MalaMala Game Reserve CEO Alison Morphet is upbeat about the recently reimagined MalaMala and Sable Camps in the iconic South African private game reserve. Sable Camp, previously an extension of MalaMala Camp, is now a separate entity, and boasts the finest of amenities, including facilities for disabled visitors.
The interiors have all been rebuilt, with the thatched roofs remaining. “We believe the ‘in-camp experience’ has to complement the wildlife,” she says.
It all comes in the wake of a decision by the multi-party Rural Development and Land Reform Portfolio Committee to initiate a forensic investigation into the MalaMala land deal. As South Africa’s most expensive land deal to date, it cost taxpayers R1.1 billion. The land was restored to the N’wandlamharhi Communal Property Association (CPA) in 2013.
Controversy arose when both the Land Claims Court and High Court originally ruled the price envisioned as excessive, but the deal went through before it reached the Constitutional Court.
MalaMala was part of the original Sabi Sand Game Reserve. When the National Parks Act was passed (1926) western sections became available for private ownership and William Campbell was among those who bought properties. Michael Rattray obtained the property in 1964 and developed it into an iconic landmark.
“It became one of South Africa’s best export products,” Morphet says. “The brand lured people like Margaret Thatcher and Elton John to its wildlife haven.”
After the land was conveyed to the N’wandlamharhi community in 2013 the Rattrays continued to manage
it on an interim lease agreement, but in 2016 a long-term lease was finalised and the community became shareholders in the operating company.
The community now benefits from three revenue streams: the lease fee for the land and buildings; dividends as shareholders in the operating company; and a community levy goes towards educating and training community members in ecotourism.
Almost all staff members in the camps are from the communities. “We believe in upskilling, mentoring and offering opportunities,” Morphet explains. “We anticipate that community members should be able to run it themselves at the end of the lease.”
The money paid for the lease as well as dividends are paid to the CPA, which then decides how to distribute funds among the community. The Mintirho Community Development Trust was created in 2017 and an overview of its activities indicates how funds benefit members of N’wandlamharhi CPA and their families as well as community members of 11 villages in the vicinity of MalaMala.
A successful bursary programme was implemented in 2018, with funding for 14 students who graduated with hospitality and tourism accreditation from CATHSSETA (the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality, and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority).
Twenty students are currently funded for studies at different institutions in the fields of hospitality and tourism, and additional students will receive funding during the second half of this year.
Future projects include working with schools on career guidance and digital learning, assisting women to develop vegetable gardens, and working with youth groups and individuals through external institutional or in-situ training. Community access to water will also receive attention.
Written by Mariana Balt
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