Chris Mercer is the director of the Campaign against Canned Hunting.
Johannesburg - The untimely death of Edna Molewa means that someone else must now be appointed Minister for the Environment. This seems an appropriate time to assess the state of ­conservation in South Africa.

Edna was highly regarded in ANC circles as “a good comrade”. She no doubt did her best to discharge her duties within the straitjacket of the doctrine of Sustainable Use.

However, she never attempted to escape that straitjacket in order to put animal welfare on the agenda, and to assume a broader responsibility for preserving the natural environment.

The doctrine of sustainable use has been imposed on us by the Convention on Biodiversity.

That doctrine is a licence to destroy living wild species, with the proviso that the destruction must not be immediate, but rather restrained, so that agents of destruction can come back and keep doing it, year after year. In fact, it is the antithesis of conservation, because true conservation requires not the exploitation of natural resources, but rather their preservation.

Sustainable use puts conservation in a straitjacket. “Just count the numbers”, it says, “everything else is irrelevant.”

To look at the consequences, let us look no further than captive lion breeding and the canned lion hunting industry. During Edna’s tenure of office, the number of captive lions in South Africa being bred for the bullet mushroomed from a few thousand to something like 10000 (no one knows the true number).

Thus, a whole industry that inflicts suffering and death on helpless animals for fun was promoted by government because it fell neatly into the straitjacket: hey, lion numbers were increasing as the doctrine requires. What could be wrong with that?

What was wrong was that outside the straitjacket, ordinary decent people in South Africa and around the world were repulsed by the senseless cruelty, and many responsible tourists are ­boycotting South Africa.

By remaining firmly within the straitjacket of sustainable use, the Department of the Environment, (DEA) has rendered itself largely irrelevant and a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Under Edna’s watch, the wild was being taken out of wildlife, which is now becoming domesticated as alternative livestock, confined by fencing on more than 10000 game farms.

What could be a sadder betrayal of true conservation than the erosion of wildness as a deliberate policy of the Department of the Environment.

But we cannot fairly lay the blame for this state of affairs only at Edna’s feet.

Vested interests of obscenely wealthy industries such as that of hunting, ensure conservation structures all around the world are controlled and manipulated to preserve not wildlife, but rather hunting privileges.

The chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee for the environment, Mohlopi Mapulane, has shown himself able to spot the weaknesses in current DEA policies. Is it too much to hope that someone like him be appointed minister for the environment?

* Chris Mercer is the director of the Campaign against Canned Hunting.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.