iSimangaliso marks Freedom Day

2 May 2017

In 2000, when the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed and proclaimed as South Africa’s rst world heritage site, the region in which it is located was marked by a declining tourism economy. The proclamation of iSimangaliso consolidated 16 separate parcels of land, including a patchwork of earlier proclamations dating back to 1895. This marked the beginning of a new era in South Africa’s young democracy – the era of developing to conserve through restitution and growth.

Today, the 395 odd tourism jobs of 1999 have grown to over 8 000. Tourism contributes some 7% of KwaZulu-Natal’s tourism GDP and the number of tourism businesses in and around iSimangaliso has grown by 89%.

Importantly, local communities are starting to see real bene ts. All privately owned lodges in iSimangaliso have local community equity – a mandatory requirement set by iSimangaliso. There are nine community-owned and operated companies running tourism activities like game drives, boat tours and turtle tours.

iSimangaliso also supports 215 black-owned small and medium enterprises, provides on average 11 000 temporary jobs per annum and has supported 87 neighbouring students at University since 2010.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

With a population of some 640 000 people around it, iSimangaliso is situated in one of the poorest regions in the country. Eighty percent of people around iSimangaliso live below the poverty line and unemployment is rife – youth unemployment is around 80% and only 15.3% of the economically active population is formally employed. There is a high dependence on social grants for survival.

iSimangaliso’s fragile beauty and sense of place is being protected for future generations through environmentally-benign forms of economic growth. It is a place where nature and conservation contribute to reconciliation and restitution by providing tangible bene ts to those communities living in and around the wetlands.

“This ethos,” says Buyane Zwane, Chairman of the iSimangaliso Board, “continues to underpin the Park’s vision today – to recreate the wholeness of nature, where people and nature can reconnect and ourish, and where enhancing access, equity and the economic empowerment of our local communities remain the cornerstone of our conservation and development approach.”

“iSimangaliso’s economic development and empowerment has continued its consistent upward trajectory since 2000. In 2017, the final touches are being made to complete the redevelopment of the southern sections of the Park (Western Shores, Eastern Shores and the Lake St Lucia Estuary) and uMkhuze. An EIA record of decision has been issued for the major redevelopment of Sodwana Bay and detailed planning for infrastructure in the Coastal Forest Reserve and Kosi Bay is in progress. This planning includes 24 local community-driven tourism investment accommodation opportunities.” Zwane explains.

“Local communities are part-owners of the three privately-run facilities in the Park. Equity participation ranges from 17.5% to 68%. A fourth lodge – 100% community-owned – is in EIA stage. The new lodge developments will follow this model” says Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of iSimangaliso.

Zaloumis stresses that, “In our planning and development, we are cognisant that we must uphold and strengthen the Park’s World Heritage values. The R60 million restoration of iSimangaliso’s centre piece, the 350km2 Lake St Lucia, is well underway. This is South Africa’s largest and most ecologically significant wetland and estuarine rehabilitation projects.”

The World Heritage Convention Act sets out iSimangaliso’s very specific mandate (a) conserving the world heritage values (b) empowering local communities (c) optimising tourism potential. This balancing act does not mean that all three are treated equally and the bottom line remains the world heritage values. Implementing the work and creating this balance is carried out under the guidance of our iSimangaliso board – which includes community, land claimant, amaKhosi, conservation and tourism representation.

So how exactly is the UNESCO World Heritage Site achieving this?

Here is a synopsis on the transformation and economic development programmes and initiatives that iSimangaliso implements:


40 tourism guides trained. These guides are now going through a second programme and an additional ten new guides are being trained. Recently trained tourism guides, Nompumlelo Shobede and Sifiso Zungu receiving their certificates from left iSimangaliso Board member: Bhekithemba Langalibalele, Deputy Minister of Tourism: Elizabeth Thabethe and Chairperson of the iSimangaliso Board: Buyani Zwane.
All iSimangaliso’s non-government run tourism facilities have local BEE. Three of these iSimangaliso community-private-public tourism accommodation partnerships with local community equity ranges from 17% to 68%. Three more community-public-private partnerships are underway. One of the projects is undergoing an EIA and the other is at refurbishment stage. Fourteen new opportunities are being scoped and eleven existing sites have been earmarked for redevelopment – all with a minimum mandatory local community equity of 20% or more.
9 local community-owned (upwards of 70%) activity operations including game drives, estuary cruises, turtle tours and charter fishing.
215 entrepreneurs in the iSimangaliso Rural Enterprise programme. At any one time, 110 small businesses actively engage with mentors. Some R7.8m has been disbursed to 106 business. Businesses range from tourism operators, Internet cafes, spaza shops and poultry producers to hairdressers, salons, nurseries and caterers.
Tom Ntombela (centre above) follows in the footsteps of his grandfather Magqubu Ntombela, who was a mentor to Dr Ian Player founder of Wilderness Trails. Tom an active trails guide with the Wilderness Leadership School is a recent bene ciary on the iSimangaliso Rural Enterprise programme, receiving trail equipment to run his own trails. Seen here receiving two of the ten backpacks from Bhangazi Development Trust Chairperson: Mrs Gumede and iSimangaliso Board Chairman: Buyane Zwane.
Members of local community fill 90% of jobs created through third-party services. Third party services include fence maintenance, access control, environmental monitors, cleaning, greening, security and day-to-day conservation management. Approximately 164 956 temporary jobs have been created through iSimangaliso’s infrastructure and land-care programmes in the last 15 years. Over 80% of iSimangaliso’s expenditure is spent on BEE providers annually.
87 bursaries to students since 2010 through the iSimangaliso Higher Access Education Programme. 48 students have graduated and a further ten are expected to graduate in 2017. The pass rate on the programme is 81% in contrast with the national average of circa 33%. Studies are related to conservation, tourism and park management and are supported by work-place experience.
55 schools on average per annum participate in iSimangaliso’s Environmental Education Programme. The programme includes eld trips and a biennial school awards programme which invites learners to engage creatively with conservation through art, poems, stories, quizzes and songs. iSimangaliso is now exploring mechanisms for improving maths and science in the regional schools to increase the number of students that qualify for tertiary study.
  • 8 co-management agreements with land claimants, which include a number of bene ts. One of the bene ts is the payment of 8% of commercial revenue on an annual basis to land claimants. These payments have been made following iSimangaliso’s annual audit since 2010.
  • 14 internships. All of the interns have secured permanent placements – eight of which are in iSimangaliso.
  • 70 000 people obtain free access annually as part of iSimangaliso’s equitable access programme.
  • Natural resource harvesting programme, which includes 3 500 ncema harvesters and 1 000 subsistence shers.
  • 14 agricultural gardens. These were established to improve food security and support sustainable agricultural practises.
  • 200 crafters. The programme includes training and support in design, production and distribution of craft. All products are handmade and produced using raw materials from iSimangaliso.
  • 50 local artists trained in printmaking, painting, sculpture and the business of art. Some of these artworks can be seen in the Presidential Suite of the Moses Mabhida stadium in KZN, as well as Dube Tradeport. Two commissions sold for R100 000 each to a private buyer. Newly secured funding will allow the programme to continue this year.

Land Rehabilitation and Infrastructure Development

Approximately R300m in infrastructure spend fencing the Park, rebuilding day-visitor facilities, roads, water infrastructure and tourism facilities. The programme has been rolled out on a progressive implementation basis beginning with the construction of major arterials and feeder routes that have the dual purpose of supporting tourism and assisting community-access to economic centres. The rollout plan has also been informed by the internal rate of return.
  • Some 20 000ha of alien invasive plants and 16 000ha of pine and gum plantations have been removed as part of the ecosystems restoration programmes of the Park.
  • Game reintroductions – all but one of the species that historically occurred in the Park have been reintroduced.

The redevelopment of the south of the Park and uMkhuze sections is all but complete. This includes 300km of visitor roads, day-visitor facilities (hides, picnic sites, canopy walks, jetties, ablutions and beach facilities), park entrance complexes, craft markets and visitor centres as well as over 70km of water reticulation systems.

The next phase of the infrastructure programme is the redevelopment of Sodwana Bay and the completion of detailed planning for the Coastal Forest Reserve and Kosi sections of the Park, as well as the 24 tourism investment accommodation opportunities.

Ribbon Cutting
(Left to right): Mr Terry David (Kwik Corp), Mr Edwin Jenkins (MBB), Mr Raymond Mfeka (Bhangazi Development Trust Treasurer), Mr Andrew Zaloumis (CEO of iSimangaliso), Mrs Gumede (Bhangazi Development Trust Chairperson), Mr Buyani Zwane (iSimangaliso Board Chairperson).

Cutting the ribbon on the completion of a R2.3million contract – The successful completion of the new 2km Forest Loop has been marked by an official opening on the Eastern Shores section of the Park, which now boasts ve ecologically distinct visitor drive game drives: Pan Loop, Vlei Loop, Dune Loop, Grassland Loop and Forest Loop. Each has its own distinctive attractions en route including hides, look out points, picnic sites, places of interest – like Lake Bhangazi – and vistas.

At a total cost of R2.3 million, construction by Aqua Transport and Plant Hire was overseen for iSimangaliso by MBB Consulting Engineers. More than 50% of the value of the work went to sub-contractors.

“The brief to MBB Consulting Engineers was for an ecologically optimal design that works with nature and allows access for all into the Park – no matter the type of vehicle. With earth coloured concrete strips and grass blocks to optimise the feeling of being in nature, I think we have achieved that,” says Zaloumis.

“iSimangaliso inherited 35km of poor gravel roads from St Lucia to Cape Vidal and Mission Rocks beach. At times these where only suitable for 4×4s. Our aim has been to give all South Africans access and a full experience of what is on offer. Today, the Eastern Shores has 66km of high quality roads that are environmentally appropriate, with a new range of visitor facilities including hides, look out points and picnic sites that are wheelchair friendly.”

“The investments that have been made by iSimangaliso with government in the southern sections of the Park have boosted tourism signi cantly and created a platform for the roll-out of our programme in the northern sections of the Park. We are looking forward to this next phase,” concludes Zwane.

Media enquiries should be directed to Bronwyn Coppola +27 83 450 9111 or