On the 18th of February, Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, officiated a sod-turning ceremony, just before the start of the building of Skukuza Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park (KNP).
According to SANParks CEO, Fundisile Mketeni, this new development is “set to raise KNP’s competitiveness as one of the premier meetings and events destinations in the country”.
“With this new additional accommodation, we will be able to host various sizes of events, exhibitions, conventions and meetings, while this will also cement the park’s international reputation for sustainable business establishments. It will also make a real contribution to job creation during the construction phase and afterwards,” said Mketeni.
Minister Molewa addressed concerns that the new lodge will increase the tourist footprint in the KNP by saying: “We are confident that this facility will not significantly increase the human footprint of the park, as plans are underway to ensure that patrons to Skukuza Safari Lodge will either be transported by charter flights or group transport like tour buses.”
She further stated that currently the development of footprint in the KNP, comprising tourist facilities, staff housing, tourist roads, support infrastructure and management contributes 6 285 hectares, or 0,3% to the total 2 000 000 hectares of the park. In terms of IUCN standards a park could be developed to 10% of its size. “This means the claims of overdevelopment and over commercialization of the Kruger National Park are exaggerated and unfounded.”
SANParks says the lodge will be developed within the existing camp footprint, in an area that is already highly affected by development. Trees will be retained as far as possible, in particular the planted baobab trees on the south-western border that remain from the old warden house, which will be accommodated in the design of the lodge; and there will be a buffer zone between the existing facilities and the Skukuza Safari Lodge development.
Minister Molewa said the Skukuza project will create between 250 to 300 jobs from conceptualisation, construction and operational stages. “These jobs are vital in the Lowveld region, where unemployment runs up to 70% of the regional population.” She said government’s policy dictates that because the location of most conservation agencies is in deep rural areas with few economic opportunities, these agencies must create alternative revenue generation options. “It is for this reason that our national parks should create products that appeal to all sections of our society.”
The Skukuza Conference Lodge is expected to be a three-star facility with 128 rooms. The full development of the lodge will cost R269 million, and is being funded by the Infrastructure Development Grant.