Very cold weather, coupled with incessant rain, failed to dampen the mood of an animated crowd of revellers gathered in the South African National Park’s (SANParks) picturesque Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State for the inaugural FNB Golden Classics musical extravaganza on Saturday night.
Classic performances by the Free State Symphony Orchestra, Given Nkosi, and Kelebogile Besong kept the buoyant crowd asking for more, as the clock crawled closer to midnight.
SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni told the African News Agency (ANA) that national parks in South Africa were not only about animal conservation, and their role in the national context included furthering national cohesion by promoting the national heritage through music – a language loved by all South Africans of different races, sexes, and ages.
“We as SANParks are not only about the Big Five. We are about arts, culture, we are about heritage, we are about people. When it comes to music, people express themselves by singing. We cannot all speak, but we can all sing; therefore we are saying these national parks should remain relevant to all people of South Africa, young and old. We are doing this to say SANParks is there to connect society,” Mketeni said during the musical gala.
“We want new people, we want new visitors, we want new clients to visit our national parks.”
In October, SANParks announced that the "Know Your National Parks" campaign had increased the number of visitors to parks across the country by a significant 24% in 2017.
“We had an increase of just over 24% this year from last year’s 62,312 visitors. SA National Parks Week aims to create a culture of pride in all South Africans in their relationship with the country’s natural, cultural, and historical heritage,” Mketeni said at the time.
SANParks said the feature element of the campaign was free access granted to all South African day visitors carrying their official identity documents, and since its inception in 2006, National Parks Week had seen an influx of 364,275 day visitors in all participating parks.
This weekend, Mketeni said there had been encouraging signs among black South African communities now also embracing domestic tourism, moving away from the traditional perception that tourism was the preserve of the rich, or whites – a sentiment also buttressed by the painful history and development of parks in the country during the apartheid days.
“We acknowledge that the history of parks was not a good one for black South Africans because of the history of eviction and isolation. We monitor yearly the number of black visitors in our national parks... I’m happy to say it’s growing by 22 percent. By doing these initiatives [the FNB Golden Classics show] we want more. At the end of the day, we don’t want to talk about black and white. We want to talk about people of South Africa connecting to national parks that belong to them. We will continue developing events like these that attract a variety of age groups of South Africans,” said Mketeni.
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the famous Maluti Mountains of the northeastern Free State, near the Lesotho/South Africa border, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park offers a myriad of activities, including abseiling, canoeing, game drives, horse riding, nature walks, swimming, and hiking, while other tourists seize the educational opportunity to tour the Basotho Cultural Village for closer insights into the traditional life of Basotho people, going back to the 18th century.
Major event sponsor Total Southern Africa executive vice president Pierre-Yves Sachet said the company's co-operation with SANParks spanned close to six decades and was getting stronger with new partnerships for fresh initiatives such as this weekend’s musical showcase.