Five major ecosystems belong to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. KfW Stiftung awarded Zaloumis the KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis 2017.
How does one found a national park?
By understanding South Africa’s need to both conserve a global wonder and ensure that it contributes to the economic upliftment of South Africa’s second poorest region where 80 percent of people live below the poverty line. It also helps to have a visionary President like Nelson Mandela who saw that South Africa’s natural wonder needs to be protected for all. The world heritage listing and the drafting of national world heritage legislation made the consolidation of the Park possible. The world heritage act refers to environment as well as to development. These two issues are not seen as contradictory. The universal values defined in the World Heritage Convention Act allow it to promote regional and economic development as well as nature conservation. It strives for a balance between these two aims. Balance in this context does not necessarily mean equal. Finding this remains a crucial challenge.
How could you achieve the economic turnaround of the Park?
The region was one of the poorest in South Africa. During apartheid people were displaced for conservation, commercial plantations and military missile testing. We had to rebuild and restore the ecology of the Park and ensure that there is restitution and benefits for the local communities that the apartheid government had removed. Our strategy was to restore nature and at the same time ensure that there is both material and spiritual restitution for the local communities effected in the apartheid era. In the face of global warming and tightening economies this inclusive approach to conservation increases the resilience of the Park and resilience of the 640,000 people who live around it.
In which way did you resolve the challenge?
As a new organization we were able to structure on business lines so that we could focus on strategy and drive implementation. Many of the services are outsourced to private sector and public sector agencies who specialize in these. This allows us to make mandatory the participation of local communities in these services. Over 80 percent of our expenditure goes to service providers and companies accredited with black economic empowerment (BEE).
We also realized that we would have to support this process so we introduced an entrepreneurship programme. This programme included not only training but also the provision of seed capital for these businesses. Now we pay small local contractors to build fences, to build touristic facilities, clear invasive plants etc. We create 11,000 temporary jobs each year. 8,000 permanent jobs in tourism are supported by the Park. Last year there were 120 small contractors in the Park. Twelve of them are majority black owned.
Every lodge in the park has to have a local black community as a shareholder. It isn’t sufficient to simply have a black partner – the partner must be local. We use public money for public works, like clearing the beach from waste. Most of our programmes are funded through expanded public works which sets wage rates. We try as far as possible to pay above the minimum wages. The situation of many families in the Park is looking better; women in particular. In everything we do we are looking for three aims: ecological conservation, empowerment and tourism.
In regard to land claims when the Park was proclaimed in 2000 it was 100 percent under claim by indigenous communities who had been forcibly removed during apartheid. 72 percent of these claims have been settled. We support claimants becoming land owners but the land remains Park. As our preferred mandatory partners we share eight percent of the Parks gross commercial revenue with them. They are also our preferred partners in the programmes outlined above.