Water and environmental affairs deputy minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi celebrated the importance of wetlands conservation and linking wetlands to tourism at the Makuleke Wetlands in Limpopo. She commemorated the 15th anniversary of World Wetlands Day on February 2 at the Makuleke Wetlands site, which was declared a Ramsar site - a wetland of international importance - in 2007. It was the first Ramsar site owned and co-managed by a community - not only in South Africa, but worldwide.
Mabudafhasi said the proposal for its designation received much publicity during the celebration of World Wetlands Day in 2002.
"In that event, I highlighted the fact that should this site be designated as wetlands of international importance, it would be the first community-owned Ramsar site in the country, and as such, represented a new approach to wetland management," she said.
By designating these unique wetlands, South Africa was commended for its good work during the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention in Korea where the certificate for Makuleke Wetlands was granted.
More than 800 wetlands are to be rehabilitated across the country, with about 40 people already benefiting from the Makuleke community where a rehabilitation project worth R1.8 million was undertaken.
Mabudafhasi commended the Makuleke for their commitment to conservation in general and the protection of wetlands in particular.
"Ignoring protection of the wetlands can only result in disaster of food insecurity, wipe out biodiversity that would negatively impact on subsistence farming which in turn would result in deepened poverty levels, drastically reduced water supply leading to substantial rise in prices and removed vegetation that would fuel destructive nature of global warming.
Let's work together to secure our wetlands for the sake of biodiversity and in order to make a meaningful contribution towards mitigating the effects of climate change," she said.
The Makuleke community regained the land in 1998 after a restitution of land rights process. The community kept the land as part of Kruger National Park to be co-managed by the Makuleke Community Property Association (CPA) and the South African National Parks (SANParks) through the Joint Management Board (JMB) for the purpose of conservation and related economic development in the area.
In recognition of this partnership and effort of the community's contribution towards conservation, the CEO of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda, presented the SANParks / First National Bank Kudu Award to the CPA on the 28th November 2011 at Skukuza.
The African Safari Lodge Foundation also sponsored five young women from the community who graduated on the 18 November 2011 from the Southern African College for Tourism in Graaf Reinet, Eastern Cape.