December 12, 2002

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Great Limpopo National Park established - Mozambicans displaced?

A yellow-billed kite flew high above the sandveld scrub of the north-east Kruger National Park (KNP) on Wednesday, Dec 11, at the start of a symbolic fence-cutting ceremony to mark the establishment of the Great Limpopo National Park (GLNP).

The migrant raptor, common in the KNP during the summer months, soared and swooped above the apartheid-era security barrier that still marks the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Below, ministers from the two countries, armed with bolt cutters, prepared to cut down a small section of the 353km fence that has separated the two neighbours for more than 26 years. "This fence was erected by the apartheid regime in 1975, after the liberation of Mozambique," Environment Minister Valli Moosa said, shortly before he and his Mozambique counterpart, Fernando Sumbana, went to work with their cutters. Addressing SA National Parks officials and journalists who had flown into the Nyandwini region of the KNP to witness the ceremony, he said the fence had been erected to "fortify the apartheid laager. We are bringing down the laager. You don't solve a problem with your neighbour by building a fence."

Moosa was speaking three days after the presidents of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe met in the Mozambican coastal town of Xai-Xai to sign a treaty officially creating the GLNP, the biggest cross-border conservation area in the world. Covering a total of 35000 square kilometres, the newly-proclaimed park links South Africa's Kruger, Mozambique's Limpopo and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou national parks.

According to SANP officials, the elephant proof fence, which runs for 353km along the length of the KNP's eastern border with Mozambique, will be taken down in three separate sections, allowing game to migrate across the border. The KNP and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park share a 150km-long common border, and it is in this area that the three gaps, about 35km, 15km and 10km wide, will be made.

Zimbabwe's Environment Minister Francis Nema, who was set to attend Wednesday's fence-cutting ceremony, sent an official in his stead.

Moosa said the establishment of the GLNP would prove a "massive boost" to tourism in the region, to the extent that "current facilities are not going to cope".

It was told that about 6000 Mozambicans could be displaced from their homes to make way for the park. Abel Nhalidede, community liaison officer for the Limpopo park, said the Mozambican authorities had started negotiating with the community living along the Shingwezi River to have them relocated to another area within the park. There are about 25000 people living in the Limpopo park, mainly along the Limpopo, Shingwezi and Oliphants rivers.

The Shingwezi area was identified as having the most tourism potential for the Limpopo park and the community has been approached to accept a package for resettlement. Nhalidede said the community could be putting their lives at risk from the wild animals crossing over from the Kruger park to the Limpopo park. Agricultural land cultivated and used for subsistence farming could also be destroyed by animals that migrate across the borders, he said. The community was also given the option of remaining in the park, but being subjected to a set of regulations, such as limiting the amount of land under cultivation. "The community has reacted strongly against being moved. They do not understand the consequences (of remaining on the land)," said Nhalidede.

The border patrol post at Giryondo in the Kruger park is expected to be completed in 2004, allowing tourists visiting the park to cross over to the Limpopo side, without requiring additional visas. The Limpopo park has fewer animals and has dense vegetation, making it an ideal environment for migrating animals. (Business Day, Johannesburg; SAPA, Johannesburg)

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