An immediate project that Dlulane mentions is the current roads upgrade which entails of some 995kms across seven parks. “Engineers are also busy at work, currently, to assess our roads such that by the end of 2013 we will have all our roads available on such platforms as Google Earth,” reveals Dlulane. He shares that the initial timeline for the project has been pegged at five years for the first phase but that is largely dependent on funding. Ezemvelo, as an entity of the KwaZulu Natal province relies on the provincial, national government and other sources other than itself for funding. Dlulane shares that as an organisation with some 2500 permanent employees who have to be accommodated within the parks, infrastructure for the employees has to be up to standard to also cater for the changing times and socio-economic dynamics. As a result, one of the projects that occupy Dlulane and his team members’ efforts is the upgrading of the employees’ living quarters. “By nature of the work park rangers do, it is rigorous and they need to retire to comfortable quarters at the end of the day,” says Dlulane. In addition to improving the living quarters, Ezemvelo is making the living facilities more accommodative for the employees’ families. Previously, living quarters were single rooms with no privacy. However, with new improvements, there is a standard design which consists of a bedroom with an en suite bathroom, a living area and a kitchen.
In its daily operations, Ezemvelo gives back to the greater community through various ways. One such way is a programme that also benefits the whole country. From the fees collected from visitors, 10% goes to the Beneficiation Programme Fund. That fund, reveals Dlulane, is then reinvested back to the community. “What makes this programme unique is that while it is a portion of what we collect, we do not dictate to the communities living adjacent to protected areas and they request to have certain projects done. We then come in using our skills and knowledge and offer advice on the viability of the project,” says Dlulane. There are several examples to give to illustrate this but a few are the Nselweni Bush Lodge and a fully equipped laundry project for the Amahlubi community in the Drakensberg area which has become the laundry destination for some large hospitals in the area. “We don’t just build for the sake of putting walls but we put in place fully fledged structures which offer total empowerment for rural communities,” Dlulane points out.
A bakery has been provided for young people in an area towards the rural Royal Natal National Park. The aim, reveals Dlulane, is to ultimately complement it with a restaurant that will buy its confectionary from the bakery. Success of these community initiatives has opened up new avenues for other projects in other areas. One such project is the Tembe Elephant Lodge which has a budget of R20-million. “We hope that more areas will follow suit and duplicate what we have done thereby moving away from the traditional definitions of rural development,” he states. Dlulane says it is folly to ignore rural communities for, in their line of work, parks will always be there and so will the rural communities. Thus by actively involving communities it is a win-win situation for all involved. Involving the communities has many spin-offs, says Dlulane. By seeing the parks as their own, the communities will never allow for any poaching activities to take place for they regard that as stealing from themselves. Dlulane notes: “The community becomes a fence for the park and this is a vital line of defence”.
Skills to Face Challenges
Faced with such success stories, Dlulane says they are not immune to challenges. Chief among these is that of funding as that is not always easy to come by. Another challenge which faces all of South Africa is that of skills. There are not skills to ensure a properly sustainable operation. Hence Ezemvelo has embarked on a skilling programme to ensure that everyone across the organisation is properly skilled. “In having properly and adequately skilled personnel, the organisation saves on precious resources and project management is on target all the time,” he says.
Ezemvelo is also mindful of the young unemployed people in the communities where the parks are located. To keep them off crime, the organisation has embarked on a youth service programme where the youth are equipped with skills and receive stipends. The young people are trained in environmental health and biodiversity but, Dlulane acknowledges that there is more that can be done. Some of those who receive training have become environmental monitors who become brand ambassadors for Ezemvelo and their respective communities. Dlulane concludes that it has been a busy first few years in the office for him; a time that has been made worthwhile by the support from the traditional leaders and communities. “The reason why our community initiatives are successful is because we have the support of the leaders who know the people best: the Amakhosi,” he says urging all the other stakeholders to come to the fore and contribute to the total empowerment of rural communities.
To be the Best
Ezemvelo Wildlife seeks to ensure effective conservation and the sustainable use of KwaZulu Natal’s biodiversity in collaboration with stakeholders for the benefit of present and future generations.
Empowering Rural Communities
In its efforts to become a world renowned leader in biodiversity conservation, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is mindful of empowering the very communities in which it operates. This is done by offering total empowerment that is a turnkey solution for all involved, as far as rural development is concerned.
This is no easy task as Ezemvelo operates in the part of South Africa where illiteracy and high unemployment levels are the biggest barriers to development. Ntsikelelo Dlulane, the General Manager: Infrastructure and Special Projects at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife says his journey thus far has been filled with exciting challenges that he intends to execute to the best of his ability for the benefit of the organisation, the community and South Africa at large. Dlulane was initially appointed to Ezemvelo as a Manager: Partnerships and Projects. In November 2012 he was elevated to his current position and he has been a busy man ever since; ensuring that all projects undertaken are executed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
by Andrew Ngozo