The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Buyelwa Sonjica, opened the week long free access for South Africans at most South African national parks at the official opening of SA National Parks Week 2010 in Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape.
"The major challenge for national parks is to make them more accessible and appealing to an increasingly multicultural society that we reside in and it is our belief that the hosting of the annual South African National Parks Week campaign will give some answers to the disparity of other segments of society in national parks visitation."
Black visitors to national parks had grown 17,5% in the 2009/2010 financial period from the previous period, but overall still account for less than 20% of all South Africans visiting national parks.
National parks have for the past five years on average had only 20% foreign visitors, although some of the parks like Addo Elephant National Park continue to get more foreign visitors. The cost of staying in a national park ranges from R90 to about R700 per person per day.
Young and old
Grade nine and 10 pupils from selected schools adjacent to the Kruger National Park (KNP) took part in the Walk on the Wild Side project, an initiative of the annual SANParks week activties. These pupils have either tourism or science as a subject.
Children from Mathlari and Mokhapa High Schools in Tzaneen, as well as Frans du Toit and Relebogile High Schools in Phalaborwa attended the opening event in Mopnai rest Camp.
In his keynote address, the general manager of KNP's Nxanatseni Region, Ben van Eeden, said, "These young, eager minds are indeed the future of our country; therefore the future of the Kruger National park lies with them as future leaders and conservationists of tomorrow".
The project ran everyday during the SANParks week, in both regions of the park at Mopani and Skukuza Rest Camps and was hosted with both Mpumalanga and Limpopo's Provincial Departments of Education.
On Thursday the park also welcomed 100 pensioners in Skukuza and Mopani. Many of these people have lived adjacent to the park all their lives and never had the opportunity to visit.
In another initiative as part of the Week's celebrations, the KNP management met with the Taxi Association of the Phalaborwa region. "Taxi associations could open a door for individuals from local communities who do not have their own transport but would like to visit and take part in the activities available in the park", says William Mabasa, head of department, communications in Kruger. SANParks Week ran from 13-17 September 2010.