One of the key focus areas of the new iSimangaliso management team is to foster great communication and stakeholder relations across the Park, as a basis for constructive engagement, and effective and mutually beneficial management and development of the World Heritage Site.
In this spirit, a recent meeting held in St Lucia for concession holders and neighbouring business owners and residents paved the way for open and ongoing discussion on many issues of mutual concern.
Chief Executive Officer Sibusiso Bukhosini, who took up office in September last year, introduced himself, his executive team and colleagues involved with various aspects of commercial ventures in the Park. He provided an overview and identified a number of prominent issues that face both the Park and those who rely on it for their livelihoods. He also informed the audience that on a recent Park visit by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the Honourable Barbara Creecy, he had apprised her of many challenges, among which were:
- The threat of proposed dune mining on the southern boundary
- Issues pertaining to the closed Lake St Lucia estuary mouth
- Swamp deforestation in the Sodwana Bay section
- Lake Sibaya water extraction
Bukhosini advised the audience that a company named Eyamakhosi Resources had submitted a proposal to mine vegetated dunes on the southern boundary of iSimangaliso, south of Maphelane, for minerals. He said that the iSimangaliso Authority has objected to this proposal, stating that “it interferes with our outstanding universal values as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you tamper with the dunes, it is forever. If we lose our status, we lose our market.”
Lake St Lucia Estuary mouth
Outlining the historical court case between UCOSP and iSimangaliso and the resultant judgment stating that no breach of the closed Lake St Lucia mouth would be permitted in the interests of the environment, and despite the fact that iSimangaliso won this case, Bukhosini said that he had invited the UCOSP farmers to work collaboratively with the Authority and others to try and find a mutually beneficial solution. Similarly the Authority is engaging with the Sokhulu small-scale farmers who have demanded a breach due to flooded crops in the river’s floodplain. He said that “we must accept that we have wilfully interfered with natural processes”, which have led to this situation. A scientific survey team was collectively appointed through the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries to seek a scientifically informed solution that addresses the back flooding without compromising the system’s ecological values, should this be feasible. No decision has been presented yet.
Swamp forest destruction
The illegal destruction of swamp forests adjoining the Sodwana Bay section is a major concern for the Authority as well as residents and business operators in the area. Bukhosini said that it reflected the community’s unhappiness with iSimangaliso and the perceived lack of benefits, however the executive body is actively engaging with leadership, has developed a “very good relationship with the iNkosi and to a degree we have harmonised the situation. We are worried about continuous destruction and have asked the iNkosi to urge people to stop”.
Lake Sibaya water extraction
Lake Sibaya is South Africa’s largest fresh water lake but is shrinking at an alarming rate due to increased extraction. Bukhosini said that he has engaged with the uMkhanyakude District Municipality on the matter and positive news is that water will start to be piped from the Pongolapoort Dam instead. The date of this has not yet been established.
The team highlighted several positive developments in the Park’s imminent plans including:
- Road rehabilitation – pothole repairs had already begun in St Lucia, maintenance through various sections of the Park would follow, and the widening and parking areas at Sodwana Bay were due to start. In the Coastal Forest section, the road from Siyadla Bridge to Bhanga Nek is being widened and hardened, and the road from Mabibi to Nine Mile beach will also be improved and hardened;
- Jetty repairs – which will include access for wheelchair users in the commercial jetty areas, following a suggestion by an operator in the audience;
- Re-advertising of all tourism concessions with a priority of expediting this process;
- Marine protected area expansion and ramifications for the fishing community. New signage would be erected during the month of September to notify fishermen of zonation, and marine patrols are being resuscitated.
One other item of interest was the announcement of a planned Business and Investment Summit to attract development at identified nodes, with newly appointed Executive Manager of Tourism and Business Development, Jabulani Ngubane, saying that the Park is “heavily pregnant with potential”.
A fruitful decision during the meeting was that one or more small committees should be formed representing interest groups, who would then communicate with the Park managers at regular meetings. In addition, the CEO undertook to hold biannual public meetings. “In this way we can collectively come up with solutions,” said Bukhosini.
The iSimangaliso Authority produces 20 Newsflashes a year on issues of interest or importance to stakeholders and visitors. These can be received by email, or found on the website, together with other relevant Park information.
Media enquiries should be directed to Debbie Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.