It’s not all bad. There are some good ideas but these are obscured by the repetitive verbiage so that finding them is like looking for flecks of gold in an ore-body. As any intelligent person knows, focus is the key to success. Cast your net too wide and you are doomed to fail. And unfortunately the net does not get cast wider than this. The White Paper seeks to cast its net over the whole nation; every government department, every local government, every community, every NGO and indeed every private citizen. Everyone and everything is going to be regulated to implement the ideology of this White Paper. It’s totalitarian.
It seeks to politicise conservation. The legacy of apartheid must be rigorously stamped out, regardless of conservation imperatives. Does this mean that a successful conservation initiative owned and run by citizens who are unacceptably white and unfashionably male must be dismantled and replaced by a demographically acceptable workforce, representing blacks, women and the youth. Because that is how the White Paper reads.
Per contra traditional healers are to be vigorously supported and promoted. What does this mean for wildlife conservation? Just go down to the traditional Muti market in Faraday, Johannesburg and look at all the wildlife body parts. Whole colonies of vultures have been wiped out and made regionally extinct by the demands of traditional healers for beaks and claws. How is government going to convince traditional healers at Faraday to source their vulture and Leopard parts ethically? The effect of politicising conservation with all sorts of social and ideological issues will inevitably be to dilutive conservation, to bury it under a welter of government interference.
Casting the conservation net over every institution and government structure makes the whole idea unworkable. Local authorities in South Africa are notoriously corrupt and incompetent. At the expense of service delivery, local government councillors gleefully and unashamedly help themselves to ratepayers funds like children let loose in a sweet shop. Yet the White Paper envisages these very structures, which cannot even repair potholes in town streets, becoming effective evangelists for conservation. Laughable.
This dreadful document completely misses the whole point of conservation which is the preservation of natural functioning ecosystems for their own sakes. Poverty alleviation has nothing whatever to do with it. Instead we get what is a nonsensical jumble of conflicting and contradictory concepts and goals. A word salad that makes no sense at all.
The most serious flaw in this draft White Paper is that it completely ignores the fundamental issue upon which all conservation and sustainable use policies must rest and as a result it’s an exercise in superficiality and therefore an exercise in futility. The elephant in the room which this document cannot bring itself to mention, is the unsustainable human population explosion. This is getting worse not better, again largely due to poor governance. For example encouraging women to breed by providing child benefits is politically popular but it leads to social ills in a poor population. Like schoolgirls being encouraged by their families to fall pregnant so that the families can get extra child support. The desperation of the rapidly growing human population will overwhelm any conservation initiative. Desperate people will do whatever it takes to survive. A hungry mother setting wire snares in a conservation area to trap some food is pitiable. 1 million such mothers are a conservation nightmare and 10 million such mothers are a national calamity. Without effective human population control measures the government can draft all the White Paper’s, green papers and legislation it likes and it will not make the slightest difference.
You might be able to fool some people with the political ideology underlying the White Paper but, as the famous physicist Richard Feynman observed, you can’t fool nature.
Like Escom and the other state owned enterprises, and for exactly the same reasons, the lights are going out for wildlife and biodiversity in South Africa. It’s just not as noticeable as the Escom blackouts because it’s more insidious and anyway the wildlife neither votes nor riots.
So my suggestions are:-
1. get someone with intelligence and a grasp of language to condense the White Paper. It will make the ideas more comprehensible to the general public.
2. Focus first on tackling the human population explosion because without that all conservation policies will be overwhelmed by human need and greed.
3. Focus on conservation. Successful initiatives must be promoted and supported by the government regardless of race or gender. Dump the political ideology. Poverty alleviation and conservation are separate issues and cannot be conjoined as this document preaches.
As it stands this draft White Paper is nothing but a recipe for disaster.