There were invisible partners behind the considerable efforts to proclaim the Magaliesberg as a Biosphere Reserve - the Finns. They are the unsung heroes of this bold initiative, supported through an Institutional Cooperation Instrument (ICI) project financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
The Fins made 500 00 Euros available for the project, an injection of resources without which the application for Biosphere status may never have been realised.
As the years of hard work finally neared the first milestone, Finland’s Embassy reported, “The Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative took a significant step forward in June 2012 when the North West Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism organised a launching ceremony during which the province and affected stakeholders formally endorsed the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve.”
Premier of the North West Province, Ms Thandi Modise, acknowledged the role of their international funders and partners: "This project could not have been successful without the partnership that we forged with the Finnish Environment Institute and Central Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment," she said.
On the heels of the glittering Biosphere launching ceremony, a shocking 11th hour development revealed that many people, organisations, groups and communities in Gauteng who formally endorsed the Magaliesberg Biosphere, have been excised.
Their exclusion is the direct result of bungling and blatant neglect by officials.
The Biosphere endorsement by many conservancies, businesses and individuals is a commitment to a sustainable lifestyle and is a process taken seriously by those who put pen to paper.
However, this was not the response of the organs of State in Gauteng, including the management of the Cradle of Humankind, which was earmarked as a Core Area in the proposed Biosphere and was part of the process from the outset.
Vincent Carruthers, chairman of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group (MBIG) reports on the neglect that resulted in all of Gauteng being excised from the Biosphere application finalised in September.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has listed 599 Biosphere Reserves from 117 countries. UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) recognises that Biosphere Reserves are places where local communities are actively involved in governance and management, research, education, training and monitoring at the service of both socio-economic development and biodiversity conservation.
“Almost six years after the Magaliesberg Biosphere was initiated, the final nomination documents were lodged with the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA) for submission to UNESCO. Formal international registration is expected in the first half of 2013.
“Cliff-hanging anxiety accompanied the final weeks before the submission and in the end all of Gauteng, including the Cradle of Humankind, has had to be excluded from the Biosphere application. We hope that Gauteng will be able to be brought in as phase 2 in 2013.
“The problem emerged at a Steering Committee meeting on 20 July at which municipalities in Gauteng almost de-railed the nomination. Two months earlier DEDECT (Department of Economic Development, Environment, Conservation and Tourism) had organised a two-day, million-rand, televised event with speeches, dignitaries and entertainment to obtain the necessary endorsement from municipalities and provinces - a necessary requirement for UNESCO.
"The function appeared not to have been successful because at the steering committee meeting in July, Willie Boonzaaier, our long-suffering consultant, reported that many government endorsements were still outstanding.
“Extracts from the minutes of the Steering Committee meeting 20 July 2012 tell the sorry tale:
Willie Boonzaaier gave an overview of endorsements obtained and those that were still required.
Tendamudzimu Mathagu, representing the City of Johannesburg, requested that the municipality be provided more time to get buy-in from political principals as they were only consulted late on the project. Johannesburg had sent only junior delegates to Steering Committee meetings in the past and had been left behind in the process. They were also of the opinion that the Public Participation should have been advertised in The Star newspaper rather than the Sowetan and other papers.
Rudzani Mukheli of City of Tshwane said her municipality was also concerned about the date of submission, given the consultation that still had to happen in order to sign endorsements forms. Her leadership was not aware of the project and would not be able to endorse it.
The representatives from Gauteng, Tshwane and Johannesburg requested a halt to the whole process and a delay in submission of application until they could be properly informed and consulted.
Vincent Carruthers pointed out that every municipality and both provinces had been full members of the Steering Committee since 2008. Their representatives had been invited to every meeting and had received minutes and full documentation. The process and the years of diligent work should not be penalised because they had not fulfilled their mandate.
Adriaan van Straaten of DEDECT stated that if endorsements were not forthcoming, the relevant areas could be taken out of the application. Deadline had already been fixed. Delays would have dire consequences for the department.
Mashudu Nemutandani (Acting Chairperson) ruled that the government representatives (DEA, provinces and municipalities) should meet after the SC Meeting to find a way forward and to avoid prolonging the meeting.
“In the weeks that followed many attempts were made to get official endorsements but no progress was made. The Steering Committee met again on 30 August and learned that a) the government representatives had not met as planned; b) no endorsements had been signed by Gauteng Province, or by any Gauteng municipalities - not even by the Cradle of Humankind, one of the core areas of the Biosphere.
“Three people from National DEA attended the meeting and the discussion centred around what could be salvaged. At first DEA said that all the conservancies in Gauteng that had signed could be included - i.e. the whole Buffer Area, which would have been satisfactory. Then one of the DEA people phoned her boss and decided that 'protocol would not be observed' if conservancies in Gauteng were included without provincial endorsement. It was suggested, however, that the Cradle of Humankind could be included if a signature could be obtained from the CEO of the Management Authority. Lebo Diale (chairperson of the Steering Committee) said she would get that endorsement the following day. Unfortunately, she could not get this one either.
“We were told at this Steering Committee meeting that it was imperative that application documents with the signed endorsement forms be submitted by 1 September. That deadline later became 3 September and finally 7 September. This delay was only allowed because the official from DEA responsible for the submission, Kallie Naude, was away for a period. During the meeting Willie Boonzaaier was being briefed by phone to alter the maps and nomination documents while the meeting shifted from one conclusion to another.
“Two days later I visited Peter Mills of the Cradle Authority. Peter had been at the grand endorsement function on 7 June and, because there were insufficient forms at the function he had asked Mashudu Nemutandani to get some delivered to his office. They were eventually delivered to the Cradle three months after the original request and after all the Steering Committee meetings had taken place. Despite Peter’s efforts and explanation of the advantages of the Biosphere, the CEO, Dawn Robinson, did not sign.
“As far back as 2008 I gave a presentation to Gauteng (then GDACE, now GDARD) and there has been constant contact, collaboration and dozens of public meetings since. Officials from GDARD were treated to a free trip to Finland in 2010 to learn about biosphere management. The reluctance to endorse the Biosphere at the last minute is difficult to understand. MBIG will undertake a full enquiry to try and establish how this debacle arose and how best to handle it from here. At the same time we are delighted that the Biosphere has now gone forward for nomination and we must work diligently for its success.
Vincent Carruthers, 24 September 2012
Mining applications abound in the Magaliesberg region: 57 portions in all. Now De Wildt is affected. Applications to prospect there for chrome ore, platinum group metals, copper and coal have been submitted to the Department of Mineral Resources. A participation meeting is planned for 17 October according to a notice from environmental consultants on behalf of the applicant, Halovax Investments (Pty) Ltd.
The town of Magaliesburg is beleaguered with its sixth Prospecting (mining) Application in a year. This latest application forms part of three applications lodged since August 2011 - all by the same consultant, an ex-official of the Department of Mineral Resources.
A local resident, accused of starting a smear campaign against the mining company, is being assisted by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). Advocate Rudolph Jansen, acting for LHR, said it was a disturbing feature when a powerful entity resorted to a form of dispute resolution that involved costly litigation.
"This is almost always done as a measure to intimidate and silence public participants - not as a measure to set the record straight and vindicate a particular position," he said.
He argued that the costs involved in litigation, coupled with the risk of an adverse cost order, created an environment in which it was difficult to participate in forums open to the public.
"In other words, litigation not only affects what happens in court, but it tends to skew the processes in other forums in favour of the powerful and rich."
Jansen said applications such as these could pursue legitimate aims, but might also have a chilling effect on people prepared to step forward as active citizens.
Read more: www.lhr.org.za