Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, has encouraged South Africans to make the most of the free access granted to the country’s National Parks during SA National Parks Week, which runs from September 16th to September 24th, 2023.
Creecy emphasized the significance of introducing the nation’s national parks to the people, particularly to communities who seldom have the opportunity to experience and appreciate these vital areas of conservation, cultural heritage, and biological diversity located close to their homes.
During National Parks Week, South African National Parks (SANParks) offers free access to inspire people to take pride in their cultural heritage while spending time in nature. The Minister stressed the importance of elderly citizens who have lived near a National Park for years without exploring what lies beyond the fence, urging them to visit their neighboring National Parks.
To qualify for free entry, all South Africans are encouraged to carry their identity documents, while children under the age of 16 will not be required to provide identification.
Since its inception in 2006, National Parks Week has provided over 619,292 South Africans who might not have had the opportunity otherwise with the chance to visit a national park.
The Minister also noted that National Parks Week has inspired provincial conservation authorities, such as the Limpopo Tourism Agency and North West Tourism and Parks Board, to host Mahala Week, where select game reserves in the provinces offer free access.
Creecy emphasized the commitment to conservation and the protection of the country’s biodiversity, especially as the government strives to expand the conservation estate to meet international commitments and safeguard the natural world for current and future generations.
This year’s SA National Parks Week campaign, themed “Know Your National Parks,” begins in the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s first and largest national park, covering 19,458 square kilometers and hosting an array of wildlife and unique landscapes.
Creecy acknowledged the importance of tourism in South Africa’s economy, contributing significantly to GDP and job creation. She highlighted the partnerships between the government, communities, and the private sector as essential for the continued growth of the tourism sector.
The Minister also noted that the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) has invested R273 million in 863 Small, Medium, and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs), creating over 5,364 full-time equivalent work opportunities in communities with limited formal employment. These workers play a crucial role in national parks, undertaking tasks such as land rehabilitation, beach cleaning, ranger support, and infrastructure maintenance.