Willem van Riet and the Peace Parks Foundation

Dr. Willem van Riet


Focus on Willem van Riet and the Peace Parks Foundation

Willem van Riet, formerly of Van Riet and Louw Landscape Architects, is the current CEO of the Peace Parks Foundation. Contrary to the landscape industry’s belief that he may have retired, he is in fact actively working on the continued existence of the Foundation and the furtherance of its goals. Karyn Richards interviewed him about his role within this vital organisation, which is based in Stellenbosch.


Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) was founded in February 1997 by Dr Anton Rupert to facilitate the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs). These are defined as relatively large areas which straddle frontiers between two or more countries and cover large-scale natural systems encompassing protected areas. They also incorporate biosphere reserves and a wide range of community-based natural resource management programmes.
The term “peace park” was coined by the World Conservation Union to describe a transfrontier conservation area which:

  • encompasses more then one nation
  • unifies fragmented ecological habitats
  • promotes environmental and political stability

The overall objective of PPF is to facilitate the development of regional and international partnerships to promote job creation and biodiversity conservation involving Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.

Van Riet took over as CEO of Peace Parks Foundation from Dr John Hanks who retired in 2000. He (van Riet) had already carried out the first plans for the Great Limpopo Park in 1996 and explains: “Van Riet and Louw were always involved in the landscape planning of parks and my joining PPF was a natural progression of this. I took with me my GIS experience developed at the University of Pretoria some six years earlier and together with the staff who joined me, we approached the Foundation from a technical planning point of view. We conceptualised and produced a landscape use plan to improve the life of rural communities, one of the prerequisites for the development of TFCAs”.

Transfrontier Conservation Areas In Southern Africa
1 Iona-Skeleton Coast Tfca (Angola/Namibia)
2 Ai-Ais/richtersveld Transfrontier Park (Namibia/South Africa)
3 Liuwa Plain-Mussuma Tfca (Angola/Zambia)
4 Zambezi-Okavango Transfrontier Zone (Angola/Botswana/Namibia/Zambia/Zimbabwe)
5 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Botswana/South Africa)
6 Chimanimani Tfca (Mozambique/Zimbabwe)
7 Limpopo/shashe Tfca (Botswana/South Africa/Zimbabwe)
8 Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (Mozambique/South Africa/Zimbabwe)
9 Songimvelo-Malolotja Tfca (South Africa/Swaziland)
10 Lubombo Conservancy-Goba Transfrontier Conservation And Resource Area (Mozambique/Swaziland)
11 Ndumo Tembe-Futi Transfrontier Conservation And Resource Area (Mozambique/South Africa)
12 Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation And Development Area (Lesotho/South Africa)
13 Kagera Tfca (Rwanda/Tanzania)
14 Niassa-Selous Tfca (Mozambique/Tanzania)
15 Mnazi Bay-Quirimbas Transfrontier Marine Conservation Area (Mozambique/Tanzania)
16 Nyika Tfca (Malawi/Zambia)
17 Vwaza-Lundazi Tfca (Malawi/Zambia)
18 Kasungu-Lukusuzi Tfca (Malawi/Zambia)
19 Lichinga-Liwonde Tfca (Malawi/Mozambique)
20 Lower Zambezi-Mana Pools Tfca (Zambia/Zimbabwe)
21 Zimoza Transboundary Natural Resource Management (Tbnrm) Project (Mozambique/Zambia/Zimbabwe)
22 Maiombe Forest Tfca (Angola/Congo Republic/Democratic Republic Of Congo)

PPF is currently employing additional landscape architects to help implement decisions based on planning proposals. A team of specialists works throughout the SADC region to resolve planning problems. Craig Beach, for example, has a degree in zoology and botany, honours in wildlife management and a masters in the use of systems which integrate electronic mapping and ecology.
The concept of peace parks has “exploded” all over the world and there are now 169 of them globally, spanning 113 countries. Together with Ted Turner of CNN, van Riet is in the process of trying to establish one in the 4km wide de-militarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. “We have built computer models to show them how peace parks are developed and how they operate, and PPF is trying to convince North Korea to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.

However the problem is that they don’t acknowledge this DMZ,” says van Riet, who attended a meeting of the DMZ Committee in Seoul. There he presented images of the area, showing its natural beauty, geographical features and its feasibility as a transfrontier park. The DMZ has been a “no man’s land” for over 50 years and has become a wildlife sanctuary for rare birds and a variety of plant and animal life. In addition, it crosses mountains, swamps and lakes, giving it a large amount of biological diversity.
South America is another area where peace parks could work extremely well. Says van Riet: “The whole of the Andes forms the backbone of this vast continent and the establishment of a peace park here could demonstrate how countries within South America could work together successfully.”
Managing large landscapes of three million hectares is an extension of van Riet’s GIS* work, for which the Foundation received an ESRI** Presidential Award. “This was a huge honour for us,” he says, adding that GIS has helped to fulfill the vision of peace parks because of its ability to visualise information and provide a common language through geography. It is used to assist government officials and conservationists to make more informed decisions.

*GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, involves the application of various types of information, including satellite pictures, to develop images that are used for town planning and conservation.
**ESRI is the Environmental Systems Research Institute

Sponsorships and donors

Initially, PPF approached the German Ministry of Cooperation through KfW, for funding of the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. One grant was made and a further two are still required. A PPF team under Prof. van Riet controls the funds in terms of concept initiation, finance management and project management. A project implementation unit, appointed by PPF, then implements the project and the parks are managed by the individual country. Says van Riet: “PPF is a facilitator and as such assists governments at their request. Countries never lose their sovereignty and remain responsible for the management of the transfrontier park that falls within their borders.”

In 2002, the Foundation received a donation of €2,3 million from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, with the assistance of WWF Netherlands, to fund certain projects over a three-year period. Since then, the Foundation has become one of the 50 beneficiaries of the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. During the past three years, it has received an additional €4 685 million.
Sir Richard Branson, the world-renowned entrepreneur, has also expressed an interest in conservation and the work of PPF, and further sponsorship may come from this source.

Fully occupied

While Dr Anton Rupert was still alive, he wanted “to be invisible in terms of PPF,” says van Riet. However the new chairperson, Anton’s son Johann, has come in with a fresh new view and is keen on good corporate governance. Adds van Riet: “He has spent some six months with us and will become more involved in a positive way. He’ll let us do our thing”.
Van Riet is fully occupied “seven days a week” with PPF. He flies over the various peace parks on a regular basis, meets with the Ministers of Environmental Affairs and Tourism of the various countries and makes presentations to Parks Boards to explain procedures.
“We are showing the world the practical implementation of peace parks,” he says.
“In my latter years, being the CEO of the Foundation is very exciting and has given me a fantastic new challenge for conservation planning and development. The landscape planning skills I have always had made me suitable for this position since landscape architecture is a multi-dimensional discipline,” he concludes.

Prof. van Riet may be contacted on wvanriet@ppf.org.za. The website may be viewed on www.peaceparks.org.

Acknowledgement is given to the Peace Parks Foundation website, from which some of the information in this article was taken.