Programme Director;

Mayor of Mopane District Municipality

Mayors of Greater Tzaneen; Lepelle Nkumpi and Maroleng Local municipalities;

Chairpersons and members of the various CPA’s;

Our Traditional leadership present,

Members of the Media,

Community members

I feel privileged to be afforded an opportunity to talk to you and with you today as the representative of Government and Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

As you are aware, our department is entrusted with an important task of ensuring that everyone has a right to an environment which is not harmful to their health or well-being and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures. This is a task handed down to us by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

We have over the past 20 years, been working side by side with all spheres of government and the society at large, developed good policies and programmes to ensure that these rights are realised. We have done this, as government, simply because we have an interest of our people at heart and that we are committed to the supreme law of our country – the constitution.

Certainly, you will agree with me when I say that policies without practical actions and the necessary resources cannot achieve an environment that is not harmful to our health and that is protected for the benefit of the present and future generations. We really need practical actions and resources to realize these rights.

It is for this reason that the department had designed an Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programme (EPIP) to fund and implement projects that seek to translate policies into action. This programme is focused on Greening and open Space Management; Working on Waste; Working for Land; Working for the Coast; People and Parks; Wildlife Economy; and Youth Environmental Services projects. This Programme carries out its mandate guided by the Extended Public Works Programme principles.

The facilities we are unveiling this morning form part of the People and Parks initiative, which invests in infrastructure development and biodiversity conservation for economic benefits by ensuring that local communities are involved in the management of protected and surrounding areas, and by promoting biodiversity values in the proclaimed protected and surrounding areas.

Through the People and Parks programme, we strive to ensure that communities that were forcefully removed from their land in an effort to create protected areas by the apartheid regime, enjoy socio-economic benefits of those protected areas.

Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve is one such area. It is a key biodiversity area within the lower Olifants catchment, and those who were forcefully removed have rightfully claimed land successfully and in line with legal framework they could not resettle back within the nature reserve.

There are six communities with land claims in the Nature Reserve. These are Madutula, Mamashiane, Paris, Cyprus, Balloon and Madeira. Only two communities had successfully completed their land claims i.e. Madutula CPA and Mamashiane CPA, while the other four communities are still pending.

We are confident that the finalisation of the pending claims will be expedited, and justice will be served.

Programme Director,

As the department, we are quite aware that challenges of our people are not limited to environmental problems. There are other challenges of unemployment, shortage of skills, small business underdevelopment, and the list is endless.

The Department came here in Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve in April 2014 and engaged with community members. Some of you here were present on that rainy Saturday afternoon.

It was on that day that the late Minister Dr Edna Molewa announced that the Department would provide funding for upgrading and/or development of infrastructure in Nature Reserves in this province. This is a promise and commitment that we have lived up to.

Today, we are proud to be back here to officially handover facilities built as part of our commitment to infrastructure development. Using labour intensive methods, as per the requirements of Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), we have built staff village, camping site, shared facilities, swimming pool and upgraded water infrastructure.

Programme Director, I want to specifically to urge community members, the CPAs and traditional leadership to play their part in ensuring that whilst using these facilities, vandalism is avoided at all cost. It will be encouraging when I come back to see the infrastructure that is well taken care of by the beneficiaries.

This is your nature reserve. These are your facilities and we are officially unveiling them for the full socio-economic benefit of the communities today. You must look after them. They should not only benefit you, but your children’s children too.

In the process of executing this task, at least 290 work opportunities benefiting women, youths and people with disability were created for the local people. All the local people working on the project are from within communities and are part of all the CPAs.

Programme Director,

The nature reserve has been identified as an anchor for the Lekgalameetse Biodiversity Economy Node given its potential to attract domestic and international tourist. The National Biodiversity Economy Strategy (NBES) and its implementation plan (Biodiversity Lab Outcomes) identified, amongst others, the operationalisation of eleven Biodiversity Economy Nodes (BENs) in South Africa by the year 2030 as key in transforming the wildlife, bioprospecting and ecotourism sector and develop rural economies.

A Biodiversity Economy Nodes can be described as areas that possess exceptional biodiversity and natural assets, such as protected areas and game reserves, undeveloped and marginal communal areas with some of the most outstanding game experiences and activities.

These land parcels have potential for well-developed wildlife, ecotourism and bioprospecting products. BENs are platforms that provide networks to enable market access, skills transfer, creating supply chain linkages thereby achieving economies of scale especially for local SMMEs operating within it.

Some few years ago, the department commissioned a study to determine the optimal economic benefit that communities can derive from the sustainable utilisation of the natural resources within the Lekgalameetse Biodiversity Economy Node.

The study revealed the Lekgalameetse Biodiversity Economy Node has a great potential to attract domestic and international tourists specifically hikers, birders, mountain bikers and 4×4 adventurers given its richness in biodiversity.

As I conclude, programme director,

I want to emphasise the significance of partnership to successful unleash the great potential of this Biodiversity Economy Node. The department commits to provide the much needed technical support in the delivery of projects in and around the Lekgalameetse area.

We also commit that this area will continue to benefit from other initiatives such as the Million tree project. This is an innovative public greening initiative that contributes nationally towards the improvement of the quality of life and the development of sustainable settlements.

The programme provides low-income communities with fruit trees and ornamental trees to plant at their homes. The set task is to plant a million trees across the country annually.

This programme links with the United Nations programme known as A BILLION TREES: PLANT FOR THE PLANET PROGRAMME.

Government is always willing to invest in areas where investment made is highly valued.

I thank you!

Source: Government of South Africa

News Reporter