Women defy odds to participate in burgeoning wildlife economy around Kruger National Park

Lwazi Thobela

Lwazi Thobela

Published Aug 22, 2023


Pretoria - Young women are seizing the initiative and making strides in Mpumalanga’s tourism and hospitality industry.

And one of them has even discovered an entrepreneurial streak – defying the odds stacked against them in an area where youth unemployment soars as high as 65%.

Thanks to hard work, determination and sheer grit, Lwazi Thobela, Vutivi Mthimkhulu and Mampho Makofane have shrugged off the more difficult circumstances that often come with living in rural villages to become active participants in the burgeoning wildlife economy in and around the Kruger National Park.

The luxury and comfort of the Kruger Shalati private lodge – which straddles the Sabie River in Skukuza and offers converted train carriage accommodation on its distinctive Train on the Bridge – is a far cry from the humble streets of Mkhuhlu, 40km away, where some of these young women hail from.

Vutivi Mthimkhulu

Yet it is one of the many private lodges dotted around the Kruger National Park that are investing in local communities by employing work-ready graduates such as these.

They are in strong demand thanks to the Good Work Foundation, an education non-profit organisation operating five digital learning campuses in the Hazyview and Bushbuckridge area.

With dreams of becoming a chef, Thobela’s plans were put on hold when she fell pregnant in her teens. But now, with the support of her Good Work Foundation family, she has found a balance between being a caring mother and pursuing her ambitions.

After motherhood came knocking, Thobela resolved to resume her education journey by enrolling in Good Work Foundation’s Bridging Year Academy, gaining digital and work-readiness skills to have a fighting chance of getting a job in rural Mpumalanga.

She then studied hospitality at the foundation’s Travel & Tourism Academy – but fate again threw obstacles in her path.

Mampho Makofane

“Previously, I’d had the opportunity to do chef training in Graaff-Reinet, but had to decline because of family commitments. Then, when I was offered a position at Hippo Hollow Country Estate (in Hazyview), my child was sick and I couldn’t take up the position. But the Good Work Foundation kept in touch with me, constantly checking in to ask me how I’m faring, do I need assistance finding work, and so on.”

She added that when the opportunity to do an internship at Kruger Shalati came up, she was contacted to ask whether she was interested and she hasn’t looked back since.

“Here I am and I’m hoping the internship will become permanent in time.”

Another example of empowerment in action is Vutivi Mthimkhulu, who tends the bar at Kruger Shalati. After completing her post-school training to become more digitally literate, she enrolled in a short course in hospitality management, with Good Work Foundation assisting her with the practical component.

This helped her secure a job at Shalati in 2020.

“I was nervous at first, but luckily I had learnt how to use a computer at the Good Work Foundation, so I wasn’t starting out with a blank slate. I began as a cashier then I moved on to be a barista – and now I am working as a bar lady.”

But she is taking self-empowerment a step further – thanks to her job, she saved up and bought a minibus, and is now the proud owner of a taxi.

Mampho Makofane is a cashier at the Kruger Station restaurant, run by Kruger Shalati. She has been working there since it opened two years ago, having studied at Good Work Foundation’s IT Academy and then at its Travel & Tourism Academy.

Makofane said the practicals at different hotels and restaurants gave her valuable experience to help her land her current job.

“I was so happy when I got my first pay cheque,” she remembers. “My family are very proud of me being a breadwinner.”

She said she loved working at Kruger Shalati, alongside a group of young people who also studied at Good Work Foundation.

Her advice to other young women is to “keep on pushing, keep on pulling your socks up, because one day you will get a job”.

Vincent Mlambo, human resources manager at Kruger Shalati, said there were currently eight Good Work Foundation graduates working at the lodge.

“They come to us fresh from graduating, and they know their theory and how to follow the steps. It’s easy to teach and guide them, as they are applying the knowledge they have.”

For a nominal “commitment” fee, young school-leavers at its Bridging Year Academy and career academies learn essential digital and work-readiness skills. Then, Good Work Foundation uses its relationships with lodges and other partners to get these graduates placed – a win-win situation, because the establishments know they are hiring quality employees.

This effectively helps Mpumalanga to “grow its own timber” by producing job-ready graduates – all fired up and ready to assume the mantle of family breadwinner with pride.

Pretoria News