I wanted to update readers on the status of the organisation known as NOW (National Off-Road Workgroup). This proved easier said than done.
This idea came to mind after a meeting with the Department of Environmental Affairs. The department agreed to meet me and a colleague, and tried to answer our questions to the best of their ability.
But let’s go back to 2004, when certain members of the 4×4 fraternity got in touch with then minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, and told him they would resolve the problem of ill-discipline and environmental degradation being caused by some drivers of these vehicles. At that stage, Van Schalkwyk was perhaps not even aware that there was a 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 Workgroup was formed with a workshop held at Louvain near George. On behalf of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (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 consequences, and therefore are a good guide when developing a framework.
I stayed on as a member representing Naamsa, but bumped heads with others when the strategy changed from one of self-regulation to co-regulation. I felt that many ideas were too prescriptive and would damage tourism and the inherent economic benefits to local communities.
Sadly, before I left the organisation I began to question the representation of the various constituent bodies. The bodies representing the tour guides, trail owners and 4×4 instructors comprised a handful of members, and as far as I could see, no effort was made to really engage with the potential bulk membership.
In addition, there was no one representing the individual 4×4 owner who was not affiliated to a club.
The Association of All Wheel Drive Clubs of South Africa (AAWDCSA) looks after the bulk of the clubs out there, and they are represented in NOW, but there are still other key players missing. SA National Parks, for one, is 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 still under construction.
Originally, when we espoused self-regulation, it was a compliant driver on a compliant trail which really dealt with behaviour on behalf of the trail owner and the individual driving the 4×4 in terms of being sensitive to the environment.. I am sorry to say that we created this situation by simply labelling the 4×4 fraternity as a bunch of hooligans without really having much tangible evidence to back this up.
Then, with regard to the evolution of the plan, what was done in terms of pilot projects to assess the requirements and guide the process? Instead, we have small groups operating behind closed doors that will ultimately determine the path for an uninformed mass of 4×4 users. I only hope that sanity will eventually prevail.
There is a lot of talk about driver training and “unit standards”. These suggestions were being considered before the formation of NOW and were adopted by NOW as a compliance mechanism. There’s not much wrong with that, but why then try to insist that a person has to register that qualification with NOW at a substantial fee? Unless, of course, you are looking for a way to generate an income stream. To me, this fee smacks of off-road e-tolling.
I could carry on, but space permits me only so many words.
I urge 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 people who benefit from 4×4 activities. Let’s rather do something that will be for the good of everyone. Educate rather than legislate!
To read more about NOW or the Off-Road Council of South Africa (ORCSA), as it is renaming itself, go to www.4x4community.co.za