Africa, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT-SOUTH AFRICA: Limpopo Steps Out of the Shadows

Moyiga Nduru

POLOKWANE, South Africa, Jun 9 2004 (IPS) - Tourism has long been viewed as one of the holy grails of job creation in South Africa, which is burdened by an unemployment rate of more than 30 percent. Certain parts of the country – Cape Town, and its surrounds for example – have become firm favourites with local and international visitors. Now the lesser known province of Limpopo is also hoping to take its place at the table.

Officials say tourism could become an engine for growth in the region if its under-explored mountain ranges, caves and wildlife preserves can be used to attract visitors – creating employment for the 5.3 million people who live in Limpopo.

"We would like to ensure communities surrounding the areas be empowered to manage (them) in a sustainable manner, while looking into generating funds through tourism and other initiatives," South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, told IPS recently (June 5).

At present, Limpopo accounts for just seven percent of South Africa’s marketed tourism resources, according to a 2003 study prepared for government by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

"Of all the tourist products offered by South Africa, nature-based attractions and adventure collectively account for the largest supply at a 42 percent share – followed by historical and museum attractions, wine/drink and food attractions at 11 percent each, and water-based products at eight percent," the study added.

Latest figures from the Department of Environment and Tourism show that in 2002, South Africa drew more than 6.4 million tourists, which represented an increase of 11.1 percent over figures for 2001. The average annual growth rate in international tourist arrivals from 1994 to 2002 was 8.8 percent.

Government attributes the increased growth of tourism over the past three years to the Sep. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, which made South Africa appear a safe destination for global travelers.

In Limpopo, local authorities are trying to raise awareness of the value and importance of scenic areas and monument sites – particularly that marking the position of the Tropic of Capricorn.

This latitude forms the southern boundary of the tropics, and is the most southerly spot at which the sun can be seen directly overhead at noon once each year. The sun reaches a vertical position over the Tropic of Capricorn on about Dec. 22, during the southern hemisphere’s summer solstice.

"Unfortunately, there has been damage caused to the Tropic of Capricorn monument by tourists, and other passers-by as well as the local community," observed Mabudafhasi.

The three small hills of Motumo, Matseke and Mphakane near the Capricorn marker have been defaced by paint.

The monument itself has also been defaced by trigger happy visitors who use it for target practice. IPS counted about 50 bullet holes on a sign board at the marker which details the history of the Tropic of Capricorn monument. Rust has also taken a toll on the sign board, ensuring that the story it tells can hardly be read.

"We are not going to tolerate this. We will deploy a unit to apprehend those who deface our monuments," Mabudafhasi told a crowd of over 5,000 which gathered to celebrate World Environment Day near the provincial capital of Polokwane on Saturday (June 5).

"Clearly there is the potential for tourism (at the monument) because of the scenic beauty of the koppies (small hills) and the history," she added. Limpopo is also considered an important pilgrimage destination for the followers of traditional African religions.

Thaba Mafumadi, an official in charge of Limpopo’s financial and economic affairs, told IPS, "To us tourism and environment are (different sides) of the (same) coin. We are encouraging both local and international tourists to come to our province."

The youthful King Kennedy Tshivbase of the Venda people – an ethnic group in Limpopo – also called on the followers kneeling before him to refrain from cutting down trees and burning vegetation. "We are going to take tough action against offenders," he warned.

"That’s right your majesty. An axe is already hanging over the heads of those offenders," answered a praise singer, who provided humorous additions to the king’s statements, to general acclaim from the audience.

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