Published: Sunday 30 June 1996

A new land reform law in the country aims to strike a balance between conservation and community development. The reforms seek to restore property taken from some 3.5 million South Africans during the apartheid era. Large areas of national park; as well as some farms and primate game reserves, will be returned to their original owners.

The government is trying to involve local people in managing national parks while maintaining their conservation status. Some of the sanctuaries will be conserved as "contractual national parks", where the core wilderness areas will be under the control of the government's National Parks Board, while the owners of surrounding areas will be given contracts to manage their land in a way which complements the board's conservation work.

According to Derek Hanekom, South Africa's minister for land affairs, ecotourism could induce rural communities to conserve wildlife on their land if they receive a share of the revenue which otherwise goes straight to the government or private safari operators or hotqls. One such scheme is alreally under way in the Richtersveld, where the local community owns the land in the West Coast national part, but conservation powers are held by the National Panal Board. But both are involved in making management decisions. Consequently, grazing has been curbed in the park and the local people receive compensation for limiting livestock numbers.

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