OFFICIAL OPENING OF
CENTENARY CENTRE, IMFOLOZI: JUNE 22, 2001
I wish to thank the Chairman of the Board of KZN Wildlife, Professor SV Nzimande, for inviting me to attend this milestone event in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. This occasion has been generated by the dedication and commitment of a group of South African leaders in conservation, the KwaZulu Natal Wildlife game capture team, which has been making an inestimable contribution towards wildlife conservation for more than forty years. Today, with the opening of the Centenary Centre in the Imfolozi section of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, we are celebrating one hundred years of nature conservation in KwaZulu Natal. I am proud to be a part of the history behind this celebration, and am honoured to officiate as we consider our achievements and victories over the past years in this Province, and for our country. Being here on this occasion brings to mind a number of occasions when the first capture of game in Imfolozi took place when I was quite a young man.
Our struggle for the recognition of nature conservation as an invaluable field, worthy of investment from prominent figures as well as ordinary South Africans, has been a long and uphill path. Long before it became fashionable or politically correct to associate oneself with nature conservation efforts and ecological awareness, I walked with bold men and women looking to our collective future and seeking to preserve the rich natural heritage of South Africa for generations to come. Initially when I spoke about conserving our natural resources and protecting our fauna and flora, many thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill. When one stands in a seemingly full barn of corn, it is difficult to imagine that one day the barn may be empty. I thank God that today we are more aware of the risk involved in ignoring this inevitability if we turn our backs on the plaintive cry of nature.
The cry we are hearing today arises from a deepening separation between the habitat of man and the habitat of nature. The larger our cities become, the further away we grow from nature’s bounty. Concrete and glass, steel and tar separate us from grass and trees and open sky. Increasingly more of our children in South Africa are growing up in apartment buildings and developing outside the experience of climbing trees, observing birds and animals, playing in streams and picking flowers. It is no wonder that many of those who live in the city feel that nature happens elsewhere and will take care of itself if left to its own devices. As people who care for our heritage and our future, we know that everything we do, even in the heart of the city, affects the balance of our natural environment.
It is our character as men and women of vision, wisdom and sensibility that gathers us today to open the Centenary Game Capture Centre in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. I welcome those who have come to purchase animals during tomorrow’s game auction and also those who have come to lend their support to a worthy and exciting project. I feel sure that no one shall leave this two-day event disappointed. I wish Professor Nzimande and members of the Conservation Board and all other guests, all the best for the Bush Barbecue this evening and hope that it may set the scene for a successful day tomorrow. May these events give us pause to consider the great good fortune we share as South Africans, and friends of South Africa.
Even as our cities expand, a large percentage of South Africa’s population remains rural, living close to and in harmony with nature. It gives me great pleasure to see the Centenary Game Capture Centre offering to some of our people the opportunity to generate an income through the sale of hand-made goods in the Vulamehlo Craft Market. The communities living adjacent to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park stand to benefit from the success of this project by taking up the challenge of presenting to tourists, both foreign and local, the creative spirit which enlivens the people of this region. I believe that this creativity flows from a close communion with nature, expressing the observations of everyday life that few visitors will have experienced for themselves. Tourists are attracted by what is outside their own daily experience. Based on this simple truth, the Centenary Centre offers an extremely attractive tourist destination.
Throughout my own history of conservation efforts in this Province, I have consistently worked towards integrating nature conservation with raising the standard of living among our poorest communities. The policy on which we have operated in KwaZulu Natal since the establishment of the KwaZulu Bureau of Natural Resources in 1982, has been one of sharing, to create a balanced development of the land and the people. In 1994, the Bureau became the Department of Nature Conservation and, between 1982 and 1994, our budget expanded from one million rand to 46 million. The success of our endeavours was based on their unique character, which found opposition along the way, but has finally been met with overwhelming support both in South Africa and abroad.
Our conservation technique was different from any which had gone before in countries throughout the world. The standard form of nature conservation had always been to separate a piece of land from development and maintain it separately. Yet my own vision was to see conservation integrated into our African traditional way of life, maintaining the interdependence of man and nature and generating concomitant benefit in the natural, social and economic spheres. We have now seen the value of this approach in countless conservation projects. I am pleased that this Centenary Centre stands as another testimony to the fact that in Africa, we do things differently, and it works.
To me, the finest aspect of this endeavour is in the desire not only to bring in day tourists for an extraordinary experience, but to give visitors something they may take back into their daily lives. I believe this will be achieved through the educational and informative emphasis of the Centenary Centre. It is essential that we bridge the gap of ignorance between urban dwellers and the natural environment, so that nature conservation becomes more than something that happens deep in the bush, far away from the city. Contributing to conservation, whether it be financial or in educating others, must become relevant to all South Africans, regardless of their proximity to a reserve like Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. We can achieve this goal by promoting places like the Centenary Centre, where the concept of game comes alive, quite literally, in the minds of visitors.
The walk-through of selected areas of the rhino and antelope bomas is an invaluable idea, which is sure not only to attract visitors, but to encourage an interaction with nature that will make a lasting impression. I am particularly pleased that visitors will have the opportunity to observe rhino, one of South Africa’s Big Five, within the Centenary Centre. We may proudly boast of this animal, for it is a truly African beast and one that associates itself in people’s minds with Southern Africa. Since the commencement of Operation Rhino in Zululand in the early 1960's, 4,646 White Rhino have been trans-located world-wide by the KZN Wildlife game capture team. Initiated by Dr Ian Player, Operation Rhino successfully saved the White Rhino from a fate of extinction. As the President of the Rhino and Elephant Foundation of Southern Africa, this success story is close to my heart.
I have been honoured to fulfil the position of President of the KwaZulu Conservation Trust, now the Wildlands Trust, since 1977, and maintain my commitment as firmly today as I did then to preserve for our posterity the natural treasures of Southern Africa. I take pride in my heritage and I feel a swell of patriotism when I hear the thundering hooves of wildebeest or witness the majesty of elephants moving through the bushveld. This is my home. My heart is in Africa. I will not see my heritage vanish. In 1998, when I travelled to Germany to receive the Bruno H. Schubert Foundation Conservation Award, Class One, I perceived a unique spiritual hunger growing in Europe. I saw a yearning among Europeans to experience what we in Africa are blessed with daily. My life-long belief was once again confirmed; that we have in South Africa what many can only dream of.
It is my intention to ensure that my children’s children will never have to dream of what this generation enjoyed. KwaZulu Natal has always been a step ahead in promoting sustainable conservation efforts which benefit both the people coming in from outside and those living in the immediate area. As Chief Minister and Minister of Natural Resources in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I worked closely with those seeking a synergism between community development and nature conservation. Our ideas clashed with the conventional wisdom of the central government at the time and even with the thinking of the then Natal Parks Board. For this reason, it gives me inestimable pleasure to witness the success of projects like the Centenary Game Capture Centre, for this is a truly KwaZulu Natal achievement expressing the heart of this Province.
It has sickened me to the bottom of my stomach to see how conservation issues are made a political football by some people in the media. But combining our Natal Parks Board with our KwaZulu Department of Nature Conservation has been a re-birth of conservation in our Province. Like all births, it is an occasion where both joy and pain are experienced. We are all creatures of habit and sometimes it is a traumatic experience to move from our familiar past to an unknown future. We as human beings sometimes resent any introduction of new things, however good they may be, if in our view their introduction amounts to upsetting our apple carts. I do, with these words, wish the Chairman of the Board and the Board and staff, everything of the best in the national duties in which they are engaged here.
As for snide comments in the media, I can assure them as the most vilified political leader in this country, that lies, however thick, do evaporate and the truth endures forever. Truth is the only thing that lasts at the end. From my own life experience, I can assure those who are targeted in these media campaigns that criticism both justified and unjustified, is something good for one. It makes one to be awake and to be always on one's toes. In my own life, I always thank my enemies for their attacks and vilification, for the inspiration their activities gave me made me work hard and to triumph at the end of it all. As an old war horse, I wanted to share that experience, to encourage all those who are vilified.
I am delighted to see amaKhosi who are present at this function. Over decades, I would not have been able to hold back the ire of our people through the many humiliations they had to endure in the interest of our conservation cause, without the support of amaKhosi. I know that most of those who were my contemporaries during those difficult times are no longer with us. But I thank God that their descendants are here with us still holding the fort and walking in the footsteps of their forebears.
KwaZulu Natal may rightly claim to be a centre of nature and wildlife conservation in Southern Africa. It is my desire to see this Centenary Centre become an international tourist destination in the near future, as it expresses the hard work and commitment of many in this Province to see our natural heritage preserved and prosper. I must congratulate the KZN Wildlife Game Capture Team for ensuring that this event could take place and enjoy tremendous success. Yours is a responsibility that reaches far into our country’s future, creating a better world for tomorrow. I thank you for your commitment.
With these words of congratulations and thanks, it is now my great honour to declare the Centenary Game Capture Centre of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park officially open.
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