A WORD TO THE WISE: follow the directions supplied and don’t trust Google Maps. Especially when it comes to places you don’t know in deep, rural Zululand.
Once you are finally winding your way up the rolling KwaZulu-Natal hills, you start seeing little rondawels dotting the hillside and kids in school uniforms making their way home. And then: the wild, unspoilt bush.
The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, the oldest game reserve in Africa, is home to the largest concentrations of white and black rhinos, elephants and lions in the country. Recently, tracts of tribal land of 6 000 hectares were incorporated into the main reserve. This private reserve, uMfolozi Big Five, is set within the valleys where King Shaka of the Zulus pioneered a culture of conservation by proclaiming this area his royal hunting ground.
It is here that you will hear about five forward-thinking Zulu chiefs who realised that eco-tourism is the sustainable future for their land and communities. It all started when one of the chiefs, Inkosi Mthembu, talked with his long-time friend, developer Barry Theunissen, about the unused land around the tribal areas. Barry suggested establishing a game reserve, and Inkosi Mthembu played envoy to other chiefs with land bordering Hluhluwe-iMfolozi.
The current chieftaincies of Mthembu and Biyela both proudly trace their ancestry back to Shaka’s time. After many long discussions with all stakeholders, the first two of five luxurious lodges were opened, and were named after these chiefs.
The project brings a much-needed economic injection and employment to this rural area, through either direct employment at the lodges, or outsourced services such as laundry or the growing of vegetables. Additionally, 150 community members gained new skills with free, certified hospitality training, opening alternative doors for them.
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