Minister Molewa’s speech on the occasion of Skukuza Safari Lodge sod-turning and announcement of tourism investment

Skukuza, 18 February 2017

 

Programme director,
Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa
All aMakhosi and your various tribal council members present here today,
MEC for Human Settlements Department in Mpumalanga Mr Speed Mashilo,
Acting Executive Mayor of Enhlanzeni District Municipality Cllr BK Mokoena,
Councillors and local government representatives;
Park Forum members present;
Land Claimants Forum members present;
Youth formations;
Community trusts members;
SANParks Exco Members
Colleagues from the Environmental Affairs Minstry and the department;
Kruger National Parks ManCo and staff present here
Members of the media
Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen;

Good morning, Goiemore, Absheni, Siyanibona

It is a privilege for me to be here today joining you for this sod-turning ceremony in this iconic national park of ours. There is a long history about this place that is known to most South Africans if not all. (We left the story of long history hanging).

This is a major milestone that formally marks the start of the construction of the Skukuza Safari Lodge that will upon completion be a world-class facility, attracting and catering for the needs of both the local and foreign visitors  to our shores.

I think all those who have been involved in the planning of this project up to this stage, are extremely optimistic about the economic potential and opportunities that this facility presents. The development and the construction  of this lodge is a clear demonstration of government's commitment to the radical socio-economic transformation in real action and development. This encompasses  job creation, enterprise development, poverty alleviation, the creation of SMME’s and the development and growth of the rural economy, especially in the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo where these developments are so direly needed.

It is a known fact that the development of the tourism sector is one of government’s key priorities, and to this end we continue to focus our efforts on harnessing the potential of this sector for not only for our country’s GDP growth, but also for skills development and job creation in the tourism sector.

It is clear that the visitors staying in this new Skukuza Safari Lodge, which will be completed in the next year and half, will create  further sustainable jobs, thereby continuing to improve the living standards of our people in these areas. 

When more tourists come to this part of the country, more opportunities are created and this translates into opportunities for communities to be part of the tourism economy: as tour guides and operators, as suppliers that are established as  SMME’s, and importantly by starting their own tourism enterprises. This will be part of radical transformation, given that such SMME’s are currently very few in the tourism sector.  The department of tourism and State Owned Entities as the SANParks does through this development, are also hard at work, supporting such SMMEs to be able to grow.

Tourism in South Africa is growing at the rate of about 14% (per annum) and accounted for 4.5% of total employment in 2015. There are over 700 000 job in the tourism sector.

When we talk about our state of readiness to absorb the ever-increasing tourism numbers we are talking about a wide range of sub-sectors, from human capital development including knowledge enhancement, skills development, facilities and infrastructure development, access, transport and many other forms of development. The tourism value chain is ever multiplying and I unfortunately will not have the time today to discuss this at length, 

However allow me to elaborate on the MICE market (Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions). This market is a very high-value segment of the global tourism industry and by most estimates it is growing year on year. To paint the picture briefly, when both local and international delegates travel to this facility once it opens its doors, they won’t just be spending two to three days meeting in a world-class venue. They will be bringing a much-needed financial injection into this community. They will be accommodated in this facility spend time in this precinct and enjoy all services and product on offer in this area. They will have leisure time and  visit our game lodges and other tourism venues in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. They will go on tours in the nearby area and be utilizing the services of local tour operators.

In addition to this, both corporate and government sectors will make extensive use of these conference facilities. This provides an incredible opportunity to introduce new markets to National Parks, something that is vital to the sustainability  of our National Parks.

We have come a long way, and navigated well through the sustainability challenges that we  had.  We have been saying and still say so today that our national parks are not only about the conservation of plants and animals, these national parks are also important catalysts for economic development and about growing rural economy. We will continue to responsibly develop new products for sustainable development and tourism growth and at the same time, more importantly conserve our fauna and flora in this iconic Park.

It was way back in 1995 when SANParks opened an auditorium in this park, and it was built for purposes of Environmental Education for learners. Over time, the facility became an attractive venue option for the hosting of conferences by different institutions and organizations, especially Environmental Management related conferences In response to the growing demand, SANParks decided to build this conference facility that opened in 2012.

The increasing volumes presented something of a challenge because conference delegates travelled a considerable distance and needed to overnight in the Park to be close to the venue.

Skukuza Camp back then did not have adequate facilities to cater for conference delegates, a situation that has been considerably improved.

Conference organizers with a preference for venues away from the hustle and bustle of the city centers look for locations with less distraction. In this regard, venues like Nombolo Mdhluli Conference Centre are attractive options.

In response to this trend towards rural and semi-rural conferencing facilities, and the need to cater for this growing tourism demographic, the idea of a Safari Lodge inside Skukuza Camp, adjacent to Nombolo Mdhluli, was conceived.

This development also heralds the beginnings of the development of the first of the SANParks owned brand of Wild Hotels, Lodges and Resorts.

It gives me great pride  today to unveil the building project for this new facility. With this sod-turning ceremony SANParks will now hand over the site to the contractors, Murray and Roberts, to begin construction. I want to also indicate that the company sold 100% of its shares to black ownership. (This was also welcome by Parliament this week during SONA debate. It is good for government to partner with progressive companies like Murray and Roberts.

This is an 18 month-long project. We aim to open the doors for business in the last quarter of 2018.

The Skukuza camp currently is able accommodate about 700  tourists per night, and is operating at an average of 86% occupancy rate per annum; an impressive achievement by any tourism accommodation standard.

This new Conference Safari Lodge will bring in an additional 128 rooms which can accommodate about 250 tourists  per night.

This project will bring much needed jobs to our communities.

It is envisaged that during the construction phase, about 300 jobs opportunities will become available and upon completion, 250 permanent jobs will be created.

In terms of our contract with Murray and Roberts, 90% of all unskilled labour must be sourced from the community.

This is a direct and tangible benefit that this new Lodge is bringing to our people; and once its doors are open, these benefits will continue for many, many years to come.

SANParks is investing a capital budget of more than R269 million in this project. 20% of construction material must be procured within a 400km radius and 10% must be sourced within 150km, which means that not only will jobs be created, but local businesses supported as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to talk to issues of environment as I am also a custodian of environment and the legislation in this country. In carrying out my mandate I am obliged to keep the balance, we don’t talk conservation or development. We talk conservation and development. South Africa subscribed to firstly, the policy of sustainable development which consists of the three pillars of development and secondly, to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they seek to integrate and balance the three dimensions of Sustainable Development-economic, social and environmental in a comprehensive global vision. Our own 30 year vision, the National Development Plan (NDP) talks of sustainable development and inclusive growth.

It goes without saying that we have effectively, with impact not just words, ticked all the boxes with regards to ensuring that this development is undertaken with due regard to its surroundings. We know that within the mandate of our National Parks and SANParks they have undertaken a full process of assessing the impact that the construction of this facility will have on the local environment and due diligence has been conducted.

When we formally appointed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultants to conduct and produce a basic assessment report (BAR) in 2013 we included the following, to ensure that all possible impacts are evaluated:

  1. Traffic Impact Assessment
  2. Visual Impact Assessment
  3. Heritage Impact Assessment
  4. Fauna and flora Specialist Report

When the project was first announced in 2013 there were concerns expressed that this Lodge will result in higher traffic volumes into the area, especially the Southern part of the Park. We have done studies into this potential impact and introduced mitigation measures where necessary.

Concerns were also raised about the aesthetic effect of such a facility in the Park. The results of the visual impact study guided us in this regard, the result being that although this will be more than one storey, construction will not exceed the tree canopy level.

Heritage Impact Assessments are included in EIA’s to address potential threats to individual or collective or community heritage assets from various forms of development including roads, bridges, buildings, infrastructure developments and even land-use changes.

On the matter of fauna and flora we are pleased to say that our study found that there will be no significant effects on our plants and animals through the construction of this Lodge.

I am also pleased to say that SANParks will engage with land claimants in the community with the view to negotiating beneficiation schemes in line with the compensation agreement reached with the affected families last year.

This is in line with government’s long-held position that our National Parks are national assets yes, but they are also community assets, and the benefits accrued from them must flow to communities.

This new Lodge will be Greener than Green, and will set the standard for sustainability amongst SANParks facilities. We are in final stages of developing a solar plant to offset the additional power required for Skukuza precinct.

At a time when the entire world is looking towards more sustainable and low-impact business practices that have minimal environmental impact we are proud that this new Safari  Lodge will be part of our move towards a low-carbon, inclusive climate change resilient future.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me to also share with you what is the plan we proceed for this development. The SANParks feasibility projects that R22m is generated from year 1 increasing to R104 million in year 10 and R225 million in year 20.  10% of yearly profits will go to a community fund.

Before I conclude, I want to introduce you to yet another radical economic transformation initiative from SANParks.

On the 27th of March 2017, SANParks will convene a business seminar at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, where businesses, individuals and institutions will be introduced to the various business opportunities in our national parks in the form of Public Private Partnerships (PPP’s).

We are quite excited about this initiative because it is going to open doors that were closed for a long time.

We encourage businesses, especially black business, to take advantage of this seminar where they can learn more about opportunities for themselves in this growing sector that is so vital to our country’s economy.

This is one of the many interventions that are aimed at transforming our Tourism Industry and all information in this regard is available on the SANParks website.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate how pleased I am to witness the dawn of a new era in the development of Skukuza Camp. I am confident that in years to come, we will continue to witness the benefits it has brought to this community.

I thank you ladies and gentlemen.