Initiative to alleviate community plight now a Presidential Project – Deputy Minister of Transport
Pretoria: 11 September 2016
After wading through crocodile, hippopotamus and rhinoceros infested waters for decades – more than five centuries by one account – the community of Enkovukeni, a small village patched on a forested hill surrounded by deep lakes waters on the one side, and the pulsating waves of the Indian Ocean on the other, at Umhlabuyalingana on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, might soon have a bridge at last.
That is if the South African government which has taken focus of the area fully for the first time, can negotiate a few treacherous corners inclusive of international conventions governing the management of the country’s first ever World Heritage Site; the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park in which the village is tightly locked in.
On Friday, Deputy Minister of Transport, Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga accompanied by members of top management of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), a group of private sector representatives and provincial and local government officials in KwaZulu-Natal; met the villagers with their traditional leader, Inkosi Tembe and she gave an undertaking that national government would look into the plight of the community.
They told her in unison, without a second thought; they wanted a bridge, along with a ‘two-lane’ road.
The desperate request is based on the fact that an only entrance by a vehicle into the area – stopping short of a kilometer to the village, on the banks of an oft swollen lake – is a three to five kilometer long single-lane shifting sand pit barely two meters wide, running rugged through a thicket on which only off-road vehicles are able successfully to grind.
Folklore has it that a few locals who’d ever managed to buy a vehicle, any type of vehicle; have never ever been able to take it home. Boating on the heritage site lakes is also apparently highly regulated.
On Friday, Ms Chikunga however described it as a bizarre situation that should not obtain still in the new South Africa, and committed that government would fully investigate the possibility of constructing a bridge across some part of the lake in order to provide more secure and safe mobility for the community.
But that will partly require working past a basket of international conventions along with domestic laws, rules and regulations governing the management of the Isimangaliso World Heritage Site.
Information on the park’s website states that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 “in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global values.”
It states: “The 332 000 hectare Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, 700 year old fishing traditions, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old vegetated coastal dunes – among the highest in the world. The name iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder, which aptly describes this unique place.”
The deputy Minister’s visit of the area on Friday was the second since August 14, 2016; following to an initiative by the Pretoria headquartered South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) together with private sector partners in the Durban region’s maritime sector to assist the Enkovukeni community with mainly water based transport.
According to SAMSA acting CEO, Mr Sobantu Tilayi, the initiative was sparked by a news report earlier this year that depicted the living conditions of the community as dire due to an almost complete lack of not only transport, but anything else to enhance its life to a level others in surrounding areas generally take for granted.
As part of its community outreach programme under the annual Nelson Mandela International Day (2016), the authority mobilized support for help among some private sector companies that could lend a hand, in the form of boats that could be donated,.
To date a handful agreed, among them the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, shipping group Smit-Amandla Marine, Dormac, Subtech, Unicorn, SA Shipyards, MIASA, FBI Communications, Viking Lifesaving and Surfing Equipment FBI Communications and some others.
The event Friday was to both hand over the first of possibly two or three boats the community would be donated with in order just to be safe enough for day to day travel, including school children who have to cross the lake daily to attend school, the sick who need medical help and the elderly who have to collect their social grants.
It was also for government at all three tiers to consult further with the community on how best it could be further assisted.
Ms Chikunga announced that government had taken serious note of the situation such that it was now being undertaken as a Presidential Project under the direct control of President Jacob Zuma.
Mobilization, she said; had begun by the Department of Transport (under her directive) to involve and engage fully no less than seven other national departments – Public Works; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Basic Education, Local Government and Traditional Affairs, Small Business, Trade and Industry, Energy Affairs, and Arts and Culture; but also the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government in efforts to focus their attention to action to alleviate the plight of the Enkovukeni community.
“When I visited the area for the first time on 14 August 2016, and held talks with Inkosi Tembe and some members of the community, I promised I would be back with a progress report. Today, I am back not only with a report back, but also with tools and equipment intended to alleviate the plight of this community. The boats are not a total solution, but are a start.
“As promised, I have since taken your situation to the Office of the President with a proposal that this situation be undertaken as a Presidential Project, and he has agreed. The next step proposed is the establishment of an inter-Ministerial Task team involving deputy Ministers of the respective departments in order that we package a comprehensive programme that will deliver on the issues requiring address.
“The Director General in the Office of the President is currently arranging for the first of such meetings,” she said.
Ms Chikunga said the involvement of as many national government departments as was possible was a necessity to ensure that as many challenges facing the community as possible were noted and where possible addressed holistically as soon as possible.
These included skills development for especially fishermen, small business development in particularly tourism as well as aspects related to arts and culture.
In addition, housing assistance and electrification, school nutrition and related matters, land management and general development needed specific and urgent attention, she said.
Ms Chikunga promised to return to the village within the next few weeks to deliver shoes to school going children (estimated at about 150) as well as certain basic necessities to families.
To listen fully to Ms Chikunga’s address (mainly in isiZulu), as well as the rest of the officials and community members, please click on the audio clips and video links provided below. The clips are in order of the programme as presented on Friday.
Clip 1: Welcome Address, Inkosi Tembe
Clip 2: Outreach Programme broad outline – Mr Sobantu Tilayi (SAMSA aCEO)
Clip 3: Outreach Programme Specifics – Ms S. Molemane (SAMSA Board Member)
Clip 4: Boat donation – Mr Vincent Zulu (KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board)
Clip 5: Community Response – Mr Ngubane
Clip 6: Local government speaker – Ms B.T Tembe
Clip 7: Key address – Ms Sindisiswe Chikunga (Deputy Minister, Transport Department)