Angry at not being allowed to farm the 1 262ha in NGR they successfully claimed in 2000, members of the Mbangweni community have taken to threatening guards and tourists in the reserve. The claimants say the land is ideal for farming, in contrast to the dry corridor area where they live between the 10 600ha reserve and Tembe Elephant Park in the east.But the NGR’s wetland has Ramsar convention status and the reserve is part of the Usuthu-Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Park, which covers sections of South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. Having the Mbangweni community as full-time residents actively farming there would threaten the reserve’s conservation initiatives.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manages NGR’s conservation aspects. “Many of the people who are part of this conflict come from Mozambique, because the Mbangweni community is part of the Tonga people, and the South Africa/Mozambique border cuts the Tonga tribe in two,” said an informed source within the organisation, who wished to remain anonymous. “It seems that it’s mainly these Mozambican Tonga people who want to live in Ndumo. But they must understand that whenever there’s a successful land claim of a proclaimed conservation area, the claimants get ownership of the land, not tenure.”
On a visit to NGR, the KZN Legislature’s Portfolio Committee reportedly found that about 20km of the reserve’s fence had been removed, and there was evidence that bush within the NGR had been cleared to make way for crops.
MEC of the KZN agriculture department Lydia Johnson said they’re currently negotiating with affected communities to find a successful resolution to the land invasion issue. “My department strongly condemns all criminal activities that take place at Ndumo Game Reserve,” she added. “We’re working closely with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the police to curb criminal offences in the area, and those found in contravention of the laws for protected areas will face the full might of the law.” – Lloyd Phillips