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Ndumo: a debate that just won’t go away.

A selection of South African media articles.

"The threat to Ndumo grabbed both local and international attention when the local community cut 11km of game fence on the eastern and southern boundaries and invaded the park."

Ndumo reserve hit by invasion, crime

YOLANDI GROENEWALD - Oct 15 2010 08:59

Environmentalists are holding their breath to see if order can be restored to the world-renowned Ndumo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal after the provincial government called in police reinforcements in response to worsening anarchy there.

Ndumo was attacked by a mob at the end of last month, which destroyed a guard outpost and swing bridge close to the camp and threatened tourists and game rangers.

As a result, the KwaZulu-Natal agriculture and environmental affairs department called in troops.

The attack by the 70-strong mob is the latest crisis in the reserve since the wetland and birding area was hit by a land invasion by neighbouring communities two years ago, intended to "liberate" it for agriculture.

The invading Bhekabantu and eMbangweni communities cut down 12km of the park's fence, demanding that they be allowed to farm inside the park.

They have since gone on to occupy 16 20ha or 14% of the reserve, which includes the most ecological sensitive section of the park.

But despite the presence of troops, including the defence force patrolling the border, the land invaders continue to practise slash-and-burn cultivation, destroying large areas of mature riverine fig forest.

The Mail & Guardian understands the mob attack occurred after the provincial environmental portfolio committee met local leaders from the Mbangweni Corridor and Ezemvelo staff members on September 21 and 22.

The police intervened after the swing bridge was destroyed and a large section of mature forest felled with a chain saw.

The violence and illegal intrusion into the reserve from the Mbangweni Corridor threatens the Lubombo Ndumo-Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area, created through a protocol signed by the governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.

The initiative has the potential to contribute not only towards conservation, but also to bring socioeconomic benefits to an area characterised by poverty and unemployment.

The secretariat of the international Ramsar Wetlands convention in Switzerland has asked for a progress report on Ndumo.

The M&G has seen graphic game rangers' reports of the extensive damage to the reserve.

Even more damaging is the rampant poaching and illegal fishing. Poaching of fauna, including the use of cable snares, has already killed one white rhino and seriously injured another, the reports show.

An environmentalist who was formerly in charge of Ndumo Game Reserve, Paul Dutton, said he believed influential tribal leader Prince Russell Thembe was key to resolving the crisis.

"Thembe is the key person to mediate for a win-win solution to the current impasse as he is an influential and respected leader within local community structures," Dutton said.

He said he had flown over the reserve and Mbangweni Corridor last Sunday and detected neither police activity nor cultivators in the reserve.

"The corridor is a hotbed of crime that the police has to stamp out otherwise the problems faced by Ndumo will escalate to the advantage of the miscreants," he said.

Dutton believes the invasion of the reserve was motivated by criminal elements who wish to maintain freedom of activity in one of South Africa's most crime-ridden border areas.

Thembe did not respond to messages left on his phone.

Minister of Water and Environment Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica has constantly passed this hot potato on to provincial minister Lydia Johnson to resolve, but Johnson has been accused of dragging her feet on the issue in spite of promises.

"The department acknowledges that the process has taken longer than anticipated," said KwaZulu-Natal environmental department spokesperson, Ncumisa Mafunda.

The police monitored land-invasion activity, while the defence force was responsible for controlling the border, Mafunda said, insisting the police were in control of the situation.

"Short-term plans are under way involving fencing a piece of land allocated for subsistence food production."

Long-term plans include involving local communities in conservation management. "The strategy has not failed; the department is working hard to resolve this complicated matter," Mafunda said.

Ndumo game reserve invaded

Dries Liebenberg, Beeld. 2010-10-01 09:25

Durban - Game rangers were chased from their outpost after which their camp was damaged and a suspension bridge destroyed in the Ndumo game reserve in the north of KwaZulu-Natal last week.

According to Radley Keys, DA spokesperson for environmental affairs in KwaZulu-Natal, the two incidents on Monday and Friday last week are attempts to allow land invasions to continue unimpeded in the eastern part of this park of international importance.

Conservation circles were abuzz on Thursday, warning that this state of affairs could have serious implications for South Africa in the international community.

Ndumo's flood basin wetlands, similar to those of the Okavango, have been given international conservation status according to the Ramsar agreement. They also form part of the proposed Lubombo Transfrontier Park which South Africa is involved in along with Mozambique and Swaziland.

Bush cleared for farming

All the game in the eastern part of the reserve has already been destroyed, the crocodiles Ndumo is famous for have left the area, and the bush is being cleared unhindered to make space for farming plots, said Keys after he and other members of the KwaZulu-Natal legislator's portfolio committee for agriculture and conversation visited the area last week.

"It's a crisis. There's total anarchy," said Keys.

The invasion of this part of Ndumo, east of the Pongola River, comes as a result of a land claim which was awarded to local residents in 2000.

However, nothing came of government's promises of agricultural assistance outside the park, Keys said. Then, in 2008, people chopped down 20km of Ndumo's eastern border fence.

According to an informed source, the land invasions are also related to the influx of people from Mozambique. The border between these two countries splits the Tonga tribe in two.

If the eastern part of Ndumo is lost for conservation, it places the future of the whole reserve in danger," Keys said.

Well-known game conservationist Dr Ian Player says this reserve is one of the most important bird-watching destinations in Southern Africa.

Suspension bridge destroyed

Last Friday, after a tourist was confronted, a group of people destroyed a suspension bridge across the Pongola River which lends access to the east of the park, Keys said.

On Monday a group of people attacked the game guards' outpost at the Mpholwe pan. The game guards were chased away before the buildings were damaged.

Police were called in to patrol the area after this incident, but as far as he knows, no charges were laid, said police spokesperson Jay Naicker.

Lydia Johnson, MEC for environmental affairs, condemned this "criminal behaviour". She is worried that it might hamper talks with local communities to find a solution for the problems surrounding the land claim.

Compromise in Ndumo crisis

Shirley Jones 2008-08-08 13:09

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Mtholephi Mthimkulu on Thursday quelled fears that a large portion of the Ndumo reserve would be de-proclaimed and handed over to the local community to farm.

Speaking at a press conference in Durban, he instead announced that 20 hectares on a fertile flood plain next to the Phongolo River would be fenced and set aside for controlled agriculture, a compromise which he said would help resolve the Ndumo crisis which had been a "hot potato" for the past eight years.

The threat to Ndumo grabbed both local and international attention when the local community cut 11km of game fence on the eastern and southern boundaries and invaded the park.

Mthimkulu said they were removed due to the swift action of the South African Police Service. However, the situation remained extremely volatile.

Land claim

He admitted that the root of the problem was the failure to implement an agreement and honour promises made to the impoverished community when a land claim was settled in 2000. The land was returned to them on condition that it was not occupied. It affected an area of 1 262 hectares out of a total of 10 600 hectares.

However, it is an internationally listed wetland that has RAMSAR convention status. In addition, it is a key component of the Usuthu Tembe Futi Transfrontier Park which will be created through dropping fences between South Africa and Mozambique.

Mthimkulu said that the resolution tabled before the provincial executive council on July 31 accepted that poverty among the communities surrounding Ndumo was both endemic and unacceptable. He pointed out that land within the reserve was arable while nothing could be grown in the white sand where local people lived. He said that desperate locals had even illegally gone into Mozambique to farm.

Conservation breakthrough

He added that conservation remained a priority and that the reserve was an important asset. Emphasising that nature needed to co-exist with people, he said that this was a real conservation breakthrough and did not represent a free for all within the reserve.

The controlled area will now be rezoned with immediate effect. He said a timeline would be drawn for implementation in conjunction with communities and relevant stakeholders. His department together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife will provide assistance and expertise to ensure that the farming did not clash with conservation.