The Hot Spot – Dr Roelie Kloppers
On Mozambique’s borders and the elephants that want to break them down
May 17, 2012
I recently read that Frank Zappa once said ‘You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.’ Mozambique definitely does not have nuclear weapons, a great football team (as if a South African can criticize), but it has its own national airline and some of the best beer in the world. However, very few people realize that its most famous beer, Dois M, was named after a French President who decided where the border between South Africa and Mozambique should go. This arbitrary line on the ground does not follow any natural features and cuts the Tembe-Thonga chiefdom in half. It also fragments an ecological system running north to south from Maputo Bay to Lake Sibayi. This area is commonly referred to as Maputaland and is a recognized centre of plant species endemism. It is also home to one of the last endemic elephant populations in South Africa, who traditionally migrated from the Maputo Elephant Reserve to Tembe Elephant Park along the Maputo River. Since Mozambican independence in 1975 and South Africa’s resulting absurd foreign policies during the Apartheid era, this elephant population has been cut into two sections with most of the bulls finding themselves in an overcrowded Tembe Elephant Park and most breeding groups dodging landmines in Mozambique.
Since 1992 a lot of effort has gone into re-uniting the elephant population and, more importantly, developing a comprehensive Management system for Maputaland that is not based on political delineations, but on the ecology of the area. Chief amongst these is the plan to create a Transfrontier Conservation Area that will not only link Tembe and the Maputo Elephant Reserves, but that will also incorporate the community conservation areas between and around these reserves (including the troubled Ndumo Game Reserve). Major achievements include the proclamation of the Futi-corridor and the Ponta do Our Marine reserve and the incorporation of some 10,000ha of communal land on the South African side of the border into the Mega-reserve. However, in Mozambique especially, more effort has gone into getting official proclamations signed than ensuring community participating and support for the process. This could prove disastrous as there are so many case studies from across the world that show that Parks are for People and without community consent and support they are doomed to failure. The time is right to mobilise civil society action at a community level in Mozambique and I was extremely fortunate to meet some of the local groupings doing just that when I visited the country last month. My biggest surprise was running into Geraldo Palelene from LUPA, a newish NGO in Mozambique that traces its roots to years of work done by Helvetas in the country. Geraldo and I met when I was a young Masters student studying human-elephant conflict in southern Mozambique. Geraldo was a community development worker with Helvetas and introduced me to the intricacies of a country that has since become my second home. He and his associates are working with a series of other small civil society organisations to give the local community a voice in the development of the Transfrontier Park, ensuring they support and benefit from the proposed developments. This is radical in a country where civil society had no role to play, and was in fact illegal, as little as 15 years ago! They are making amazing head ways and have partnered with Wildlands and the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund to support their work. This gives me great reason to visit the country more often to celebrate the proof that it is a country according to Frank Zappa and hopefully to also see the finalization of work I was fortunate enough to play a starting role in when I started my professional career.Go back