During the heated aftermath of the recent murder of a tourist near East Fort, SANParks announced the deployment of some 120 new additional monitors, funded by the Department of Tourism, to assist in reducing crime within SANParks managed areas.
In an article that was widely circulated and debated, SANParks managing executive Property Mokoena announced the new tourism monitors, and said training for rangers would need to prepare them to deal with violent crime instead of just protecting biodiversity.
“Our rangers were originally trained to protect and conserve the biodiversity of the national parks. Most of the serious threats which face our rangers, especially in this area, are criminal activities which are done by people. So, it changes the entire modalities of a ranger today,” Mokoena said.
It remained unclear as to where the new monitors would be deployed, and at what time of the day they would be active. We interviewed Andre van Schalkwyk, a leader galvanising a community beyond SANParks, Table Mountain Watch, to ensure a cohesive plan to work against safety issues and criminal activity.
We asked Andre for insight as to where the new rangers / monitors would be deployed, and if the safe zones would be communicated to mountain users.
“No new rangers have been deployed. This was misinformation and we see no evidence of any new rangers. Rangers shown in the media are already employed general rangers.”
Will mountain users be able to contact one of the new rangers in an emergency situation, if so, how?
“No systems currently in place. A general emergency number is advertised at most trail starts – for the Cape Town Emergency Services Centre – who in turn will alert TMNP.”
Is it true that running events are losing their licenses due to safety concerns, and if so, would it not be logical to have more events, rather than fewer? During events, trail runners are completely accounted for, tracked and guided on and off the mountain, and they have to wear compulsory kit and follow specific guidelines?
“Yes, this is a travesty. There has NEVER been an attack (at night) or rescue of a trail runner (in general) that we are aware of in the SAMA database (SA Mountain Accidents). So we are not sure what ‘safety’, if any, concerns there may be.”
It is our contention that this manner of unilateral decision making will drive sports ‘underground’. This will result in further ‘law enforcement’ challenges for TMNP when they are unable to cope as it is. We all need to push back hard – as Park Users – and TM Watch is prepared to support this push back.
Our message to SanPArks is to stop policing ‘us’ and to start focusing on the real criminals. We’ve been doing this stuff for over 100 years.....”
Wildrunner remains committed to continued information sharing, and all efforts to communicate safe zones, and support safety protocol, will be remain our key objectives.
Words: Kim Stephens