Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy has urged South Africans to take advantage of the free access granted to the country’s National Parks during SA National Parks Week.
Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria on Friday, the Minister said National Parks Week runs from 16 – 24 September 2023.
“National Parks Week is an ideal opportunity for us to introduce the majesty and beauty of the country’s national parks to the people, especially to communities who seldom get to experience and enjoy these areas of conservation, cultural heritage and biological diversity, right on their doorstep,” Creecy said.
The free access offered through the South African National Parks (SANParks) system is aimed at inspiring people to take pride in the country’s cultural heritage while spending time in and with nature.
She said elderly people who have lived all their lives next to a National Park without ever seeing what is on the other side of the fence must be taken in their thousands to go and visit their neighbouring National Parks.
SANParks will again host pupils, pensioners, persons with disabilities and many others. In order to qualify for free entry, all South Africans are encouraged to carry their identity documents; children below the age of 16 will not be required to provide identification.
“Since the inception of the South African National Parks Week in 2006, more than 619 292 South Africans, who may not otherwise had an opportunity to visit a national park, have participated.
“I am pleased to note that National Parks Week has gripped the imagination of some of our provincial conservation authorities, with the Limpopo Tourism Agency and North West Tourism and Parks Board joining to host Mahala Week where select game reserves in the provinces are offering free access as well,” Creecy said.
The Minister said conservation and the protection of the country’s rich biodiversity is a commitment that must be achieved, especially as government works towards expanding the conservation estate to meet international commitments and work to protect the natural world in a sustainable way for current and future generations.
Under the established theme Know Your National Parks – this year’s SA National Parks Week campaign kicks off in the Kruger National Park.
This world-renowned park is not only South Africa’s first national park but is also the largest spanning 19 458 square kilometres.
The Kruger is the sixth largest national park in Africa and not only boasts the iconic Big Five alongside a wide variety of wildlife and plants but is also home to unique landscapes and biomes.
“SANParks is among our institutions that is reliant on revenue generated from its tourism offerings and other activities. Tourism is an important part of our country’s economy and contributes significantly to Gross Domestic Product and job creation.
“As a preferred tourist destination, we should not lose sight of the importance of continuing to find innovative ways to continue to grow this sector. Key to this remains the partnerships between government, communities and the private sector. It is thus important to acknowledge the much needed assistance from the National Department of Tourism, which has supported several infrastructure projects in our national parks,” the Minister said.
She said R273 million has been spent on 863 Small, Medium and Micro enterprises (SMMEs) through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), creating more than 5 364 full-time equivalent work opportunities in communities where there is little other formal employment.
“Every day, an average of 7 500 individuals employed by the EPWP enter our national parks and do crucial work such as land rehabilitation, cleaning of beaches, support of rangers and infrastructure maintenance,” Creecy said. – SAnews.gov.za