Well I asked the editorial team at Leisure wheels if I could have a blank page for the next issue somewhat bemused they asked why?
Quiet simply I wanted to update the readers as to the status of the organization know as the NOW (National Off-Road Workgroup). I was really struggling to get tangible input from the NOW, so I though of a big blank page “The NOW 2013”. This came after a meeting with the DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) who happily received a colleague and I and tried in all honesty to answer our questions to the best of their ability.
Let’s go back to 2004, certain members of the 4×4 fraternity made contact with Minister van Schalkwyk and told him that they would resolve the problem of ill discipline and environmental degradation; at this stage perhaps he had not even been aware of the problem? Yet like all good politicians he accepted the offer and noted the approach in his 2005 parliamentary speech. And so the National Off-road Workshop was formed with a workshop held at Louvain near George. On behalf of NAAMSA I presented a simple paper on sustainable off-roading based on the so called triple bottom line principles and their application within the various sectors. Triple bottom line principles cover the impact of an activity in terms of its social, economic and environmental consequence and as such are a good guide when developing a framework.
I stayed on as a member representing NAAMSA but bumped heads when the strategy changed from one of self regulation to co regulation and also felt that many ideas were too prescriptive and would damage tourism and the inherent economic benefits to local communities. Sadly before I left I began to question the representation of the various constituent bodies. The bodies representing the guides, trail owners and 4×4 instructors comprised a handful of members and no effort was made to really engage with the potential bulk membership.
In addition there is no one representing the individual 4×4 owner who is not affiliated to a club and given the size of the 4×4 vehicle park that is a substantial grouping. The AAWDCSA looks after the bulk of the clubs out there and they are represented on the NOW but there are still other key players missing. SANPARKS for one are not involved yet there are 4×4 trails in most of our national parks with the Lebombo Trail being the jewel in the crown. I tried to get information from the NOW website only to find that it is under construction?
Originally when we espoused self regulation it was a compliant driver on a compliant trail which really dealt with behavior and education, I am saddened to say that we created this situation by simply labeling the fraternity as a bunch of hooligans without really having much tangible evidence.
Then with regards to the evolution of the plan what was ever done in terms of pilot projects to assess the requirements and guide the process? Instead we have small groups operating behind closed doors who will ultimately determine the path for an uninformed mass -I only hope that eventually sanity will prevail. There is a lot of talk about driver training and the Unit Standards, these were in development prior to the formation of the NOW and were adopted by the NOW as a compliance mechanism, not much wrong with that but why then try and enforce that a person has to register that qualification with the NOW at a substantial fee? Unless of course you are looking to generate an income stream; the fee-smacks of off-road e-tolling. I could carry on but space permits me only so many words, I urge the NOW to adopt a broad consultative process and go back to the drawing board, bad legislation will damage tourism to the detriment of many rural folk who benefit from our passing through , let’s rather do something that will be to the benefit of all. Educate rather than legislate!