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A bridge to a better life

23 August 2006

WHILE many residents of the rural area surrounding the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park say they have not derived the anticipated benefits associated with tourism, the Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism believes a new bridge in the area could help change this.

Speaking at the recent opening ceremony for the Ophansi bridge over the Mkhuze River, Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the structure not only marked a milestone in the development of the Lubombo Tourism Route, but opened up a new tourism route within the park.

The new access road and bridge gave 20 000 people in KwaJobe their first all weather access to Hluhluwe, said Van Schalkwyk. Diving at Sodwana Bay and game viewing in Mkhuze Game Reserve were now less than an hour apart.

"This new tourism circuit will stimulate economic growth in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and will open a new world of opportunity for the people of KwaJobe," he said.

Roland Vorwerk of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park Authority, said that the D820 access road on which the bridge was built, linked with the Lubombo Road, which connects Hluhluwe with Sodwana and Kosi bays.

Ten kilometres of this road had already been tarred, with a further 6km still to be done.

Van Schalkwyk said R9.5 million had been ploughed into the bridge's construction, and a further R1.2 million would be spent on a gate and community craft market. About 120 local people had been employed on the bridge-building project. On-job training had been given in concrete works, brickwork, stone pitching, road surfacing and the construction of storm water culverts.

The opening of the bridge follows the launch of the new Lubombo Tourism Route at the Tourism Indaba in Durban earlier this year. The route traverses southern Mozambique, eastern Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal, and combines Maputo, Mozambique's beaches and the mountains of Swaziland with South Africa's Kruger National Park and the Greater St Lucia.

There have been complaints about the lack of spin-offs for the local community, with some suggestions that dune mining might have been preferable. However, to date, far more benefits in terms of jobs and community empowerment had been delivered than dune mining would have done:
  • There had been significant growth in tourism beds in the region, including 60% growth in the number of establishments - a direct result of the redevelopment of the park and marketing value added through its World Heritage status.
  • Agreements had been concluded in respect of six new lodges in the park. These confirmed deals equate to well over 300 direct jobs. They have been set up as community, private and public partnerships and give a significant share to rural people who have been neglected.
  • About 26 craft groups, employing 600 people, had been established in a park programme to develop and market craft. These groups supplied a major retailer - Mr Price.
  • The St Lucia park now included one third of the province's coastline. Sixteen parcels of land that had been fragmented in the 1990s had been consolidated into a single park; old military bases had been removed; and ancient migratory routes for many species of animals were being restored.

A major reason for this economic growth was the way the park had improved infrastructure and increased the number and species of game. Commercial forests had been removed from the eastern shores and a similar process was under way on the western shores.

Most importantly for tourism growth, a highly successful anti-malaria campaign had all but eradicated the disease in the park for the first time in many decades, said Van Schalkwyk.

Andrew Zaioumis, CEO of the Wetland Authority, said while the construction of the bridge had brought short-term benefits for people, the next step was to ensure that these benefits flowed through to the long term.

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