Branson’s no philanthropy virgin

2013-04-14 14:00

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British magnate’s private Mpumalanga game reserve makes a difference in the lives of its Dumphries neighbours

Past the towns of Hazyview and Bushbuckridge, a network of winding dirt roads lead east to a cluster of remote villages.

Dumphries is one such place, a village of about 5 500 people situated in pristine bushveld along the border of the Kruger National Park.

From there, one can see British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s luxurious and exclusive Ulusaba Private Game Reserve, where staying in the Cliff Lodge costs R57 000 a night.

The Virgin Group boss, who bought the wildlife park 14 years ago, is the villagers’ neighbour.

And although he is not often there – some have only ever seen pictures of him – they feel his presence every day in what he has built.

Last month, Branson’s son Sam married his aristocratic actress girlfriend Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe at the lodge in what the British press called the “nearly Royal wedding of the year”.

And the day after the festivities were over, almost half of the 300 guests – which included British princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia – got their hands dirty planting fruit trees in Dumphries for the Bransons’ Pride ’n Purpose Foundation.

The foundation has received contributions from some of the family’s wealthy friends and the international guests who take time off to relax in the reserve.

As a result, the community now has borehole pumps, nursery schools, libraries, computer laboratories and houses.

Dumphries resident Jerry Sibuyi (43) said he was aware Sam Branson got married at Ulusaba last month, and 140 guests planted fruit trees at the centre and painted a mural on the wall.

These included the honeymooning couple themselves, who left a handwritten message on a white heart-shaped card signed by both of them that read: “Sam and Bellie Branson. Thank you for having us. 1st day married!”

Once finished, the centre will have an internet cafe.

For now, there are tennis and foosball tables, gardening implements in the room and, outside, a children’s trampoline, and basketball and netball hoops on the walls.

Sibuyi and his fellow community members will be growing vegetables, oranges, mangoes and peaches there.

Asked about service delivery in the area, Sibuyi said:

“Our government has not been doing much, you know.”

In comparison with other villages in the area, Dumphries is well-off.

Villages like Mashonamini, Clara, Ludlow, Lilydale and Welverdiend, next to the government-owned Manyeleti Game Reserve, all have sizeable service-delivery backlogs.

Some have water infrastructure installed, but no water comes out of the taps.

Residents of Mashonamini launched service-delivery protests recently because a water pipe built in the area bypassed it on the way to Mkhuhlu township.

Fully equipped preschools, libraries and computers are simply dreams.

But there is hope in Dumphries, thanks to Pride ’n Purpose, which is funded by the Virgin Group.

So far, the foundation has built eight preschools at a cost of R2.8 million, libraries and computer laboratories in three schools for R1.2 million, and six houses for destitute families totalling about R600 000.

Other projects include “fun pumps” – a borehole powered by a merry-go-round on which children play as it pumps water into a tank.

Also installed are communal taps, and the foundation gives advice and funding to small businesses in the area, such as spaza shops and community art initiatives.

“Our main focus is education, but we do other things such as water provision when there’s a need,” said Ulusaba’s project manager David Khoza, who added that local destitute families were also looked after with a regular supply of food parcels.

Gift Mashigo (37), whose family lives in an eight-room house donated by Pride ’n Purpose, said his brother had only built three of the rooms before he was retrenched.

“They finished the house for us when no one could, as we’re all unemployed,” he said.

Tumi Chobeta (8) shook his head when asked if he knew Branson, but his brother Shaun (10) said: “I know him. He’s the one who built this.”

He meant the Deyana preschool where we found them playing on the fun pump.

Zodwa Makhukhule, a teacher at the local Mawewe High School, said they had no library or computer before Pride ’n Purpose donated them.

“We only had a room with packed boxes of textbooks. This is the first we have, and our learners and teachers are using computers now.”

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