Voices

Empowerment through tourism

2017-11-12 06:04

The South African tourism industry is a major contributor to the country’s economy and employment of its people. This sector contributes about 9% to the country’s gross domestic product. Almost 9 million foreign tourists visited South Africa in 2015.

As part of its agenda, the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) has pumped millions into the tourism sector.

“The NEF recognises tourism as a modern-day engine of growth and as one of the largest industries globally. In 2012, G20 heads of state recognised tourism as a driver of growth and development, as well as a sector that has the potential to spur global economic recovery,” says NEF chief executive officer Philisiwe Mthethwa.

Since its inception, the NEF has invested in excess of R100m in the booming tourism industry accommodation facilities.

In partnership with the NEF

If you are still looking for a place to have your Christmas holidays, here are four showcase projects funded by the NEF:

Tala Private Game Reserve

Like the Nkumbeleni community of the Hammarsdale region, Tala has seen its share of troubles. Hammarsdale was one of the many regions of KwaZulu-Natal plagued by political violence in the 1980s and 1990s. Families were torn apart as many people fled their homes. Fortunately, with the arrival of democracy, the area has enjoyed peace for almost two decades.

Tala, on the other hand, established on expropriated farmland after a huge and hotly contested land claim, initially prospered. However, it started declining and two years ago it was placed under a business rescue plan. But now the reserve is rising from the proverbial ashes – and it’s doing so in an NEF-supported partnership with the community. The NEF’s investment into Tala runs to R14.3m.

A mere 40-minute drive from Durban’s popular beaches, Tala is a slice of pristine African bush. A herd of hippos laze in a water hole while zebra, impala, wildebeest and other species dot the rolling grassland, admired by visitors from open game drive vehicles. On the crest of a hill a security guard on a motorcycle watches over a small group of white rhino, dehorned to deter poachers.

The reception desk is manned by Nosipho Ngkulunga (26), who has worked for the lodge for three years and is now training up a fellow community member, Khanyi Ngubane (24). Khanyi is the third member of her family to be employed at Tala – her father Alpheus is a groundkeeper and her brother Thulani is a “rhino protector”.

“The lodge is part of our lives,” Khanyi says. “Everybody in the community has a link to Tala, one way or the other. There’s more employment, and my brother tells people about the importance of conservation and tourism. They know he protects the rhino.”

About 70 to 80 community families are involved with Tala. That includes about 20 people who are directly employed by Tala. In addition, the reserve hires labour from the community.

“Whenever we need teams of workers for tasks like road maintenance, fencing or construction, we liaise with a community official and he organises the teams,” explains Sean Engelsman, who was deployed to Tala as acting general manager by the Dream Hotel & Resorts Group.

“Our partnership with the community is very important from an employment point of view, but also because the community embraces conservation. As we go forward, we will explore ways for them to benefit from natural resources within the reserve.”

Part of the intrigue of Tala are the beautiful old farm houses and barns, which are being restored to serve as private accommodation units. Some of these, explains Sean as he shows us around the rustic stone houses shaded by ancient fig trees, contain original wooden furniture more than a century old.

He glows with enthusiasm as he explains how all this will be restored to its former glory to once again host celebrity weddings. “This is the best-kept secret between Durban and Pietermaritzburg,” he says.

Back at the reception building, Simon Mkhize (36), who manages the curio shop, explains that he sources a lot of his stock from a woman’s group in Hammarsdale. “The shop is here because of the reserve and it creates income for the women.”

Jozini Tiger Lodge & Spa

This can’t be right. According to the GPS map, we’ve arrived, but where’s the luxury lodge? We’re surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a rural Zululand town with roadside hawkers, chickens dodging hooting minibus taxis and cows bringing traffic to a standstill.

Redirected by our GPS, we make a U-turn, drive back a hundred metres or so and leave the tar to follow a nondescript gravel road for a few minutes – and suddenly we’re on the edge of the world, with stunning views of a vast, serene expanse of water and purple Lebombo mountains.

And perched on the near shore, like a luxury ocean liner about to sail into all this natural beauty, is the Jozini Tiger Lodge & Spa.

The lodge takes its name from both the Jozini Lake and the tiger fish in its waters. But it’s more than an angler’s paradise. You can go kayaking, view wild game during a sunset boat cruise, go on guided walks, hire a houseboat, get spoilt in the spa, sip cocktails while drinking in the views... Get the picture?

The lodge also plays an important role in the economic revival of two local communities – those of chiefs Myeni and Nyawosa – whose banana and sugar cane fields were submerged by the dam upon completion in 1973. Lifelong Jozini resident Ishmael Gumede (55) explains: “The two old chiefs came together and decided that their peoples should benefit equally from any future development on the shores of the dam.”

In partnership with the NEF, which has invested R28.9m in the establishment, the lodge recruits staff from the impoverished local community. “It’s great for the community,” enthuses Ishmael.

Our employment policy is “community first”, confirms acting general manager Mavis Nkabinde. According to her, about 80% of the roughly 104 staff members are recruited locally and trained to work in housekeeping, catering, maintenance and administration. “The goodwill and participation of the community is key to our success.”

Ntombehle Myenmi was employed in 2010 to clean rooms. Today she’s the executive housekeeper, supervising 22 staff members who clean 77 rooms. “I’m strict,” she laughs.

Before, she faced a long daily taxi commute to work, but now her family homestead is 10 minutes away. Ntombehle (34) hands most of her monthly salary over to her parents, who use it to support the entire family of nine, including schooling for a younger brother and two sisters.

“This lodge is part of our community, I am very happy and proud to work here.”

Royal Thonga Safari Lodge

This lodge is the culmination of a dream of the local community, private investors and the Royal Tembe Development Foundation to create a natural paradise for visitors to this unique reserve. The lodge is architecturally designed to emulate the local Tonga building style, and each of the 14 chalets is uniquely positioned to offer guests total privacy and luxurious comfort within a sand forest in Tembe Elephant Park. The NEF invested R8.8m into the lodge.

Park Inn Polokwane

In Polokwane, a new hotel has received a R45m business loan from the NEF. The Park Inn by Radisson Polokwane is set to usher in a new era of business and leisure tourism in the province. The hotel’s overall funding requirement was more than R150m. Amazin Hotels approached the NEF for part of the funding of the three-star hotel in Polokwane.

The group has been awarded an opportunity to lease a development site by the Polokwane Municipality. The hotel is located along the existing Polokwane Golf Course with the football stadium across the road within the Greater Polokwane Region.

In partnership with the NEF.

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April 22 2018