The Makuleke Contractual Park is 26,500 hectares in size and lies at the northern extremity of the Kruger National Park (KNP), South Africa. It is bounded by the Limpopo River in the north, Luvuvhu River in the south and Mutale River in the west. The Limpopo River is also the boundary between South Africa and Zimbabwe, while the meeting point of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers is where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet. The Makuleke Contractual Park is a unique and special place. It boasts a long and interesting history and is considered one of the high biodiversity areas in the Kruger National Park and South Africa more generally. In addition, it is community owned. After the democratisation of the country in 1994, the Makuleke community was one of the first communities in South Africa to win a land claim in 1998. As part of the Settlement Agreement, the Makuleke community were given the rights to develop the area for the socio-economic benefit of the community, as long as the land was used for conservation. It was also agreed that the area would be managed through a co-management arrangement with KNP. From 2000, the community entered into concession agreements with four operators, including three eco-tourism operators and a training company. It was agreed that the community, through their Communal Property Association, would benefit from receiving a percentage of turnover earned by these operators. In addition, these businesses had to employ Makuleke people. As a result, there has been a significant direct benefit to employees through wages.
The key challenge facing community conserved areas is how to structure partnerships in a way the broader community benefit from the land when it is kept or put under conservation land use. The Makuleke and their private sector partners as well as SANParks share the same mission for the land which is that the land should “contribute to sustainable long term socio-economic benefit for the Makuleke community through developing effective partnerships to optimize opportunities for tourism development whilst ensuring the ecological character and cultural value of the area”.
A clear rights framework was put in place through the settlement agreement when the community got ownership of their land back from the state. The community agreed to keep their reclaimed land under conservation management and became a “Contract Park” jointly managed with SANParks. They set up a Communal Property Association (CPA) accountable to community members, which manages their land asset and the partnerships with SANParks and private tourism concessionaires. The CPA has 15 years of trying to maximise the benefit to the community through tourism leases and conservation related activities. They are an example of good governance and accountability to the vision, community and partnership agreements.
NGO and Donor support for the community is critical. The community is not able to negotiate and manage private sector concessionaires and their relation with SANParks without getting help from NGO’s or government. Over the last 17 years there have been many conflicts and difficult decisions that the CPA needed professional input on. They were lucky that they had lots of support from international donors and local NGOs.
Tourism takes at least 4 years to start generating income for the community in both jobs and lease fees. The CPA therefore decided to use hunting as a quick way to get income and show their community the value of having rights on their returned land.
Tourism income from leases is variable as it was linked to a percentage of turnover of the lodges. This meant that the income to the CPA and community depended on the number of tourists. The actual amounts earned were way below the predictions made by concessionaires when the contracts were signed. The CPA has now renegotiated all the leases and they all now have a “guaranteed minimum lease fee”. If the 10% turnover is higher then they get the higher amount. The lack of this was devastating to the CPA when a flood destroyed the one lodge and there was no trading or income for over 2 years.
Being part of the Kruger has both its benefits as well as problems. It is wonderful being part of a world renown conservation area and the tourist operators find it easier to market the region. However sometimes conservative conservation officials on the ground do not respect the community ownership and the rights they have. Also the area is subject to the regulations of the Kruger when they could be more relevant to the model which emphasizes community benefits form the land.
We created a common vision and program for all the stakeholders in the form of the 2013 Conservation and Development Framework. It has given certainty and clarity to the tourism and conservation plans and strategies. This has removed most of the doubt and conflict form the partnerships.
Biodiversity has improved. Since retaking ownership of the land the communities and their partners have improved the game experience and got Ramsar status for the wetlands. The private sector and SANParks transferred large game into the area. The Conservation and Development Framework sets out zones which support conservation orientated activities. It should be noted that unfortunately the region is facing the same poaching challenges at the rest of the KNP.
The community has earned lease fees and individual tourism and conservation wages. Since taking ownership of the land in 1998 the CPA has received over $ .2 Million and workers have earned $2.4 Million. The area is now seen as a valuable piece of community owned land and the biodiversity is seen as worth protecting.
Good local community organization and pride. The Makuleke CPA has managed to facilitate and sometimes fund numerous social development projects. The CPA does have a cost of $80 000 per year but is able to facilitate numerous community projects as they are an organized contact point for donors and government. They have supported their Traditional Authority which was undermined during the initial forced removal and increased community pride in their culture and land.
Makuleke land forms a critical piece of the Transfrontier Conservation area. Initially when the Greater Limpopo TFCA was formed they were not consulted but they have now been given the recognition they deserve by the TFCA and are examples of how to benefit from tourism and conservation for other communities in the TFCA.
An inclusive approach draws in the private sector. They have drawn their private sector partners into the decision making process around the Joint Management board. This means the private sector are more involved in conservation and infrastructure planning and investments. They have created an inclusive Conservation and Development Trust to receive and spend money in the region on conservation.