Sheree Bega

More than three million people in 181 communities living around the Kruger National Park support controversial plans by SANParks to build two luxury hotels in Malelane and Skukuza within the next five years.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in response to parliamentary questions by the DA that a luxury guest house and six more tent camps in Letaba, Talamati, Satara, Orpen, Berg-en-dal and Shingwedzi were also planned for the park.

But Gerhard Smit, who started Aikona (Against Interference in the Kruger Our National Asset) to fight these plans, questioned the accuracy of Molewa’s figures. “The minster stated that three million people are supporting the building of the hotels. Where is the proof of the stated figure?”

Molewa said the proposed accommodation facilities were part of the park’s commercialisation strategy. “The target market is the South African business sector for conferences, a section of all races of the middle class that prefers a full service without bringing the whole grocery shop to the park or to cook for oneself. Families with children prefer to have some form of modern conveniences to keep their children happy.”

The new pricing of the hotels would accommodate both the local and overseas markets and would create up to 700 jobs in the Lowveld plagued by high levels of unemployment.

Smit disagreed. “Many nice words are being said about the commercialisation of the KNP – the building of hotels. The Kruger is a conservation area, and should be kept as such.

“The exact same benefits (of job creation) and even more would be available to the locals if the planned developments are done outside the park. If the hotel is inside the Kruger, it will mean that only visitors to the park would have access to the hotels. I believe that our national parks should be open to all nature-loving people. These fancy hotels will not attract those less affluent people who are a great part of the locals in the surrounding area, the reason being non-affordability.”