Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't eat the snake: responsible tourism takes its lead from responsible travel writing

Photo: Sunset at Hartbeespoort Dam (Copyright: South African Tourism)
A conscientious travel writer need only pay attention to his creative ethic as he nurtures his sense of responsibility in helping to assure that the destination will be preserved for everyone instead of just the lucky few that may travel there before all the rest.

The environmentalist's mantra of "leave behind only footprints," while not rejected is hardly endorsed universally by the greater tourism industry. Many industry opinion makers, i.e. travel writers, do not appear to adhere to a Code of Practice regarding what is widely known as Responsible Tourism. Are these one-eyed writers to be believed when they express dismay about the corner of the world they always held dear, wrote about glowingly, promoted to readers far and wide, when they discover it has been subsequently ruined by eager tourists (readers) whose feet left behind a hell of a lot more than footprints? Fellow writers, beware what you reap, so shall you sow and that snake will come back and bite you.
The above is an extract from a brilliant article by Tom Neal Tacker, a member of The Australian Society of Travel Writers and it can be read here:


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Call for media to join campaign for more press freedom in China

PARIS: The World Association of Newspapers (WAN), the global organisation of the world's press, is calling for newspapers and other media world-wide to join the campaign for more press freedom in China by publishing new advertisements that highlight Chinese repression and call on authorities to allow more freedom of expression.

The campaign advertisements, available in both print and website formats in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese, are to be found at

WAN and World Editors Forum (WEF) have also written to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to welcome the relaxation of media regulations for foreign journalists and to ask that the government "take further steps to uphold international standards of press freedom."

China recently extended rules that allow foreign journalists greater freedom to travel in the country without prior government permission, and to talk to anyone who is willing to be interviewed.

But the rules, which were introduced for the Olympics and extended on 17 October 2008, do not include domestic journalists and do not address fundamental rights.

"For example, there is no protection of news sources, it is not possible to report freely on Tibet and hotels are obliged to report the arrival of a foreign journalist to police," the letter said. "Furthermore, with more than 30 journalists and at least 50 cyber reporters imprisoned, China jails more journalists than any other country."

The letter called for the new regulations to be extended to domestic journalists, for the release of all jailed journalists, and for the introduction of further reforms. The full letter can be read at

WAN and WEF had previously written to Wen on 7 October, asking that the relaxation of media regulations for foreign journalists be extended. The rules would have expired on 17 October if the authorities had not decided to extend them.

WAN defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18 000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups. The WEF is the organisation for editors within the World Association of Newspapers (

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Conservation corridors

The main reason the Joubert's got into filmmaking was to make a difference in conservation, and all the themes of their films reflect that and a deep appreciation of the beauty of wild Africa:

"It is my firm belief that what we have learnt since Darwin and Wallace is that islands and the wildlife on them are vulnerable. The smaller the island the more likely an extinction in the future. What we have done in African wildlife management is divide up free ranges and make them into islands of safe zones surrounded by wildlife hostile blocks, be they hunting, ranching, farming or civilization.

"If any effort at all is to be put into conservation it has to go towards linking these islands again, joining them up and recreating home ranges and natural migration routes. This can't happen without everyone's help, from governments to local communities to the commercial sector. I don't personally think that major donor help should be necessary although some would help initially, but Africa, wild Africa can have a working revenue model as well as any business.

"However to insist that wildlife and nature pay for their existence is very shortsighted and assumes that they are somehow the opposition, a renter or customer not an integral part of who we are. We are nature, a part of it not apart from it, and as such everything we do either assists nature or harms it, and by default is either good or bad for us. Corridors, linked reserves is the future we believe in."

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Come into the secret chambers

For I have called thee to come into the secret chambers of solitary communion. They are dark; but the comfort of My Person is there. Out of darkness cometh great treasure.
The dazzle and glitter of public life is attractive to the eye of the carnal man; but I would closet you away in the secret places of humility and discipline of soul, denying the things that pertain to the outward man in order to perfect the inner life and enrich thy knowledge of Myself.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

China - the world's biggest jailer of journalists

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Hunting... "ethically bankrupt"

I found the following piece about hunting on Dereck and Beverly Joubert's website ( interesting:

As much as we can debate this and as sad as it may be, we can no longer stand behind hunting! For years we tolerated it because it seemed like some spiritual journey in itself. Today we have come to the conclusion we should have years ago: hunting is no longer anything like this, It is all about the kill, and sadly now there is no doubt that hunting now falls under the category of recreation (even mentioned as such in official brochures and websites.)

We don't believe that it is ethical to enjoy killing animals (or anything) and while it may be acceptable to kill and eat meat, the enjoyment of that process is shameful. Sport hunting, recreational hunting, blood sports are no longer acceptable morally.

To any who say that they enjoy hunting for the bushcraft and chase we say that it is easy to find a substitute today for both of those. In a place called Palmwag in Namibia for example (a Wilderness safaris area) Chris Bakas will take you walking up to black rhinos. His challenge to you will be to get close enough to take a photograph, however you will have failed if the rhino detects you, and failed twice if it charges. Now that is a challenge greater than driving up and shooting an elephant the size of the average African dwelling from your vehicle.

That deals with the clients, but the guides or professional hunters should know better, many have grown up with the scent of African sage in their noses and understand her songs. But so many things are being done today in the hunting industry under their watch (that we have seen and filmed or photographed) that the words "ethically bankrupt" are applicable here.

If there is to be a hunting industry at all in the future there must be a new way of management of the hunters, by the hunters themselves, with full accountability for their actions, as morally disturbing as sanctioned killing of animals for the fun of it is.

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About the Filmmakers

Dereck and Beverly Joubert, recently nominated "Explorers-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society are multiply awarded filmmakers, photographers, writers and conservationists. Their prime goal in life is to use their particular talents to enhance conservation and efforts to inspire other people to take care of the planet. Through their films, largely on the big cats of Africa; lions and leopards, as well as elephants they show a side of the natural world that is often hidden to people, and they explore the meanings, and relevance of the natural world to each and every one of us. "We have to understand that every thing is connected, and as soon as we understand that we are a part of every system in Earth, the easier it will be for us to find that balance here instead of forever being in conflict with nature, its wild animals and wild places."

Working with the National Geographic and based out of Botswana, the Jouberts have managed to influence policy and people's perceptions of the wild for over twenty five years. They continue with new projects all the time, honing their skills and widening that footprint of like minded people who simply believe that every decision you make today needs to be based on a sound and well thought out "internal  environmental impact assessment" of your own. "We all know roughly what is right and what is wrong. Make every decision based on that alone and we will all be in better shape."

More info:

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SA filmmakers win World Ecology Award

South African filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert were awarded the 2008 World Ecology Award earlier this month for their contribution to raising public awareness around issues of global ecological concern.

Through their production company Wildlife Conservation Films, the husband and wife filmmaking team have spent almost three decades researching, exploring, filming and documenting wildlife in Africa. Consequently their efforts have resulted in 20 films, six books, scores of international awards and earned them an explorer's residency at National Geographic.

The World Ecology Award was presented to the Jouberts by the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Centre at the University of Missouri-St Louis, USA. Speaking at a gala dinner held at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, executive director of the Centre Patrick Osborne praised the work of the Jouberts in raising awareness around environmental issues.

"Through their films and publications, the Jouberts show the natural beauty and harsh reality of African wildlife, educating people throughout the world on why it is so vital that these wild places be protected and conserved for future generations," he said.

To read the rest of the article click here:

To find out more about Beverly and Dereck Joubert, visit Wildlife Conservation Films.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Swaziland: A tale of two countries

Photo: Waiting for healthcare (BY James Hall/IRIN)

MBABANE, 28 October 2008 (IRIN) - The irony is not lost on Swazis: the population is among the world's poorest, and yet the kingdom is classified as a "middle-income country". How come?

According to Musinga Timothy Bandora, resident coordinator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), "A nation's wealth is measured by several factors; this includes gross national product." In the case of Swaziland, ruled by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, if the nation's wealth were equally distributed, each Swazi would receive US$100,000.

In per capita income terms, Swaziland ranks somewhere between Armenia and Paraguay, with
export earnings based on agriculture and textiles; but, in terms of the share of the national wealth, the richest 10 percent of Swazis control over 50 percent of the country's income, a level of ine quality worse than in Brazil or South Africa, and beaten only by Namibia.

"Swaziland isn't a poor nation when you measure its gross domestic product; the problem is that the wealth is being siphoned off by a few people, with the king and the royal family top of the tree.
What's left, and it isn't much, goes to the people," said Richard Rooney, associate professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Swaziland.

For the rest of the article click here:

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More about Mondays

... We talked about our voices as writers -- how they are strong and brave but how as people we are wimps. This is what creates our craziness. The chasm between the great love we feel for the world when we sit and we write about it and the disregard we give it in our own human lives. How Hemingway could write of the great patience of Santiago in the fishing boat and how Hemingway himself, when he stepped out of his writing studio, mistreated his wife and drank too much. We have to begin to bring these two worlds together. Art is the act of nonaggression. We have to live this art in our daily lives....

... The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living rooms and porches, backyards and grocery stores? Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem. And let us always be kind in this world.

- Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones' (Shambhala 2006)

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Surely countless sunrises are to follow the setting of today's sun?

Millys, on the N4 outside Machadodorp: It has been a rather dramatic time. The first rains have been coming while the last fires have been burning. Work has been pouring in, but ironically and at the same time, it's been a time for catching my breath. I've even taken on work that shafted me out of all my pre-conceived comfort zones. I've even had some time to bond with some of my friends in town, who I've not seen in months. Most suprisingly of all, my butterfly orchid is going to flower... for the first time in a few years. Now that brings me great joy, is a reason to celebrate.

On the other hand it seems as though four (yes, four!) of my friends, some of whom I counted amongst my closest, but not neccesarily the oldest, have said goodbye... or by their silence are saying goodbye. If so, it was good and I have not a single regret. I strive to live with an open hand, my palm raised upwards, never closed, never shut, never tight - never consciously controlling or manipulating the reins. Thus the palm of my hand is as open - as they walk off it - as when they walked on to it. It will be an open, welcoming palm should they decide to return. At least there's no more smoke and mirrors.

It is not an act of faith to believe that as surely as the sun sets, it will rise again?

Goodbye... just love.

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A tourist in your own town

Writers write about things that other people don't pay much attention to. For instance, our tongues, elbows, water coming out of a water faucet, the kind of garbage trucks New York City has, the colour purple of a faded sign in a small town....
A writer's job is to make the ordinary come alive, to awaken ourselves to the specialness of simply being.
When we live in a place for too long, we grow dull. We don't notice what is around us. That is why a trip is so exciting. We are in a new place and see everything in a fresh way....
Learn to write about the ordinary. Give homage to old coffee cups, sparrows, city buses, thin ham sandwiches.
 - From: Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala 2006)

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Road trip: Lydenburg and back


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Dinokeng's exceptional biodiversity threatened by unscrupulous sand miners

Photos 1 & 2: Broken rehabilitation promises: The Seringveld has been defiled by unsustainable sand mining, with as much of 10% of it permanently scarred when it was unscrupulously stripped to its very bedrock, then not rehabilitated.


Photo 3: I've been doing a lot of work for the 240 000 hectare Dinokeng geo-spatial destination to the north-east of Gauteng. My pleasure has been getting to know the passionate, concerned folk of the Serringveld Conservancy, in particular its chairman, Jan Visser and Eugene Fourie. They have given generously of themselves, their time, their wisdom... they are kind and kindred souls.


"When you tug on a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world." – John Muir


Curbing the environmental destruction caused by unchecked sand mining and containing the spread of urban housing developments are two of the most pressing issues facing Dinokeng, according to Jan Visser, chairman of the Seringveld Conservancy, Cullinan .


"The protection of the unspoiled parts of the Seringveld's excellent bio-diversity is crucial," says Visser.


The Seringveld – where Visser has lived for 19 years - is unique and is home to the indigenous Red Syringa (Burkea africana, SA tree no. 197),  not to be confused with the exotic Syringa from India and Australia (Melia azedarach).


But the Seringveld has been defiled by unsustainable sand mining, with as much of 10% of it permanently scarred.

Visser says that since 1994 concerned residents and the conservancy have been trying to get the sand miners and Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) to operate within national regulations.


"It appears that rules don't apply to them.  We've written over 40 letters to DME, DWAF and GDACE, and have also – for years already – had Mining Forum meetings which we initiated with them, but to no avail. And despite a lot of negative media coverage, the perceived illegal sand mining goes ahead," says Visser.


While sand mining started on a single farm in the 1960s and affected an area of less than one hectare, just over 40 years later almost 1500 hectares have been badly damaged. What will Dinokeng look like in another 40 years if this continues unchecked?


"While we're striving to manage the conservancy in a way that sustains its pristine and natural character as an ecotourism destination, this is challenging to do in practice as the competing claims for development and conservation are valid," Visser explains.


"We believe the challenge is not to sacrifice the one for the other, but to find a sustainable balance between conservation of this natural environment - on which, among others, tourism growth depends - and development to meet the nation's needs.


But Visser is adamant that the prerequisites and conditions of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) must be respected. Currently the miners and DME are perceived as ignoring prescribed public participation processes and the recommendations of legitimate environmental impact assessments (EIAs), among others.


"How an area that's so intensely mined ever going to be marketed as an attractive ecotourism," he asks?


Ecotourism is sustainable and has a much greater capacity to create long-term employment and alleviate poverty. Sand mining, on the other hand, provides fewer, short-term jobs, while making only a few unscrupulous fat cats immensely wealthy. It also permanently scars the landscape, because it is doubtful if any reasonable rural land use is possible in future on land as extensively mined as parts of the Seringveld.


Seringveld Conservancy is a member of the The Gauteng Conservancy Association (GCA), which was formed to promote conservation on private property in Gauteng and to protect the province's fast- disappearing greenbelt areas.


The GCA represents rural and urban conservancies ranging in size from tens of thousands of hectares to tiny areas in the province.


Conservancies deal with a multitude of problems, including illegal mining activities, dumping of refuse, overgrazing, veldfires, game poaching,  theft of plants and rocks, tree-cutting, alien vegetation - to name a few.


In spite of this, many of them have succeeded in co-operation with government to contribute to protect some of the most beautiful and sensitive regions in Gauteng.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Climate change may drown some of Africa's cities

Photo: Sea level rise and surge-induced flooding threatens more than 3,000 cities (By: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)
People in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, prefer to commute in three-wheeled autorickshaws, taxis and buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), in their bid to slow down global warming. Nineteen African port cities could be in danger - ranging from Tunis and Alexandria in the north, to Cape Town and Durban in the south.

CNG produces a lower level of greenhouse gases and is an environmentally cleaner alternative to petrol. Dhaka's residents are among the most vulnerable to global warming and don't want to become "climate terrorists".

The city is among more than 3,000 identified by the UN-Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2008/09 as facing the prospect of sea level rise and surge-induced flooding. The report warns policymakers, planners and the world at large that few coastal cities will be spared the effects of global warming.
Asia accounts for more than half the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 percent) and Africa (15 percent); two-thirds of the cities are in Europe, and almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ).

During the 1900s, sea levels rose by an estimated 17cm; global mean projections for sea level rise between 1990 and 2080 range from 22cm to 34cm, according to the UN-Habitat researchers.

The report points out that by 2070, urban populations in river delta cities, such as Dhaka, Kolkata (India), Yangon (Myanmar), and Hai Phong (on the coast near Hanoi in Vietnam), which already experience a high risk of flooding, will join the group of populations most exposed to this danger. Port cities in Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and India will have joined the ranks of cities whose assets are most at risk.

African coastal cities that could be severely be affected by rising sea levels include Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).

Read the full article here:

Add to Technorati Favorites launches SA blog survey

What is intended to be the most comprehensive survey of South Africa's blogger community has been launched today by, in association with blog aggregators and and online DVD rental company The goal is to demonstrate the diversity and sophistication of South Africa's portion of the global blogosphere.

"South Africa is the continent's largest blogging community, yet very little is known about the individuals who blog and what inspires them to share their thoughts, observations and experiences with the world," says Matthew Buckland, GM of online publishing and social media at

"Although African bloggers make up less than one percent of the global blogosphere, we have a vibrant local online community, with some exciting growth in the number of those contributing and reading blogs."

For those who complete the survey, Speak Up!, at, three lucky participants will stand the chance to have their blog profiled on the network, as well as be eligible for one of three prizes offered by PushPlay. All South African-based bloggers are welcome to participate.

"Bloggers are a broad range of people from different walks of life and a wide spectrum of opinions, interests and experiences. With this survey, we hope to get a good snapshot of how bloggers make the 'net work for them," adds Buckland.

The highly collaborative survey was developed with input from luminaries across the local blogosphere, including Arthur Goldstuck, Vincent Maher, Nic Haralambos, Mike Stopforth, Charl Norman, Justin Hartman, Rob Stokes and Tertia Albertyn.

The deadline to complete the survey is 23.59pm on 7 November 2008.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

God in the detail

A magnificent summer morning and I've chosen to have my quiet time outside, amongst the bird song and the cool breeze coming off the mountain. Soon, as my work day begins, I'll move my laptop to this table under the veranda.

I count myself blessed to have the company of this magnificent sunset orange moth. God is, undoubtedly, in the detail.

My needs are few and simple. Much more than this, and my steaming bowl of Jungle oats with honey, I don't need. I count myself blessed... only now to ensure that it overflows into the lives around me.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Elands Valley and NZASM tunnel

What makes the Elands Valley, on the outskirts of Waterval Boven, exceptional is the Elands River and the Elands River Falls (the second longest in the province), the 116 -year old NZASM railway tunnel and its imported, turn-of-the-century dressed stone, the longest span of electricity cabling in the world, the nearby Five Arches Bridge, not to mention the imposing and ever-present sheer red sandstone cliffs (which makes Waterval Boven an immensely popular international climbing destination). 


According to Gustav Janse van Rensburg's climber's guide, 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Crags', The NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij) tunnel was constructed (1892) as part of the Eastern railway line connecting the South African Republic to Delegoa Bay (Now Maputo) in Mozambique. The only other point to get in contact with with the outside world was Durban harbour, which was still occupied by the British.

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IFRC promoting 'good news' on Africa

JOHANNESBURG: "Believe in Africa" is an initiative launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on the occasion of the 7th Pan African Conference that will gather representatives of the 53 African Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Africa in Johannesburg from 19 - 22 October, 2008.

The official launch will take place in South Africa, however the initiative is also global and will be presented to international media based in Geneva.

The main objective of "Believe in Africa" is to highlight the need to work together with the media and other humanitarian organisations to promote more positive reporting on Africa, which is often described as a continent of war and poverty. The IFRC is facing the same dilemma as journalists when issuing press releases focusing on disasters in Africa.
"Believe in Africa" aims to also acknowledge and better promote the contribution being made on a daily basis at the community level. The initiative plans on emphasising the positive stories and experiences being recorded by the Red Cross Red Crescent in Africa.

For the full story:
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Queens of the green journalists

Photo: Sandra Herrington, SAB Environmental Journalist in the broadcast category, and Monica Graaf, SAB Environmental Journalist in the print & Internet category. Picture by Lettie Ferreira.
Monica Graaff, an environmental journalist working for Mind Shift, has won the 2008 SAB Environmentalist and Environmental Journalism Award in the print and internet category, while Sandra Herrington emerged victorious in the broadcast category for her documentary 'Sustainable Options for the Wild Coast', aired on SABC2's 50/50. The presentation of these awards took place earlier this week at the Johannesburg Country Club in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

According to the panel of judges chaired by Dr Ian Player, Graaff - the editor of Mind Shift - excelled because her articles presented many challenges for the business world, examining the politics, economics and technology involved in meeting environmental challenges.

Mind Shift is printed on top quality recycled paper and is partly sponsored by the University of Cape Town's School of Business.

Herrington's outstanding work for SABC2's 50/50 caught the judges' attention due to its fairness and balance and its focus on the sustainability and involvement of the community, while steering away from any unnecessary sensationalism.

Herrington previously won two SAB Environmental Journalism awards in the electronic category in 1993 and 1999. Print media and broadcast's past winners include Russel Molefe with the Sowetan (1999 and 2001) and Elise Tempelhoff with Beeld (2005), and Annelise Burgess with SABC's Special Assignment (2005), respectively.
To read the rest of the article by Issa Sikiti da Silva on Biz-Community click here:

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