Tag Archives: Limpopo Tourism

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.

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!

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.

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.)

dsc05709_r71crop

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!