The conservation of natural resources should not discriminate against indigenous resource users.
The protection, management and preservation of the natural resource are vital to the natural ecosystem, but should not be implemented in a way that further benefits the rich and further impoverishes the poor.
In most cases, you will find that conservation takes place in remote or rural places, where natural resources afford the “fortunate” to claim the area for the purpose of tourism development. In these places one would also find that there are indigenous peoples and local communities who use the same natural resources for their livelihoods, customs and traditions.
In the same breath, you will also find that there are cases of forced removals of and denial to access of resources for these indigenous people and local communities as in the case of South Africa. Examples of these are found in Dwesa-Cwebe in the Eastern Cape and Langebaan in the Western Cape.
These cases are all in the name of conserving nature, restoring the natural habitat yet the efforts are oblivious to the fact that humans are and were part of the natural habitat. They fail to recognise the contribution that indigenous people and local communities have made towards conservation through their knowledge practices and sustainable use of resources.
There is a fear that people in the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park may also be moved against their will, if the latest Integrated Management Plan (IMP) is adopted.
The plan acknowledges the history of human interaction with the resource but seems to suggest that this interaction must be limited in order to maintain the biodiversity of the park.
The Kosi Bay Estuarine Plan for example list the commercialising of the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy amongst the main issues and threats that may affect the ecological health and integrity of the Kosi Bay Estuary.
“Over-exploitation of the natural resources, particularly significant declines in estuarine fish populations as a result of the commercialisation of small-scale fisheries based on the fish traps and recreational fishing” (Kosibay Draft EMP, Page 14, 2016).
The plan also lists resource utilisation (Page 16, point 2.5. 3) as one of the key impacting activities that affect the ability of the Kosi Bay Estuary to continue to deliver ecosystem goods and services.
“Both plants and animals are harvested from the Kosi Bay Estuary…. Much more extensive exploitation of fish stocks occurs in a multi-sectoral fishery, using traps, nets and, rod and line. Indications from recent assessments are that the exploitation of estuarine dependent fish species is at unsustainable levels.”
As one of the proposed solution to these threats the iSimangaliso Authority proposed zonation.
Zonation will restrict the use of natural resources and according to the management plan “Zonation will help to manage and protect both the sensitive areas and species within these systems as well as separate potentially conflicting activities. Increasing development and utilisation result in the resource deteriorating, which usually lead to conflicts between stakeholders (users) of that particular estuary?”
Yet the very same zonation will directly impact the communities that have resided on this coastal land since time immemorial.
There is a high possibility of indigenous peoples and local communities being adversely affected by the zonation. The probability of them being removed further away from the natural resource is high.
These ‘indigenous peoples and local communities are the resource users, rights holders and co-managers within the context of the World Heritage Site, including a range of Land Settlement Agreements signed with several of these communities in terms of the Land Restitution Act and in terms of the ISimangaliso Integrated Management Plan ( J, Sunde, 2016).
The Development of conservation plans should not alienate indigenous knowledge and only base solutions on scientific knowledge. Nor should it aim to exclude the indigenous people and local communities by using language that is difficult to understand. The fact that these plans have not been translated to the Nguni Language spoken by the communities who will be affected by these proposal attest to the undermining of indigenous people and their knowledge.
Let the people speak, acknowledge their history and promote environmental conservation that takes social justice forward.