3 March 2004
Limpopo province is running an ambitious programme to “convert” villagers and township residents into tourists by sending them on an adventure odyssey into their own country and culture.
The department of environmental affairs and tourism has been taking residents who live along the African Ivory Route to attractions like the Rain Queen’s royal kraal and the ancient mountain top citadel of Mapungubwe.
“Tourism was not very popular in the province, especially among black people, so the department wants to see more of us getting involved”, says programme manager Xolile Hlungwane. “The aim is for the African Ivory Route to benefit its communities.”
Since the opening of route in 1998, the department has held tourism awareness campaigns in villages and started training residents as tour and field guides, as well as tourism entrepreneurs.
There are five cultural camps based in villages along the route, where tourists get to see traditional dances, eat local food, enjoy traditional music and storytelling, and interact with the villagers.
The camps represent the VaTsonga, VhaVenda and Bapedi peoples, and offer self-catering accommodation in traditional huts.
There are also six safari camps in game reserves along the route.
For hiking enthusiasts, there are trails among 800-year-old cycads, while bird watchers can wonder at the abundant bird life of the region.
The route includes attractions like Lake Fundudzi, where legend has it that the python rules the underwater spirit world, the Holy Forest where the ancestors guard the Venda traditions, the Tshatshingo potholes and the Thathe-Vondo Dam and tea estates.
There are already 46 local people working for the African Ivory Route project, which has been promoted at acclaimed world tourism fairs, including the Tourism Indaba in Durban and the World Tourism Market in London.
“This project is without a doubt successful, because communities are benefiting directly from it”, says Hlungwane, “and people who visit the province suddenly realise that we have more to offer than they imagined.”