Workshop targets muti traders, healers
Biodiversity compliance awareness discussed
TEEMING with chatter and dressed in colourful garb, traditional healers and muti traders from across Gauteng gathered together at the Turffontein race course yesterday to discuss and promote national environmental legislation.
Hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the biodiversity compliance awareness workshop gave attendees an opportunity to raise questions and concerns.
Some of the queries discussed included raids conducted by the Joburg Metro Police Department and police on muti traders and traditional healers, issues with permits to sell, collect or buy muti and the regulations relating to Threatened or Protected Species (Tops) being illegally sold at “muti markets” around the country.
The DEA’s Thomas Mbedzi, who works on Tops implementation, said it was important to give a framework of national regulation when it comes to dealing with laws and sustainable management of resources.
“We’re not saying that we mustn’t use our resources, but we need to use them in a way that ensures we can grow them further, and that they will regenerate by themselves.
“We need to always question, ‘what about our children and the future generations’ when we use our resources,” he said.
He also clarified that muti traders and traditional healers must have permits when using any specimen, alive or dead, that is either protected or threatened.
“This includes buying, selling, donating or, if any part of it is in a bottle of medicine you are transporting, you must have a permit.”
Some of the species given as examples included the wattled crane, blue swallow, riverine rabbit, the albany cycad, grass aloe, cheetahs, leopards, African rock python, elephants and black rhino.
“These are just some of the species, not everything has been listed,” he emphasised.
When asked why a permit was needed by a traditional healer, Mbedzi explained that they needed to monitor anything that could have a negative impact on the environment and ecosystems.
“However, there are exemptions coming by the end of the year for Tops species that are no longer alive. But elephants and rhinos will not be exempt, you will still need a permit to acquire them.
“There has to be proof of legal acquisition when it comes to Tops species, we cannot allow any illegal acquisition of such species,” Mbedzi stressed.
He said that a permit could only be issued with a letter of consent by the chief or landowner where the muti specimens were collected, and that if they were found to be lying, they would face the full might of the law.
“Offences can be punishable by up to R5 million fines or five years in jail.
“If this same offence is carried out again, this can double,” he warned.
A muti trader who asked to remain anonymous said he was grateful for being able to take part in the workshop.
“It helps me to understand what is right and what is wrong. For me, up until now it wasn’t always clear.
“Sometimes we have had to get things underhandedly because of all the paperwork in getting a permit, but now that it’s explained and they have heard our grievances, hopefully it will make the process easier,” he said.
Sonnyboy Bapela, the DEA chief director of compliance, said events like this were important because they promoted communication.
“The most important thing is to get the information across and to listen to their challenges so that we can try and help them with the necessary permits.”
Chief director of compliance and enforcement for GDARD, Abimbola Olowa, echoed his sentiments, adding it was important to understand they had tried to do things legally but this often led to frustration.
When asked if they would speak with the police about the raids and seizure operations, Olowa said: “There will be dialogue, but we have to approach it knowing all the issues.
“There are limitations and we have to find a balance,” she said. @Lanc_02
INFORMED: Traditional healer Zanele Ngobese of the Faraday muti market attends a biodiversity awareness programme for muti traders and traditional healers at Turffontien race course yesterday.