Berg hiking and cultural centre wins award

2008-11-19 00:00

The AmaNgwane Mnweni Hiking and Cultural Centre near Bergville has won a R75 000 Jet Community Award and was the only winner in the Vukuzenzele (small enterprise) category.

Bonginkosi Mchunu, chairman of the management committee, and Agrippa Zondo, who manages the centre, received the award during a ceremony at the Maponya Mall in Soweto recently.

Now in its sixth year, the Jet Community Awards invite entries annually from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland “from individuals or organisations that have made a compelling contribution to the wellbeing of their communities”. The Vukuzenzele category recognises entrepreneurs among black women, youths and small rural enterprises.

“We commend the Mnweni Hiking and Cultural Centre on its ingenuity and vision,” says Tessa Lloyd, Jet Club manager. “It has successfully converted the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Bergville area into a simple but sought-after tourist and environmental education destination. We trust that the prize money we provide will see this vibrant community business continue to thrive.”

Mchunu says the award money will be used to improve the centre’s communication links. “We haven’t got a telephone land-line so we are going to establish a satellite dish. We will also upgrade the accommodation facilities.”

Mnweni lies between the popular hiking areas of the Cathedral range and the Amphitheatre and is one of the most rugged areas of the Berg according to David Bristow’s book Drakensberg Walks. “Here, there are no easy hikes, only extreme ones along long steep paths that lead to the top of the Escarpment.”

The rugged nature of Mnweni has probably saved it from the development that has clogged the other entry points to the Drakensberg. Here there are no big hotels, no ribbon development of guesthouses and shopping outlets. The main access to the area is through the AmaNgwane Tribal Authority, which, with the adjacent AmaSizi Tribal Authority, combines to form a wedge into the World Heritage Site, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.

There are at least 95 rock art sites in the area and their tourism potential has been tapped into by the AmaNgwane Mnweni Hiking and Cultural Centre, which consists of five red-ochre painted rondavels, each sleeping four people, a communal kitchen, shower block and a dining and conference area.

The centre has been in operation since 2002 and employs seven full-time staff. Further income for local coffers is generated by trained local guides who are available to take visitors on single day or overnight hiking trips tailored to the needs of the group.

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