‘We are more than just animals and plants, we are connecting people to what belongs to them’ – SANParks CEO

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Golden Gate Highlands National Park, situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State, is one of South Africa’s 19 national parks.

CEO of SANParks, Fundisile Mkheteni sat down with me and explained why it’s important to conserve different parks.   

“We are given a mandate by the people of South Africa and the government to protect and conserve their inheritance for the present and future generations. We have a system of national parks that comprise of 18 national parks, including the two-million-hectare Kruger National Park,” he says.

“We are conserving different types of parks for different reasons. We have your Savannah, like the bush of Kruger. We have the thicket around the Eastern Cape and Addo Elephant National Park. In the Northern Cape, we have the succulent Karoo, in the Table Mountain National Park we conserve fynbos, the Cape floral kingdom.”

Now here, in Golden Gate, SANParks conserves the grassland.

“A grassland is very important for providing what we call ecosystem services, to the people,” he explains.

“Water that we drink, the air that we breathe are eco-system services. The medicine that we use from the environment is an ecosystem service. Therefore, a park is not about going to see animals and plants. It’s about other livelihood requirements.

“We have never had a water shortage problem in the Golden Gate area because if you look at the landscape around us, it’s like a catchment of areas where water is flowing down to lower-lying areas to feed the people for agriculture and for drinking water. This area forms part of cross-border conservation between South Africa and Lesotho. People of both Lesotho and South Africa benefit from what we are doing on this landscape. This park represents what is underrepresented in our system of national parks.”

What does the future hold?

“We look forward to establishing more national parks of this nature where there are grasslands, mountains around you where the land is very productive, even for wildlife. Eeland is found here, hartebeest is found here.  Also important is that we don’t have predators here, like lions and leopards that you see in Kruger and other parks.”

And, lastly, does Golden Gate cater for the woke generation?

“This park is a park for millennials. Young people can come to this park because they can do mountain biking, hiking, game viewing. And it’s a park we have earmarked for more activities. This park is less than four hours’ drive from Joburg. The young people of this country, especially those concentrated in the urban system of Johannesburg, can come and breathe the fresh air, connect to nature, connect to heritage and see what SANParks is all about. We are more than just plants and animals. We are about people, the future, heritage. We are connecting people to what belongs to them.”

Wanna plan your next local holiday? Visit www.sanparks.org


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