Zululand game ranching industry on the 'brink of collapse'
Wildlife owners have placed their last hope in President Cyril Ramaphosa to save the already bleeding business when he announces the new level 3 lockdown restrictions expected at the end of the month.
Last week, Adri Kitshoff, chief executive of Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA), which has more than 1500 members, met the Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy to discuss their concerns and seek clarity on the level 4 lockdown restriction.
“Wildlife was stipulated as an essential service in level 5. However, because of the lockdown, the restrictions on travelling have been negatively affected.
“Hunting and eco-tourism were brought to a halt with a huge decline in bookings,” said Kitshoff, adding that without an active wildlife industry, rural economies will be devastated.
Environmental Affairs department spokesperson Albie Modise confirmed that the concerns had been shared with the office of the presidency. He said alternatives were being considered and assessed in the context of the Covid-19 Disaster Management Regulations.
“The minister participates in the National Coronavirus Command Council representing the interests of the environment sector. However, we need to acknowledge that the decisions of the council are informed by a myriad of interconnected and complex issues. It is premature to speculate as to whether certain activities will be permitted under level 3 until the regulations guiding what is envisaged have been published,” said Modise.
Families who usually benefit from the reserve were also battling.
Meanwhile, a leader of a traditional Zulu dancers group Ubuhle BamaZulu, Sihle Zwane, said he had no food or clothing for his family after the shutdown of reserve activities. His 22-member group from Emahhashini village in Nongoma relied on the bookings to earn a living by providing entertainment for the tourists around Pongola, Mkhuze and Hluhluwe.
Zwane said he was upset because he was broke and could not buy uniforms he had promised his children after expecting a bumper winter season for hunters.
“We are stuck without food to provide for our families. We miss entertaining the international tourists who offer better tips because they get overwhelmed by our dancing skills. Every weekend we were guaranteed income from entertaining guests,” said Zwane.
Clive Vivier, owner of the Leopard Mountain who is also a founder of the Zululand Important and Biodiversity Area which covers more than 200000 hectares of game land between Hluhluwe to the Swaziland border, said the area was home to endangered species whose upkeep relied on income from tourism and hunting.
He said both activities generated about R500 million with hunting and game sales.
“The industry employs about 1500 staff from a very poor area in KwaZulu-Natal with each staff member having about 10 dependants. This negatively impacts on the lives of 15000 people who at present have no income apart from UIF,” said Vivier.
He said it was unfair and illogical for lodges and ranches to start operating at level 1 when retail shops and liquor stores, which posed a greater risk of transmission, were allowed to trade at level 3.
Karel Landman, owner of the Pongola Game Reserve, said the lockdown had a devastating effect on his business. He said another three months would lead to many job losses. On his ranch, he employs about 105 people. He said there is a possibility of laying off half his staff if the regulation is not relaxed by next month.
“We need income to cover salaries, maintenance, electricity and water bills. We are dependent on the ranch to survive. It is unfair to shut us down when we have acres of land to implement the social distancing rule. I have never thought I would experience such quietness in my lifetime,” he said.