Honourable Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa,
Premier of Limpopo,
Premier of Mpumalanga,
The Chief Executive of SANParks,
Members of the Priority Committee on Wildlife Crime,
Members of the South African Police Service, South African National Defence Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The community at large,
Our national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ i-Afrika bears testimony to our love for this beautiful land which belongs to all of us.
The noble principles expressed in this anthem, are drawn from the Freedom Charter, that sixty years ago affirmed for all the world to know: South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
South Africa is richly endowed with Flora and Fauna and unique ecosystems, some of which are found only in South Africa, and nowhere else on earth. We are the third most Mega-Bio-diverse country in the world after Brazil and Indonesia.
Given the presence of the iconic species of the Big Five; the rhino, the elephant, the buffalo, the leopard and the lion, the Kruger National Park and other parks continue to draw thousands of foreign tourists every year. We are also happy that the Kruger National Park is sustained as a world-class tourism destination.
More importantly, since the introduction of our National Parks Week, as well as our People and Parks Programme, an increasing number of South Africans are now visiting our parks, to connect with their natural heritage.
Last month, through SanParks, we held yet another successful National Parks Week: a time when all South Africans can visit any of our national parks free of charge.
I am particularly pleased to welcome our Traditional Leaders and community members who have taken the time to be with us here today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know that historically, the establishment of some of the protected areas came at the expense of the majority of our people, who were dispossessed and forcibly removed off their ancestral land.
Under apartheid, the men, women and children of these communities, were not permitted beyond the gates of our national parks.
Only a minority had an opportunity to appreciate and enjoy these facilities.
Entire generations grew, up never having the pleasure of spending a night under the stars at one of the many rest camps inside parks, such as the Kruger National Park, or hearing the roar of a Kruger lion.
We must thank the policies of this ANC government, your government that the children of this community will never feel what their parents and grandparents felt like, to be treated as second-class citizens in the land of their birth.
As we affirm our commitment to conserving our beautiful country, we face a growing challenge that threatens to undermine our success.
The illegal trade in wild plants and animals continues to have a devastating impact on the fragile ecosystems of our country.
Organized international criminal syndicates have stepped up their brutal methods to get their hands on rhino horns to sell in far away markets.
The Kruger National Park is the epicenter of the poaching crisis.
Since last year, there has been an increase in the number of poachers entering this park in an attempt to kill the rhino, and there are now up to three incursions per day. These incursions do not always become successful due to the strong retaliation by our dedicated and brave Ranger and Security teams.
Our ranger teams are also making physical contact with heavily armed and extremely dangerous poachers on a daily basis.
We know that the syndicates involved run organized multi-billion dollar operations worldwide, that will not stop these attacks in order to satisfy their greed.
It is clear that the fight we face is huge and it is brutal.
Earlier today I witnessed first-hand the magnitude of this challenge, and I want to affirm once again that it is our people who are on the front line fighting these poachers, especially our rangers.
It is these brave men and women who are standing between the poachers and our rhino. Some have paid a heavy price, here in South Africa, and world-wide.
This morning we paid tribute to all Rangers on our continent and across the globe, as we laid wreaths. We salute all of them for their efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We can say with pride that South Africa has a long and proud history of rhino conservation.
Our country brought the rhino back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900’s. We continue to lead the world in rhino conservation best practice and management.
It is because of this successful track record that today we are home to 22 000 rhino; which is more than seventy per cent of Africa’s rhino, and more than eighty per cent of the entire world’s rhino.
It is this very success that has turned our country into a target. Criminal syndicates have little or no regard for the disastrous impact of their activities on our country’s natural heritage. To them, rhino horn is a mere commodity.
In response to this escalated threat, rhino poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn has been declared a national priority crime.
That is why I have come personally to this Anti-Poaching Awareness Day – to demonstrate the very highest level of commitment by South Africa to address this challenge.
We continue to register successes in our fight against rhino poaching.
Among others, we have seen that the collaboration between different departments and spheres of government has seen an increase in the numbers of poaching related arrests.
Earlier this morning, I officially launched the Joint Operations Centre in Skukuza, that will continue to lead to better integration of our actions in the fight against rhino poaching.
The Joint Operation Centre enables faster decision making and reaction and often more proactive operation.
This enables us to employ resources more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a reality that to address this problem, we need to examine all possible solutions and options available.
Ever mindful of the transnational nature of the illegal wildlife trade, I am once again, today, directing our teams to increase the momentum in working with other countries on the continent and globally.
These international partnerships are key to ensuring that the fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is addressed on the global stage.
Last week I received President Filipe Nyusi, of the People’s Republic of Mozambique, where we jointly launched the South Africa-Mozambique Bi-National Commission.
During our discussions we reviewed a wide range of bilateral, regional and international matters. We also undertook to boost existing cooperation between our two countries on matters relating to rhino and elephant poaching.
Today I am also here to hand over the much needed anti-poaching equipment that includes a light aircraft, to SANParks and the Department of Environmental affairs.
This is being handed over for use in Mozambique and South Africa cross-border operations, to provide aerial support during anti-poaching operations.
This support has been made possible through the Rhino Protection Programme of the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF).
We thank the Peace Parks Foundation in their ongoing task of establishing Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas and supporting them.
Fellow South Africans,
Rhino poaching is not just a conservation challenge, it also affects communities, it destroys livelihoods and aggravates crime while entrenching poverty in already under-developed communities.
That’s why we will continue to emphasize the importance of uplifting communities living alongside wildlife areas who continue to bear the brunt of poaching.
I am here directing our teams to upscale and increase the pace of uplifting communities living alongside wildlife areas, who continue to bear the brunt of poaching.
To address this problem we as government have in place, a number of strategies for the creation of alternative livelihoods.
The Biodiversity and Wildlife Economy offers immense potential for the social and economic transformation of South Africa; particularly for communities who were once excluded because of apartheid.
The Biodiversity sector is broad and all-encompassing.
It includes hunters, game farmers, game breeders, as well as bio-prospectors who harvest particular plant species to develop natural products.
The sector is a significant contributor to this country’s economic development and our Gross Domestic Product.
I am aware that there are conservation-related projects like community owned-game reserves that will make a positive impact on the lives of communities.
I therefore urge you to work on implementing them as a matter of urgency.
On a short term job creation basis, I urge SANParks to scale up the provision of job opportunities through the Expanded Public Works Programme.
I also encourage our communities who live in areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents to play a role.
We congratulate communities that are already playing a role.
As many of you will know, last month our women only Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit, won a prestigious award from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in recognition of their work. We congratulate them for this achievement.
Rhino are the heritage of each and every South African.
The fight being waged in protecting this, our heritage, is not to be waged by our law enforcement authorities alone.
We all must play our part.
Poaching does not just put money into the hands of criminal gangs, it also increases insecurity and crime in your communities.
Many of you know may know who the poachers are.
You will know of someone who has been offered money to go kill an elephant or de-horn a rhino. Maybe you have been approached personally.
In blowing the whistle on rhino poaching and wildlife crime, you are not only saving a species. You are ensuring the legacy of your grandchildren and their grandchildren.
We hold all our country’s natural heritage in trust for future generations.
None of us here want a future where the only rhino we see will be on the back of a bank note or a postage stamp, or in pictures in a library book.
Consistency, perseverance and determination continue to pay off in this fight.
We will continue to count on the collaborative efforts of all government departments in order to win this war.
Let us work together to promote and protect our animals. They are our heritage and our livelihood.
Together, let us move South Africa forward.
I thank you!