Looking back whilst playing it forward
Dr. Werner Vogt who attended the official opening of the College during its first year of operation in 1997 introduced himself to SAWC CEO, Theresa Sowry at a function organized by Friends of African Wildlife held in Zürich. He regaled her with stories of his trip to South Africa where he met Madiba and visited the College. He then promised to send her a copy of an article he wrote for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which was published on 08 September 1997.
Here is the article, translated with DeepL.com/Translator and amended for purposes of clarity.
College for National Park Guards in South Africa – A German development project in the sense of the Rio Summit
Last Friday, the Southern African Wildlife College was opened in Hoedspruit on the border with Kruger National Park. In future, the cadre of national parks in all countries of southern Africa are to be trained at this institution, whereby interested parties from West, East and Central Africa are also eligible to apply. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) was the main donor for the provision of the infrastructure. Dr. Uwe Kaestner, Germany’s ambassador to Pretoria, said that the guidelines of the Rio Summit were decisive for the 10 million DM project, the largest single project in South Africa. The aim was to help the 12 states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to maintain and make long-term use of their unique nature and wildlife populations.
Pillar for the Peace Park project
The recently opened Wildlife College fills a gap in that there has been no cross-border school for training game wardens, park guards and the administrative staff of nature reserves. While South Africa has been making great efforts to conserve its wildlife population in the various state-owned and private national parks for decades and is training people working in this field, other countries in the region have people with great experience in the field but who have not had the opportunity to gain any recognized conservation qualifications. Both solid theoretical knowledge and practical skills are however a prerequisite for the realisation of the plans to bring together national parks in southern Africa. As Dr. John Hanks, former head of WWF South Africa explains, for example, Mozambique has a considerable interest in the idea of expanding Kruger Park eastwards, but this project cannot be realised in the short term because neither the infrastructure nor the necessary recognized know-how is available.
Cooperation with the local community
For the management of natural resources, not only their sustainable use, but also a partnership approach with the local community is of great importance. History has shown that poor rural populations have been marginalized. Integration with nature conservation or nature-based tourism, will only take place if the community perceives it to be of value and where they feel part of the process. Neither Capuchin sermons nor the threat of punishments will prevent the residents on the borders of protected areas from poaching, but the conviction that communities will in the end be destroying their own livelihoods should wildlife no longer exist, will help influence behavior patterns. However, given Africa’s history real meaningful partnerships will not be achieved overnight.
In order to demonstrate its commitment to local industry and communities, materials and labour from the area were used wherever possible in the construction of the Wildlife College. The roofs are covered with thatch, which local women have help prepare for this purpose. The use of tropical precious woods such as mahogany was not considered for reasons of principle and where possible materials were procured locally. 500 workers from local communities were recruited to build the campus, which is spread over several hectares. Local entrepreneurs from the surrounding area also had priority.
Nevertheless, a certain discrepancy still exists between the architectural standard of this ecological learning institution and the simple buildings of local primary and secondary schools. But this is the omnipresent contrast between the First and Third World in South Africa. Here, as elsewhere, the Pentium processor is only a few kilometres away from a local dwelling, which in some cases is a mud hut. To represent the community’s interests, there is a representative on the Wildlife College board, in the person of Mr. Lion Thete. Indicative of this was the fact that during our tour, children from the surrounding area were busy with a computer course. This is surely the start of bigger things to come.
When planning the college, attention was also paid to the most energy-saving design possible. Under the connection paths covered with high gables, air can circulate through strategically distributed interruptions in the wall to the weather side, so that it is still bearable at 35 degrees in the shade. In this respect, even the small swimming pool is no luxury, as Dennis Moss, the lead architect, emphasizes. If one works at the usual temperatures during the summer, then a cool down in the afternoon is not considered fun, but a necessity. In addition, Moss continues, the swimming pool will be used as a water reservoir in the event of fire to douse the roofs whilst relieving the drinking water supply.
The Southern African Wildlife College, which was established in 1996, started its operations in 1997 with individual short courses to help bridge the skills gap. In the coming year, this will be followed by a year-long natural resource management programme for people already employed in the field of conservation. For the staff under College Director Dr. Peter Norton, this is the next phase.