About 80 members of the ANC Youth League descended on the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve adjoining the Kruger National Park on Saturday, May 8, 2005.
Their arrival with a list of grievances about hunting and other issues in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR) is the latest action in a largely political campaign to stop trophy hunting in the Timbavati. Bussed in from the Bushbuckridge area, the protesters arrived two hours later than expected because they got lost, initially arriving at the Timbavati Safari Lodge on the Orpen Road.
Not all the youth league members were equally well informed of their reasons for protesting. Mischak Malatje was sure that it was "about someone who was killed here", while Dikelele Mashego said, "I passed matric and want a job". This opinion was seconded by Isaac Phokani, "We want jobs - I want to work in a bush lodge". The Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR) that adjoin the Kruger National Park dropped their fences with Kruger in 1994, allowing animals to roam freely between the national park and the 140,000ha of privately owned land.
Although consisting of different private nature reserves, namely Timbavati, Klaserie, Umbabat and Balule, the anti-hunting protests have been largely directed at the Timbavati. Animals can roam freely between all the reserves. The reserves have previously allowed a controlled amount of 'hunting for the pot' to occur, as well as a limited amount of trophy hunting. Revenue derived from the hunting, along with money from tourism and contributions from landowners, is used for the reserves' operating costs, which includes ecological monitoring. Several people have now objected to this hunting, saying that the KNP's animals are national assets, and these are entering the Timbavati and being shot "illegally".
According to Tom Hancock, chairman of the Timbavati, animals are considered to be res nullius under South African law, or an "ownerless thing", like the fish in the sea. Hunting of the animals is legally governed by permits issued by provincial nature conservation departments. The reserves in the APNR annually apply for permits from the local nature conservation officials. Hunting permit applications are based on a protocol for the sustainable utilisation of wildlife resources developed by the reserves. Before the fences with Kruger were dropped, hunting was included in the masterplan for the management of the APNR.
The protocol was revised last year, before the so-called 'hunting of national assets' issue arose. The protocol amendments were undertaken at a meeting where all the wardens of the APNR were present. Also at the meeting were three officials from nature conservation - Bert Howard, Joel Hancock and ecologist Ian Sharpe. Scientific input at the meeting was given by three specialist scientists, Dr Piet de Villiers, Dr Paul Funston and Dr Freek Venter from conservation services in the Kruger National Park.
Hennie de Beer, owner of 195ha of land within the boundaries of the Timbavati, says he initially brought the matter of this "illegal hunting" to the attention of environmental affairs minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk in November last year. De Beer said that nothing came of that, so he brought the issue to Bantu Holomisa's attention. The issue then received media attention, and Charles Maluleke, senior manager in the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism imposed a hunting moratorium in the APNR, and revoked all the hunting permits his department had just issued to the reserves.
This edict was overturned in the High Court in April and the MEC was required to pay the costs of the case. De Beer himself admits that he is a hunter, and says he has owned a hunting farm in the past. However, he leases land in the Timbavati where he runs a lodge, Zuma Zuma. The lodge's name derives from the expression used by the Sotho when stalking an animal while on the hunt. He says "Trophy hunting and ecotourism do not go together" and claims he was unaware of the trophy hunting in the Timbavati when he built his lodge.
He attributes a drop-off in tourist numbers to his lodge to the "illegal hunting" issue, but says he "cannot sell his business on a lie". De Beer and the coowner of the land on which the lodge is built, Johann Joubert, have seemingly been at loggerheads with the Timbavati administration for some time. Prior to de Beer raising the hunting issue, Hancock says that Timbavati has started legal proceedings against him for the unlawful construction of the lodge. He says that de Beer and Joubert have both already paid fines to the Timbavati for starting to build the lodge without a permit. Hancock says they are also aware of another admission of guilt fine paid by de Beer for the same matter. In his turn, de Beer alleges that the Timbavati has also undertaken construction without following the Environmental Impact Process.
There are also various allegations on both sides about trespassing, with the Timbavati alleging that de Beer has three charges against him for taking the lodge's guests onto private land without permission. De Beer says that he has laid a trespassing charge against the warden of the Timbavati for driving rangers past his lodge, and that he "does not know" of any charges against him. De Beer has also personally applied for and received a hunting permit to hunt a buffalo and five impala on his land in the Timbavati, applying directly to nature conservation to do so.
Most other landowners in the Timbavati apply through the Timbavati administration so that the sustainable utilisation protocol can be used to ensure the hunting activities are sustainable. De Beer said that he applied for the permits not to hunt the animals, but to "prove he could". A Zuma Zuma employee is also alleged to have handed the notice of the intention of the ANC Youth League to march on the Timbavati to the Maruleng Municipality.
Hancock says that the Timbavati made contact both telephonically and in writing with the Youth League prior to the march addressing all the issues they raised. Hancock says "he specifically stated to them that the Timbavati plans to hunt 22 buffalo this year out of a population of 2,800, and faxed them the relevant hunting permits from nature conservation. Youth League spokesperson Tulani Moripi told the Kruger Park Times that the Timbavati was planning on hunting 2,000 of its 6,000 buffalo. Other issues he raised included the introduction of eco-tourism in line with the Kruger National Park to create jobs.
He said that hunting does not create jobs and that hunters from abroad should not be allowed to hunt in the Timabavati. He called for black empowerment of the management of the Timbavati and said that hunting in the Timbavati should be stopped and replaced with 20 lodges, each at a cost of R500 million, with funding supplied by foreign investors in a joint venture with government and the local community. He said he would like to build a lodge himself. The Timbavati currently has at least seven lodges, and together with Timbavati management employ about 500 people from the local communities. They plan on building three HIV/Aids clinics in the reserve and already have a bush school that teaches basic bio-diversity principles to about 400 students each year.
By Melissa Wray and Lynette Strauss
In Greater Kruger