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eco tourism > features > success story:

Community action lights up South African villages

Posted: 08 Mar 2005

by Emmanuel Koro

Makuleke, a settlement of some 12,000 people, was forcibly removed from Kruger National Park in 1969 by South Africa's apartheid regime to make way for expansion of the park. Now, largely thanks to the community's own action, electricity has been brought to its villages and local people are involved in a successful eco-tourist project.

Most rural African communities know about their government's local development plans, but are helpless if their government delays in implementing them. South Africa's Makuleke Rural Community, however, has used the knowledge of future development plans in their area to push the government to follow up on their promises.

The people of Makuleke received no financil help when they were expelled from the Kruger park in 1969, but two years ago the South African government offered US$450,000 in compensation. It also promised to provide electricity for the community by 2008. But, in a rare and ground breaking move, the Makuleke Community proposed that the South African government use the compensation money to electrify its villages immediately.

In return the Makuleke people negotiated to receive the US$450,000 compensation funds, with interest, in 2008 when the government had originally decided to electrify the villages. The Makuleke villages were electrified in September 2004, and says Lamson Maluleke, a leading local resident, he expects the government to pay back the compensation funds before the end of 2005, to avoid hefty interest charges.

Helping students

"We welcome the electrification of the villages in Makuleke Community as this will allow students to read late in the night, bringing an opportunity for children from the community to perform better at school," said Humphrey Makuleke, son of chief Makuleke. Humphrey is currently studying law at The University of Venda in South Africa.

"The electricity is used for lighting only," said Ellen Manganyi, another Makuleke resident. "Pre-paid monthly electricity bills range from US$17 upwards. Prepaying for electricity that one needs per month is good because one is not left with huge bill that he or she will not be able to pay."

"The Makuleke Community is the only rural community I knew of throughout the whole of South Africa with lights in the streets," said Lamson Maluleke. "Most rural communities have lights in the home only."

Transfrontier park

The Makuleke Community shares its borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe and is working with communities from these countries to conserve wildlife and other related natural resources in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park - which includes South Africa's Kruger National Park, Mozambique's Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National park.

In addition to being compensated for their forcible removal from the Kruger National Park, the Makuleke people also successfully reclaimed their 25,000 hectare (61,775 acre) piece of traditional land. The Makuleke people could have resettled inside Kruger National Park and engaged in their traditional agricultural practices, which could have resulted in destruction of wildlife. Instead, the Makuleke decided to run a park-friendly lodge business on their reclaimed land, working together with a group of hotels called The Mix.

The lodge is currently owned by The Mix but is largely run by Makuleke residents and will be handed over to the Makuleke Community in 28 years. This tourism venture has been running for the past four years and the Community is paid 10 per cent of the revenue generated every three months.

Tourist centre

Lamson Maluleke also works for the board that represents the interests of Kruger National Park and the Makuleke Community. The board aims to create a harmonious and productive conservation and development relationship between the park and the community.

Maluleke said that the Makuleke Community has used income generated from the Lodge to build the Community's multi-purpose centre, which was built in the heart of the village for tourists wishing to experience the Makuleke way of life. The centre includes a bed and breakfast facility, crafts production unit and an amphitheater.

The community has created an excellent development model that more rural communities from South Africa and other parts of the world can use to speed progress in their area. The Makuleke people are already discussing another development project to commence this year, as soon as the government pays back the US$450,000 compensation fund.

Source: WRI Features

Emmanuel Koro is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe.

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