very
recently witnessed the violence, torture and killings
inflicted by South Africa’s apartheid government on
the country’s borders – atrocities that have never been
addressed properly.”
Ramutsindela remarks that these same violent tactics
are now used to combat rhino poaching and defend
the peace parks. The Kruger Park, which is the core
of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park between
Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, has rapidly
militarised, in a desperate attempt to save endangered
rhinos from poachers.
“While saving the rhino is a very important conservation
effort, we must also start empowering and including the
local people. If we keep ignoring them, we are sending
out the message that they don’t matter – that we only
care about the animals and the environment. Frustration
and anger will increase, which in turn will fuel the
conflict in an already unstable region.”
The majority of the communities in those remote areas
are very poor; and on losing their land, have no way to
provide for their families. As a result, it is said that they
are easily tempted to get involved in illegal activities
such as harbouring poachers for quick money.
Ramutsindela warns that this has become a vicious
circle. “As the poaching crisis intensifies, more land is
acquired to create buffer zones against the poachers. As
a result, more people are losing their land and livelihood
… and so the conflict continues.”
He suggests that local people be given some basic
rights and responsibilities, via benefit-sharing schemes
that have minimum guarantees. “Some kind of ethical
code is necessary. If people have some rights to the
land and earn some benefits, they will appreciate
conservation efforts, as well as develope a sense of
dignity and purpose.
“In Namibia, for example, the government has given
local people wildlife rights. They don’t own the land, but
at least they have access to the land and the animals,
while also looking after them – they are part of the
conservation process.”
Ramutsindela also believes that the semi-nomadic
lifestyle of ethnic groups such as the Nama and San
should be recognised, by allowing them to migrate
freely across the borders. “The San’s habitat, for
example, has always been the Kalahari. Open it up for
them!” (The Kalahari stretches over parts of Botswana,
Namibia and South Africa.)
He remarks that people in general are very unwilling to
express criticism when it comes to conservation and
(especially) the peace parks.
“Though it is a great project, it has had unintended
consequences, and we should not be afraid to address
those, and ask the difficult questions. We need to bring
about more peace in the parks. We have succeeded in
redefining the borders for wildlife; now we must do the
same for the communities that are still divided by those
borders. Involving and improving the lives of the local
people will help to increase stability in the peace-park
regions, and reduce the potential for future conflict.”
By Birgit Ottermann. Feature image by Wegmann,
Wikimedia Commons. Image of researcher by
Michael Hammond.
Life below water and life on land 112

Wikimedia Commons





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