Green and truly African

2009-07-25 00:00

SOUTH of the Pongola river, the Gumbi Community recently made history by signing an agreement to proclaim 16 000 ha of their land as a nature reserve. Somkhanda Game Reserve is one of the first community conservation areas in South Africa to take this bold step. Representatives from the Gumbi Community Trust, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the MEC for the Agriculture Department and Environmental Affairs signed the agreement.

The Gumbi community successfully claimed 20 000 ha of land in 2005. 16 000 ha of this the Gumbi’s consolidated into a single game reserve and 4 000 ha were set aside for the 650 families that comprise the community. The reserve consolidation involved the dropping of internal fences with three different farms.

“It was an undisputed claim and we had to decide what to do with the land,” said Nathi Gumbi, director of the community-owned Somkhanda Game Reserve. “This is prime wildlife land and we made a community decision to develop a game reserve because the habitat and low rainfall is not good for livestock or agriculture.

“Some land was also set aside for housing and subsistence farming for our people and we have a partnership with the eLan property development group, which is set to develop an estate on 200 ha of our land. Money from the estate, the development of which will commence in 2010, will go into the management of the reserve.” Locally non-profit, the Wildlands Conservation Trust introduced the development group to the area and brokered the deal between eLan and Somkhanda.

Civil society, namely the WWF, The Green Trust and the Wildlands Conservation Trust and provincial conservation authority Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have assisted the community through the complicated process. The organisations assisted with bio-diversity assessments, management plans, and the donation of Black Rhino — a first for community conservation. The land is prime Black Rhino habitat and has been identified as vital to helping the vulnerable populations of the mammal in the area.

“We are proud of our achievements, but we are also very careful not to raise the expectations of the community too much,” said Nathi. “It will take a lot more hard work before we start seeing results”.

“There are currently two lodges operating at Somkhanda — Rolling Valley and Millimani. Rolling Valley has recently been upgraded and will be opened to tourists from September 2009,” said Dr Roelie Kloppers, conservation space manager for the Wildlands Conservation Trust.

“Current plans are to upgrade Milimani and to sign an agreement with a Joint Venture partnership to run both lodges on behalf of the community.

“This will not only create much needed employment for the local community and capacitate local managers, but will also put Somkhanda on the map as a prime tourist destination in northern Zululand,” he said.

“Revenue generated by the lodges would also support the management and operations of the reserve.



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