Villagers feel shortchanged by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife resort

Johannesburg-  Tourism is the lifeblood of many rural communities, but it seems that lifeblood has bypassed the residents of eMhlwazini village.

Community activist Nkululeko Maphalala has painted a picture of unfulfilled promises by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, an entity under the KwaZulu-Natal department of economic development and tourism, which owns a resort bordering his village.

Maphalala, of eMhlwazinivillage bordering the Didima Resort nestled on the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, told Sunday World this week that his community has not benefited from the tourism spin-offs the village provides.

“It has been over 11 years of fighting a losing battle. When our elders were removed from their land to build the Didima Resort, many promises were made but none was ever fulfilled. The locals feel cheated of their land,” he said.

The holiday destination is frequented by domestic and international visitors, mainly because of its breathtaking views of the winter snow, scenic streams, evergreen grasslands, waterfalls, and meandering rivers. It is under the oKhahlamba local municipality.

Maphalala said Ezemvelo and the resort were expected to form a community trust and assist the community to assemble a co-operative to benefit those whose land was taken to build the resort.

Two decades on, none of the promises has come to fruition.

“Instead, what the resort does is to employ a few locals as cheap labour. We reject this on the basis that it is not economic emancipation. What the government did in collusion with private interest is tantamount to land dispossession.”

For many years, eMhlwazini has been a hub of protests by locals demanding a share of the proceeds from Didima Resort.

Induna Bhekokwakhe Khanyile of the AmaNgwane Tribal Council said the government had taken a hostile approach towards the locals.

“When our ancestors donated land, they took it as an investment for generations to come. They had hoped that since the government was involved, there would not be any underhand dealings,” said Khanyile.

According to Khanyile, the agreement was that the locals would benefit economically by managing campsites and caravan parks for tourists. This remains a pipe dream.

However, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambo refuted claims that the entity had reneged on its promises, saying the traditional leadership was responsible for establishing a structure that would ensure that the villagers received what is due to them.

“In our endeavour to resuscitate the campsite project, our officials met with Inkosi yasemaNgwaneni in December to find a solution regarding the campsite project. Ezemvelo will enter into a memorandum of understanding that will govern the relationship between Ezemvelo and the structure formed by that group,” he said.

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