Africa Park Sets Stage for Cross-Border Collaboration

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
September 5, 2003

With the proclamation of a new international park spanning the border between South Africa and Namibia, the jigsaw pieces are beginning to fall into place for what could eventually be one of the world's greatest coastal sanctuaries—a 70,000-square-mile (180,000-square-kilometer) strip that would provide protected status for a unique desert ecosystem that stretches across three countries.

Encompassing an arid landscape of spectacular beauty and variation, the envisaged super park would be long and thin, stretching for about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) along the sub-continent's Atlantic seaboard, crossing the boundaries of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola.

The first major step towards realizing the vision of the giant coastal park was taken when South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and his Namibia counterpart, Sam Nujoma, recently signed a treaty to establish the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park between their two countries.

The newly combined park spans the Orange River boundary to link South Africa's Richtersveld, which is community-owned, with Namibia's Ai-Ais and Fish River Canyon National Park. With visitors now able to move freely across the border within the greater park, a power-driven pontoon will carry them and their vehicles across the Orange River near the park's western extremity.

This new transfrontier park represents but a small part of a much larger picture. The international coordinator of the project, Peet van der Walt, sees Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park as the launch pad for piecing together the giant subcontinental park.

Van der Walt has been intimately involved in conservation on both sides of the Orange River, having served for several years in Namibia's government as deputy director of nature conservation and tourism before joining South African National Parks.

He says the new transfrontier park's joint management board, which will come into existence in terms of the presidential treaty, will be a handy forum for propagating the greater park.

A Bigger Dream

At the treaty-signing ceremony last month in Windhoek, capital of Namibia, both presidents emphasized that the new transfrontier park was part of a bigger dream. Mbeki called it a concrete step towards a bigger integration process; Nujoma said while the transfrontier park was Namibia's first, it would not be the last. It would serve as an example for similar agreements with other countries.

Namibia's Minister of Environment and Tourism, Philemon Malima, disclosed that on the same day that the presidential treaty was signed with South Africa, he had signed a memorandum of understanding with his Angolan counterpart, Virgilio Fontes Pereira, to pursue the establishment of a similar transfrontier park across the Kunene River.

The Angolan minister remarked: "According to the understanding, we have two years to prepare for a transfrontier park. My belief is we can sign the treaty launching it earlier. The political will is there to do so."

Officials from all three nations say it could take as little as two years for the prospective super park—which would be about the same size as Uruguay—to become a reality.

Continued on Next Page >>


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