26/07/2012. Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa spoke to the Pretoria News last week. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Cape Town - A formal memorandum of understanding aimed at controlling biodiversity crimes like rampant rhino poaching is ready for signing between South Africa and Mozambique.

But the signing has been delayed over the past 18 months by Mozambique, although Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said she did not believe there was any sinister motive. It was partly the result of a new minister being appointed there.

Noting that two scheduled meetings had been postponed and that she wished the signing had happened “yesterday”, she said: “It is as urgent as possible.”

Molewa was responding to questions at a media briefing on Monday after delivering her budget address in the National Assembly.

Many rhino poachers are believed to enter South Africa from Mozambique in the area where the border fence between the Kruger National Park and Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park was removed to allow the development of the multi-national Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, or peace park.

Kruger has borne the brunt of rhino poaching and this year at least 242 of the 350-plus animals poached thus far have been killed there.

Molewa said there was a “joint shared vision” within the South African government to restore the fence and that finance was available. The plan to restore the fence was not to negate the spirit of the peace park but would “really cool down and stabilise the scourge of poaching”.

However, the issue had been referred to the Presidency and would be discussed by presidents Jacob Zuma and Armando Guebuza “as soon as there is space and time”.

Expressing her concern for ranger Andrew Desmet who was shot during an encounter with poachers in Kruger last week, Molewa said: “(Rhino poaching) is a very serious problem and the entire country is really very worried. It is really very, very violent.”

But she also noted that the proposed memorandums of understanding with Mozambique and some Asian countries, and similar agreements already concluded with China and Vietnam, did not refer specifically to rhinos but focused on the prevention of all environmental crimes. “We don’t want to wake tomorrow and find other species are also extinct.”

Molewa said the department’s strategic priority areas were aligned with the National Development Plan, and that South Africa’s challenge was to find “a healthy balance” between the three pillars of sustainable development: economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability.

“Those three pillars must always connect, and none can be viewed independently from each other.”

The sustainable use of indigenous biological resources was “fundamental” to the development of the economy – in particular, bio-prospecting (investigating new pharmacological and other benefits from plant and animal species) and hunting, Molewa said.

“Recent estimates have placed the bio-prospecting industry’s contribution to GDP at R2.1 billion, which, if combined, places the contribution of the direct utilisation of indigenous biological resources at R8.3bn,” she said.

“In the previous financial year, the entire value chain of the hunting industry contributed some R6.2bn to the GDP. We will embark on a dedicated programme to provide support to the hunting and bio-prospecting industries to promote South Africa as the destination of choice for hunting, and as one of the most resource-rich countries to contribute to bio- prospecting.”

l SA National Parks spokesman Ike Phaahla said yesterday that Desmet was in a critical condition in a Nelspruit hospital but that doctors had managed to stabilise him. “He is still heavily sedated due to the severity of his injuries,” he said. - Cape Argus