While the Hammanskraal community around the Dinokeng Game Reserve helped repair a fence they damaged during a land-grab exercise in May, they have continued to break it in places to get in and gather dry firewood.
The vandalism follows an arrangement between reserve management and community structures, to put up a section of the fence to protect them from the wildlife.
About 1.5km of fencing was damaged when more than 1 000 Refilwe residents staged a pre-dawn attack on a Saturday morning in mid-May. They were armed with material to put up shacks on land they claimed was theirs.
The men, women and youngsters removed the fence and uprooted poles, setting fire to trees and grass, before the police forcefully removed them.
Reserve management stationed rangers along the periphery to ensure wild animals did not escape and wander into the human settlement.
The opening on the fence fuelled a mass entrance of mostly women to collect firewood, some saying they could not resist the abundance of wood as the winter cold bit.
They admitted putting their immediate needs above the danger of being attacked by wild animals, some explaining that because they cooked outside they were always in need of firewood. They said that although some of the wood inside the park was not dry enough, it would eventually dry.
The reserve is home to the Big Five and has no fewer than 13 elephants and nine lions, cheetahs, more than 40 buffalo, and leopards which roam freely across the 18 500 hectares. The reserve also has other wildlife, including zebra, hyena, giraffe and eland.
Dinokeng management said it was working hard to prevent people from coming into the park and into the path of the animals.
Community leaders had also tried to dissuade people from going in, only to be accused of denying them access to the rich and much-in-demand resources.
Several meetings between management, community structures and ward council members led to an agreement to close the reserve off from the community, and last month 25 residents worked on putting up and repairing the fence, in a contract that saw 90 percent of the open gap closed.
“Even the supervisors came from the community, and they all worked well together with the common understanding of the need to ensure safety for everyone,” chairman of the management association Dawie Malan said on Wednesday.
“But since then we have woken up to vandalism every day, gaps are open, fencing removed and poles taken away,” he said.
He said the removed parts were being sold to scrap metal dealers.
Expenses, which had been estimated at about R350 000, had risen considerably owing to the constant repairs.
“We can only warn the people of the danger they are putting themselves in when they remove the fence.”
Community leader Amos Hlupho said efforts to warn people of the danger had fallen on deaf ears.
“They can no longer claim ignorance, they are fully aware that the fence is there to separate them from live man-eating animals.”
He said more meetings were planned to talk to them and get them to stop endangering themselves.
“Some are still upset over the failure to get the land they think belongs to them, while others have a genuine need for firewood.”
The recent attacks on the fence have been reported to the police who confirmed on Wednesday they were investigating.