Tag Archives: Kruger National Park

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.

What’s in a name? Limpopo’s regional maps

Around 2002, Northern Province changed its name to Limpopo Province, and with that went a whole slough of name changes.  Regions were changed and towns renamed.

Now trying to understand all this on the internet becomes even more confusing.  The Limpopo Tourism website has no map of the regions so a Google search shows the following (repeated on countless websites), from conference facilities.co.za, for example.

It takes a little more searching to come across the official map of regions, municipal areas (italicised) and correctly-named towns (click here).

Limpopo's regions, municipal areas and towns - the official map - click on it to enlarge

Is it surprising that, six years on, these names still continue to confuse?  If Limpopo’s tourism and other authorities had any branding common sense, the first thing they would have done is prepare a set of maps and encouraged web sites and others to use them!

So now Mopani starts to make sense, and one sees that it includes the largest chunk of the Kruger National Park.

More than accommodation – hospitality at its best

Limpopo's warmest welcome - "Good morning, did you sleep well?" boomed out at me as I passed a hive of activity as breakfast settings were being laid out.  I just had to photograph the beaming smile and find out that it belonged to Judith.

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TZANEEN COUNTRY LODGE is an oasis run with impeccable warmth and precision.

You can either use it as a base to explore Mopani’s varied attractions — it’s only 45 minutes from the Kruger National Park and the second biggest Baobab tree in SA, 30 minutes to Magoebaskloof, not to mention nearby elephant rides, etc, etc — or just relax and be pampered at the Lodge.

Exquisite dining, a very friendly pub, great bass fishing & bird watching, a range of hiking trails, horse riding, quadbikes, cycling, canoeing, the spa or just relaxing next to the pool should keep boredom at bay.  There’s the Mangela tea garden, local produce & curio store next door, with an Animal Farm and spectacular party place for kids.

Tzaneen Country Lodge

So why is it that 65% of all their business is corporate?  It’s a pattern I seem to be coming across frequently in Limpopo — if you don’t offer game viewing, you’re peripheral to the tourism mainstream.

Something Elaine Hurford said at the start of these travels stuck in my mind and will become something of a benchmark.  “Capetonians will happily travel 5–6 hours to Knysna and Plettenberg bay for weekends, so why won’t they travel 3½ hours to Prince Albert?” she asked.

Tzaneen Country Lodge is 4½ hours drive from Johannesburg, less from Pretoria.  It’s winter climate is superb, already attracting “swallows” (the human variety) from Cape Town and even Klerksdorp who spend their winters there.  So why not more weekenders from Gauteng?  It seems that provincial tourism marketing initiatives need to attend to this.

dsc05825_trailsI get up early to take photographs before the light gets too harsh.  And these walks reinforced the experience of unbelievable warmth.  Judith is mentioned above, but just before I saw her I walked past a worker’s cottage.  As I approached, a worker came out.  “Good morning, how are you?”  (Not the usual “Good morning, how are you, I’m fine thank you” that comes out with meaningless clockwork that I experience elsewhere.)   But then he went on to tell me that if I take a path to the left, I will cross a wooden footbridge that leads to an interesting walk.  Now that is what makes for great tourism experiences!

The early mornings were also filled by a sense of activity — sweeping, raking, cleaning, preparing — all to make Tzaneen Country Lodge look better than best.  An old TV ad for Australia Tourism stuck in my head as I saw all the activity and thought, “so where the hell are you?”

I’m sure many will be aghast that I show a foreign tourism ad while writing about SA destinations, especially one that was so controversial (banned in the UK).  Does the fact that it was successful count, that it became a viral ad hyperlinked by millions, including Travels with Akela now?  But the fact is, right here we have a world-class attraction many more South Africans could be visiting.

Tzaneen Country Lodge has about 50 suites and the rack rate starts at about R385 per night.

Faan Kruger - a passion for green tourism

GREEN TOURISM

I spent the best part of Saturday with an amazing man.

He arrived on his mountain bike and apologised for being late. “It’s like having your own municipality here,” he says.  And he’s not far wrong.  His mini-empire includes the farm where it all started, the Lodge, the Convention Centre, a service station, a Friendly Grocer and bakery, a liquor store, the Mangela Tea Garden with local produce and curios, animal farm…

Faan Kruger became a mango farmer in 1990.  He had pioneered black housing with his company, SA Home Construction Co, in the 1980’s when legislation changed to allow black home ownership and banks were able to grant bonds. He entered the tourism industry “by mistake” — he bought adjacent properties with existing buildings in a pre-emptive move to avoid undesirable development.

So what to do with it? As so often happens, a guest house seemed a good idea. But Faan was better placed than most to do it — he is a stickler for detail, he describes himself as “a plodder, (wife) Adri is the dreamer.” Throughout the day, he was either on his cellphone or jotting down notes when something caught his attention.

Faan's grandchildren with Akela

He says he is a recluse and anti-social, but that’s not true. He is enthusiastic, passionate, a very warm host and fascinating in discussion. He does, however, live for his projects. But, approaching 64, he says he’s winding down to spend more time with his grandchildren who obviously mean the world to him.

Two things influenced him greatly — his mother, who was “green” before the phrase became commonplace, and working in Europe as a labourer after school.  In Switzerland, he only got to bath once a week at the railway station, and used dirty clothes as extra padding in his sleeping back to keep warm.  “That experience made me appreciate the lot of labourers, and I always make sure that they are properly looked after,” he says.

He returned to SA at the age of 24 to study development economics at Wits.  “I started off wanting to change the world, then the country, and now I’m happy with my immediate family and maybe 5km around me,” he says.  He treats staff exceptionally well and they have all grown immensely as a result.  Guest interactions with staff demonstrate that.

His construction company was headed by the late David Skosana, long before the days of Black Economic Empowerment, who had started as a bricklayer.  “Everyone here has come up through the trenches, everyone started with a pick or shovel — even people who are today the site electrician or plumber” he notes.  Faan cannot praise David enough: “he was the man I model myself on; I would have nominated him to run the country any day.  He had absolute authority without ever raising his voice.  He had an aura about him.

“This hotel is his legacy.”  In quiet times, the construction company was used to build the hotel.

If Faan learnt about energy conservation and minimum tilling of the soil from his mother, he has taken it to new levels.  “Wil jy die Here help?  Het die son hulp nodig?” he asks a labourer as we inspect the refurbished staff quarters. (Do you want to help the Lord?  Does the sun need help?)  An external light bulb had been left on.

Tzaneen Country Lodge was one of the first establishments to use solar water heating.  Evaporative coolers are used wherever possible.  There are no septic tanks — water is recycled to SABS standards for return to rivers.  Sixty percent of the agricultural land has been returned to indigenous forest, where over 3,000 indigenous species of flora and fauna have been re-established.

But his biggest joy comes from the fact that virtually all buildings were recycled — not that you could tell.  It’s only when he shows the before and after pictures of sheds, kilns and out-buildings that now form part of a four-star hotel or what must be a five-star conference venue, that one is truly amazed.

He claims that it’s the greenest hotel in Limpopo, if not South Africa.

He was scoffed at when he started, but he and Adri have made what some thought a crazy vision, a world-class attraction.

“Around us is fine scenery of vast contrast, highland and lowland, forest and savannah, cool and moist, hot and dry, all within a radius of 50 kilometres.  The elevation ranges from 500–2000 metres.  We are on the doorstep of major fruit farms and the biggest concentration of game ranches in southern Africa.

“Jurassic Park is on our doorstep. The Modjadji Cycad Reserve is the largest concentration of a single cycad species in the world. We have the second largest baobab in our country, the largest remnant of indigenous forest in our country, mountain grasslands and spectacular views.”

Inviting, isn’t it?

And Adri tells me that if you have a 4×4, the sea is only three hours away.  Now that’s worth investigating too!

Across the road, the latest addition - the huge and very upmarket Tzaneen Convention Centre. It has one of the best amphitheatre's I've ever come across, on the banks of a dam. Adri plans a Tarentaalfees here, which is sure to be a winner.

Route 71 to Tzaneen – a different world

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If you’re coming from Johannesburg, the road to Tzaneen takes you past the outskirts of Polokwane, Limpopo’s capital, and then east. Surprisingly, it’s a proper dual carriageway with a wide median down the middle — not something I’ve seen very often around here – probably because I avoid toll roads because I they show how government shifts its responsibility of providing arterial infrastructure onto taxpayers and tourists!

(You can also fly to Polokwane International Airport on scheduled flights, but I’m not sure where the “International” bit comes from. First Car Rental has a branch there so rent a car from them.  They offer great cars, great value, great service and they’re really very friendly.)

Polokwane to Tzaneen takes about an hour and, if one continues another hour along Route 71, you come to Phalaborwa and the Kruger National Park.  (Yes, most of the Park actually lies in Limpopo.)

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Leaving Polokwane, you come across “village” after “village”, all within the greater Polokwane metropolitan area.  It’s scary… Polokwane’s urban sprawl goes on for kilometre after kilometre.  If Polokwane municipality aims to provide uniform service delivery and services throughout its area, it will bankrupt itself or its citizens with this kind of land usage.

It’s an interesting drive though and could be a fascinating tourist route.  On the way back, I want to photograph some of the eye-catching shops along the road.  Maybe I’ll meet some interesting people too.

The road takes you past Zion City at Moria which makes the news every year — over five million people travel there at Easter, in early September and over Christmas for religious celebrations.

The Zion City Church was formed by Engenas Lekganyane after a revelation he is said to have received from God in 1910. Followers believe that the church’s leader (today it’s Lekganyane’s grandsons) stand between the congregation and God; and that, like Christ, can perform miracles.  Hmmm… yes.

The dual carriageway ends at Moria.  Could it have been built just for those three annual events?  Limpopo Tourism say the province’s tourism benefits greatly but I’m not so sure.  Pilgrims arrive by any means of transport available and the visit is singularly focused.  Apart from fuel and food, and the requirements for staging massive events, few tourism rands get spread around.  If anything, all other tourists are discouraged from visiting the province at those times.  Limpopo Traffic advised CapeInfo not to travel at these times.

But that’s also where the road starts taking you into the mountains.  The scenery changes so dramatically you could be in a different world.

Moving from Polokwane to Mopani municipal districts also had another very noticeable contrast – spotless roads with tidy road verges and strategically placed roadside picnic spots in shade.  For the first time in Limpopo, I had the feeling that this municipality really cares.  (I was so impressed that I was compelled to pop into the municipal manager and mayor’s offices in Tzaneen to tell them.  Well done guys!)

The vegetation is typical bushveld as you climb the winding pass and then — all of a sudden — you’re in forests with vistas of dramatic mountain after dramatic mountain.  This is where the Drakensberg escarpment ends!

Descending the first pass you come to the small village of Haenertsburg … in the Land of the Silver Mist””.  I’d never heard of it before but watch it become a “must-visit” route destination.  Old-timers may resent a new-found tourism status, but they should watch their property values climb!

I drove past it the first time thinking, “pretty, but not worth a detour.”  My host in Tzaneen, Adri Kruger of Tzaneen Country Lodge, told me I must visit Martin & Jen at the Iron Crown Pub & Grill.  She was right — this is one of those places that defines a town.  What friendly owners, what a buzz and I will be back… and so will many others I guess.  It also made me venture further into the village.

Iron Crown Pub & Grill in Haenertsburg - an essential stop on Route 71

The road dips into another valley and overlooks the spectacular Ebenezer dam, shimmering blue surrounded by green forests. Then another ascent brings one to Magoebaskloof, named after King Makgoba, leader of the Tlou people who defied the Boer government from 1888–1895.  He was eventually killed by Swazi impis employed by the Boers when they failed to take his mountaintop domain.

Magoebaskloof

Tzaneen produce

Approaching Tzaneen, one enters one of the most intensely farmed areas in SA’s northern provinces.  Some facts about the greater Tzaneen area are telling:

  • It’s known as the fruit basket of South Africa, growing mango, avocado, tomato, banana, tea and the whole basket of citrus.
  • The area has been rated one of the wealthiest in South Africa.
  • It’s won South Africa’s Cleanest Town of the Year award.

Tzaneen, on the banks of the huge Tzaneen dam, must be the greenest town I’ve ever seen.  Only the commercial centre seems to stand above the canopy of trees that covers the town.  It’s the second largest town in Limpopo (population 80,000), and serves the greater Tzaneen area which has a population of about 700,000 people.  This shows in the CBD which has excellent shopping.


Notes on photographs

I will replace and add to the pics on these pages when I get better ones.  If anyone can help with stunning photographs of the area, they are really appreciated and will be credited when used. Getting great pics means being at the right place at the right time which is rather difficult when you’re just passing through.  Good lighting is everything in the harsh sunshine.

I did go into the Tzaneen info office to see if they have a photo CD and ask for further information on the area. All I got was generic info on Limpopo! Not helpful at all, nor any warm welcome.

A polarising filter is essential for photography in Limpopo.  I haven’t managed to find a 62mm one yet for the Sony A200 DSLR which takes magnificent photographs.

I finally realised why Cape Town is a global centre for film and advertising film shoots — it has unique lighting (and named one of the top five blue sky cities of the world). An architect friend had just completed a building in Cape Town with a dusky pink Marmoran finish. It really looked good so they decided to use it again for a building they were doing in Johannesburg. They put a test panel up on the Joburg building but… what was dusky pink in Cape Town appeared a dirty grey in Johannesburg!