Tag Archives: Phalaborwa

The sustainability of Limpopo’s towns

If one thing stands out about Limpopo for me, it is that it’s an inside-out province.  The towns, in general, offer no attraction whatsoever while the country areas are stunning!  The towns, generally, are a mess!

One Polokwane product owner on CapeInfo wrote to say that Limpopo Tourism is embarking on a roadshow to find out why the province isn’t getting its share of international tourists.  I would have thought the answer is quite simple.  The lodges are world-class but that doesn’t spread tourism around, and the towns are best forgotten in any tourist’s itinerary.  Locals are accustomed to what they have; you need to look at the province through a visitor’s eyes.

Looking at Mokopane as an example: the Mogalakwena municipality covers an area of 1,683km² and comprises three towns, 117 villages, nine traditional leaders and five kingdoms.  The municipal area has a population of over 300,000 — certainly no dorp —  of which 38% is under the age of 14.  Almost 96% is black followed by whites at 4% and Indians/Asians/Coloureds combined at about 0.4%.  The Indian/Asian group has a long history in the town and is proportionately the most economically active, even having its own school.

Is it a sustainable town that can meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens?  I think the answer is an emphatic “No!” as things stand.

The Town
The town has no urban design framework or aesthetic controls.  If I speak to bankers, as good a yardstick as any, business in the town is not good.  If the town doesn’t develop a clear vision — which is not just about service delivery but rather economic growth and social development — its inexorable slide will continue.

Now I don’t believe that Waterberg towns like Mokopane, Mookgopong, Modimolle and Bela Bela have the resources or abilities to tackle what needs to be done.  And since it is a province-wide problem and challenge, it needs to be addressed at a higher level.

The Waterberg regional authority could establish or engage the necessary skills and provide a service to all the towns in the district. Good urban design and aesthetic control is a prerequisite for economic opportunity and successful businesses. (Cape Agulhas Municipality did this to very good effect for the several towns it administers about 10 years ago.)

Towns also need to establish formal public/private partnerships so that everybody reads from the same book.  (Both Johannesburg’s Inner City and Cape Town have done this with great success.)

Something locals may be accustomed to, but it surprises a visitor to the town -- just a handful of the scores of funeral parlours in the town. Death is a big business in Mokopane. Limpopo has very high HIV infection rates.

The Mines
AngloPlatinum has the largest mine in the area so most comments will be directed at them and, unfortunately, I need to draw comparisons between what they do in Mokopane and what Rio Tinto has done in Phalaborwa.  I have no doubt whatsoever that Anglo means to do well in the town, but I believe they need to rethink their corporate social responsibility programme.

A waste of shareholders' funds on "feel-good" projects: Restoration was completed months ago but the swimming pool never opened because the Municipality can't find a life guard!

  1. In Mokopane, Anglo donates generously to many ad hoc projects in the town, often just paying for things the municipality can’t afford… with little legacy impact.  Anglo’s refurbishment of the town’s swimming pool (which had been closed for years) was rather wasted.  It’s still closed because the municipality can’t find a life-guard to be on duty.  In Phalaborwa, Rio Tinto established the Palabora Foundation with initial funding of R176 million.  It does excellent work and has made a big difference to the town.  (In Musina, the Local Economic Development official said they had been trying to get Anglo to establish a similar foundation there.)
  2. In Phaloborwa, the mine sold the golf course to a private developer because it was not their core business.  Developers turned the golf course into the world-famous Hans Merensky Estate — today of the town’s greatest assets and attractions.  In Mokopane, the municipality swapped the golf course  for services the mine provided to the town.  Wasn’t this an opportunity lost?

I don’t believe that Anglo is doing nearly enough to prepare the town for the day when it retrenches all its workers, or retrenches large numbers (as it did in 2009) during the next slump in the platinum price.  As things stand now, Mokopane lives or dies by the mine’s fortunes.  If “Diamonds are Forever,” mines are certainly not!

The ticking time bomb — housing the poor
Driving into Modimolle recently, I saw a sign advertising “Sustainable Houses” on large plots.  How the hell can they make that claim, I asked myself?

I worked at the Mitchells Plain Planning Unit in the mid-1970s.  The original rental plans had been scrapped and the challenge was to build affordable housing that people wanted to buy.  We built full-scale, furnished mockup houses inside an old factory and thousands of families passed through, being educated about choices and what they could afford.  We adapted the existing mock-ups and built more as we refined the process in response to visitor comments.  Matching expectations and affordability was a very difficult task.

The original town of Potgietersrus is in the bottom righthand corner. The rest is urban sprawl showing only part of Mahwelereng Municipality

The fact that South Africa has plenty of land does not mean that one can afford urban sprawl.  One simply cannot meet expectations of  paved roads & street lighting, water & stormwater reticulation, waterborne sewage, refuse removal, and even schools,  health and sporting facilities nearby when you have large plot sizes and low densities.  It’s just not possible!

Urban sprawl also adds to the costs of all road networks and personal transport expenses.  Successful towns of the future will be those that are the most efficient for those who live there.

Central government’s infrastructure grants may address some expectations in poorer areas, but it’s the municipality’s  responsibility to maintain and service the infrastructure, but that alone will be sufficient to bankrupt municipalities or mean that the level of service they render is vastly diminished.

Large plots could be partially justified if they were used to sustain the inhabitants with extensive planting of vegetables and fruit, but this doesn’t happen, or it’s the exception… there is no water!

I attended a meeting of township residents on the outskirts of Mokopane where the only service they receive is electricity from Eskom.  (They have to buy water from those residents that do have boreholes.)  “What do they need most?” I asked.  “Jobs and job opportunities,” was the unanimous reply.  Municipalities need to rethink their roles.

What was possible and affordable 50 years ago is not possible today.  Towns and townsfolk trapped in the past are doomed to failure.

Mokopane faces even greater challenges.  Many of its citizens live on tribal lands and pay minimal rentals to tribal chiefs.  The municipality collects no rates and taxes. It’s going to take brave and inspired leadership to tackle these challenges.

What sort of future can the town guarantee to the 38% of the population who are under the age of 14?

One measure of a successful town is the number of tourists and travellers who make a detour because the town offers some or other attraction or facility that makes the detour worthwhile.

The other measure is the number of people from outside the town and region who choose to relocate to it for their retirement because it is an attractive place.  Local pride is important but what others think of you is as important.

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Postscript: Driving east from Polokwane on Route 71 did impress (after one finally leaves the peri-urban sprawl of Polokwane).  Mopane region does seem to do things differently:  Haenertsburg must be Limpopo’s gem, but Tzaneen and Phalaborwa also impressed.

Mining can add value

Driving into Phalaborwa at about 8am, the first thing that struck me was the haze in the air.  And this was not a heat haze, it was dust from the mines.  Phalaborwa is another one of Limpopo’s towns that today owes its existence to the copper and phosphate mines that surround the town.

The second thing that struck me while I explored the town before my first meeting was the sense of order that’s rare in Limpopo.  It’s clean, architectural eyesores are few (not that there’s any great architecture) and even the informal trading in the town centre was obviously managed.  Was this evidence of a mining company influencing a municipality?

Phalaborwa lays claim to being the tourism capital of Limpopo and its tourism info office, funded and staffed by the Palabora Foundation, is the most efficient — by far — that I’ve come across in Limpopo.  Mark Glanvill and Rosa-Leigh Kruger are real assets to the town.

Phalaborwa’s Marula Festival in February each year is one of the highlights of Limpopo’s events calendar.  Another attraction is the fact that one of Kruger National Park’s gates in only 800 metres from town.  And with the opening of the Giriyondo border post, you can now drive through to Mozambique.

Gate to Kruger National Park on the outskirts of the town

The region’s challenges are considerable.  Ba-Phalaborwa municipality has a population of 156,000 and 18% are unemployed.  Only 41% of the 15-65 age group are economically active.

In the Phalaborwa district (population 111,650), 33% are under the age of 15; 66% under the age of 34; 40% have no income and 20% earn less than R500 a month.  Some 23.5% are HIV-positive.

Malesala

Malesela Letsoalo

My visit starts with Malesela Letsoalo, director of the Palabora Foundation (founded in 1986).  Until 2001, Rio Tinto’s Palabora Mining Company (PMC) contributed 3% of its after tax profit to the Foundation.  But then, someone at Rio Tinto was very clever and had the foresight to plan ahead.  With lean years looming while the company moved from open pit to underground mining, the Foundation received a lump sum grant of R176 million so that it’s work could continue using the interest earned, supplemented by other donors (European Union, Oxfam, Foskor, Sasol Nitro and others).

Of course, given that PMC made a profit of R1.4 billion last year, it’s obvious to ask if they got off lightly.  Not really.  The Palabora Foundation would have gone unfunded for a few years if the 3% formula had been retained.  It meant they could plan ahead and attract a broader donor/participant base.  And that’s not the last donation PMC will make.  Discussions on the mine’s ultimate closure have already started and that will also carry a significant lump sum payment to the community.

Now that’s all good and well, but what’s the money doing?  So many foundations thrive on doing “good work” but the results are hardly lasting.  The Palabora Foundation focuses on education, combatting the impact of HIV/Aids and entrepreneurship.

Opportunity to excel

Opportunity to excel

Educational results can only be regarded as spectacular.  The grade 12 pass rate is over 90% with over 75% gaining university exemption — far higher than the Limpopo average.   The focus is on mathematics, science and technology.  A special programme selects students with high-achieving potential, offering extra tuition which leads to bursaries, usually to study engineering.

Programmes start with early learning and extend to school learners, teachers and governing bodies for about 50 schools in the region.

Cooking classes in a state-of-the-art kitchen at the Palabora Foundation

I was singularly impressed by everything the Palabora Foundation is doing — courses in construction, computer-literacy, sewing, arts and crafts.  And those attending are not just school-leavers or others needing to improve their skills.  Mine employees close to retirement are also encouraged to attend so they have skills to occupy them productively when they leave the mines.

Mark Glanvill & Matee Seduma

Mark Glanvill & Matee Seduma

Later that afternoon back at Bollanoto Tourism Centre, I met with tourism’s Mark Glanvill, Chris Kruger (Palabora Foundation and chair of the Trade & Tourism Council) and Matee Seduma  (head of the municipality’s local economic development).  If the Foundation has been the catalyst, Seduma is rising to the challenge, and that’s why this former schoolteacher left the profession.  There’s a vibrant and informed dialogue about driving tourism but, Seduma notes, when he asked Limpopo Tourism for their business plan, he was told there isn’t one (except in someone’s head).

Rio Tinto has changed my attitude to mining companies.  As a Capetonian, appreciating how God-given assets and nurtured agricultural environments have created one of the world’s great destinations and SA’s best city, mines are an anathema.  They rape and despoil the land and the benefits they offer are temporary.  Or are they?  What Rio Tinto is doing suggests not.  It has shifted the focus of the whole region.  The Ba-Phalaborwa municipality has set its sights firmly on a tourism and wildlife focus, and the importance of entrepenurship.

Something else unique to a mining company has permeated the town.  Mines are safety conscious and cleanliness is part of the safety ethic.  Phalaborwa reflects this (unlike some other Limpopo towns where mines play a lesser role in their communities).  Mines also practice strict financial controls – and that’s probably why the Palabora Foundation really does give more bang for the buck in a province renowned for corruption and lax financial management.

And there’s a lesson for the ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema — the private sector always gets more bang for the buck than the government ever can.  And yes, there is sometimes an attractive face to capitalism.

Read more about Phalaborwa here.

My First Game Drive!

I went for my first game drive in a golf cart… on Phalaborwa’s Hans Merensky Estate… and saw giraffe for the first time as well as hippopotamus, crocodile, warthogs and impala in a matter of about 10 minutes on a golf course.  Surely that says it all… where else in the world can you do that?

I’ve been longing to see a real giraffe since I arrived in Limpopo — more than lions or anything else — and I wasn’t disappointed.  I was taken around by Mark Glanvill and no sooner had we come across a group of buck right in front of one of the houses on this spectacular golf estate…

Impala on Hans Merensky Estate

My First Giraffe... they are impressive and one can forget that they are wild animals.

… than we came across the first group of giraffe. It really was a matter of just turning my head to the right!

Hans Merensky Estate is to Phalaborwa what the V&A Waterfront is to Cape Town, but in some respects it is even more impressive because of its uniqueness. It started as facility for Palabora Mining’s staff but was sold because was not a core function of the company. The buyer turned it into a golf estate with a hotel and ±80 houses. A new investor is currently upgrading the whole facility. Their slogan is the apt “Golf in the Wild”.

So if you’re easily distracted while putting, this is not for you.

There was game everywhere.  It was a spectacular drive around a golf course.

The Estate borders the Kruger Pational Park and there is a gate which is opened at night.  Tracks in the morning show that lions do come through.

Giraffe amused by the flag on the green that springs back, warthog, and thanks goodness for a telephoto lens with this big croc!

The only sour taste was being chased off the Estate by an officious manager who demanded the film from my Sony digital camera after trying to drag me into his argument with Mark! He claimed to have worked at Ferryman’s Tavern at the V&A Waterfront, but obviously learnt nothing about the importance of tourism.

So is it tourism; where is Destination Marketing?

I’ve learnt something interesting in Limpopo.  Most accommodation establishments in this province aren’t really part of tourism at all — in fact, about 70% of all bednights spent in the province have very little to do with tourism.

I define tourists as discretionary spenders — they have a choice and decide where they want to go.  They are attracted by environments, leisure options, shopping, a stimulating place for meetings, etc.  They have a choice.

Now that 70% certainly doesn’t service a tourist market as defined by discretionary spenders — they have a captive market that mainly services the mines and other industries in their towns.  They cater for the commercial travellers that have to visit a certain town.

So why is this important?  These establishments don’t need to participate in destination marketing, they just need to make their products known and a good relationship with the mines or whatever is usually sufficient.  They don’t demand quality, stimulating and competitive environments because all they sell is shelter — a bed for the night rather than a compelling place to visit.

Now this has a big impact on destination marketing and is one of the reasons that Limpopo is so badly marketed — 70% of the product owners have different needs.  This also shows in the priority which municipalities give to tourism and destination marketing.  It shows in the attention given in major towns to quality environments conducive to tourism.

Two exceptions I’ve come across on Mopani’s Route 71 are neighbouring Tzaneen and Phalaborwa, where there seems to be a battle going on for South Africa’s national Cleanest Town of the Year Award.  They are trying, but are they taking it far enough?

Probably not but then tourism product owners who are part of the destination marketing effort haven’t banded together sufficiently, investing in destination marketing and demanding that their local municipalities do the same.  Businesses that participate in their local destination marketing should be recognised, and Limpopo Tourism should accredit effective local tourist offices’s and encourage them with funding.

Limpopo Tourism should not be running the local Tzaneen Info office!  It is the local municipality’s legislated function and this only encourages them to abrogate their responsibility.

What’s the most important difference between commercial travellers and real tourists?  Real tourists spend more money and, if the enjoy their stay, they come back to invest in the area. They invest in property and businesses, but frequently they are also moved to help improve local communities.

Limpopo Provincial Government and Limpopo Tourism & Parks have provided little discernable leadership to date.  There is no tourism legislation as exists in the Western Cape.  There is no tourism business plan except for what’s in someone’s head (more on this in another post).  It’s mind boggling that taxpayers funds can be allocated in the absence of an approved business plan!

If I sound harsh on Limpopo Tourism, there appears to be some light.  I met Morris Mabada (their new regional manager for Mopani) briefly yesterday.  He impressed me!