On Sunday, 3rd of September 2017, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa announced the resignation of iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s CEO, Andrew Zaloumis.
While his resignation has met with expression of admiration both from government agencies and conservation related organisations, fishers in KZN regard his resignation as a victory for the communities living in the north-east of the province.
According to Lindani Ngubane, Masifundise’s fieldworker living in Kosi Bay, Zaloumis’ resignation constitute a win for the communities, who for years have complained about the lack of involvement of the locals in the developments promoted by iSimangaliso. In several meetings with the Department of Environmental Affairs, communities have been voicing their issues with iSimangaliso’s management, that included communities’ displacement, lack of consultation and cooperation with the local communities and failure in supporting the provision of basic services such electricity and running water. “In the north of the province, iSimangaliso act like it is bigger than government: people have been forcibly removed from their homes in the park and fishers are denied access to their traditional fishing grounds. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife continuously harasses fishers and confiscates their equipment due to iSimangaliso’s pressure” explained Ngubane.
At the same time, iSimangaliso has been exploiting the touristic appeal of traditional fishing practices. The most staggering example is the case of the kraals, the fish traps used by local fishers in Kosi Bay, that became a highlight for those that visit the iSimangaliso. Yet, the economic benefit generated as a result of tourism are not shared with the traps owners.
According to Ngubane, Zaloumis never took part in meetings with the communities. This indicated that he wasn’t willing to work and cooperate with them. The wish is that the new iSimangaliso’s CEO will be aware of the issues faced by the communities and willing to communicate and collaborate with the local institutions, to find solutions that take into account the livelihoods’ need of the locals: “We look forward to work cooperatively with the next CEO” stated Ngubane.
While the resignation of Zaloumis can be regarded as a positive development, the struggle of the fishing communities in the area will not be solved with his departure. In his 20 years leading the development of iSimangaliso, Zaloumis contributed to create an institutional culture that put environmental conservation in contrast with people’s livelihoods, which won’t simply change overnight.
Furthermore, it has to be noted that deep governance and political issues exist in relation to the status of iSimangaliso, that created the environment that enabled Zaloumis in implementing a conservationist approach to the management of the park. Deeply rooted discrepancies, exists at every institutional level, from the international governance of the World Heritage Site, to the role of traditional role. According to Philile Ntuli, researcher at the Land and Accountability Research Center, these governance asymmetries create the void and confusion that allows iSimangaliso to operate without accountability to the local communities. Thus, if such governance issues are not tackled, things are likely to remain unchanged.
Therefore, communities will have to consciously continue to pursue their demands for fair access and control over their natural resources, being aware that the struggle continues.