Winning the battle against poverty and unemployment

13 August 2007

AMON Sithole, works for the Wildlands Conservation Trust (the fund-raising arm of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife). He is the project leader at Usuthu Gorge.

Describing the area as poor with no hope of upliftment, except through conservation, Sithole said the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had ploughed about R8 million into poverty alleviation in the area.

"About 120 people were employed," said Sithole.

"Close to 400 people gained work as labourers and rotated. About 70 people were employed for a period, then 70 others."

One of their tasks was to erect 40km of fencing.

On the question of water, Sithole said two windmills had already been erected and he was shortly adding a third because they had proved to be so successful.

"People are extremely happy because this has solved their water problems. They use it for drinking, washing and for their cattle."

Previously, animals had to travel long distances for water, and water from the Shemula water scheme often proved to be unpalatable. Water from the boreholes was very clean and fit for human consumption, even if a bit salty.

Explaining how he became involved at Usuthu Gorge, Sithole said he had worked for the Wildlands Conservation Trust since 1996 on other projects, but had been called in to resolve conflict over boundaries with Ndumo Reserve.

There was also dissent over boundaries between the lands of the various tribal chiefs. Sithole managed to bridge the differences by showing the community the benefits they stood to reap.

"They have now worked close to 27 000 days," he said. "When I go to bed at night I feel honoured that I am involved in this project. To see people supporting this initiative is a real success in terms of people and parks," said Sithole proudly.

A member of the community, Khetiwe Mathenjwa of eKhuleni, said she had worked on contract at Ndumo Game Reserve. She now has a job as an administration clerk at Usuthu.

The Peace Parks Foundation has made bursaries available to three women to study tourism and the hospitality industry. Another member of the community recently received a bursary to the Southern African Wildlife College.

Sunday Tribune - 12 August 2007Myrtle Ryan

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