It is one of Sabi Sabi’s core philosophies that in order for conservation to be successful in Africa, there needs to be an integral and participatory relationship between tourism operations and the neighbouring local communities. The reserve strives to promote ‘People and Parks’ issues by integrating conservation and community development as much as possible. As southern Africa and Africa as a whole tackles human population growth and the pressure of impoverished communities on the boundaries of its reserves, Community Based Natural Resource Management is increasingly becoming a priority in the Sabi Sabi management policies.
To the west Sabi Sabi borders the rural Shangaan villages of Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Many of Sabi Sabi’s 200 staff live in these communities. With an average dependency ratio of 1:7 these people represent tangible ‘benefits beyond boundaries’ to over 1200 people. It should be noted that the relationship is reciprocal; the employees themselves provide a loyal service to the company in all aspects of the operation from the workshop and safari department to hospitality and marketing. The company in turn invests in its human resources, recognises talent and believes in promoting its employees on merit and accomplishment. An ongoing internal training programme is in place that promotes and encourages skills development.
Financial benefits through employment are but one aspect of benefits. Over the past several years, Sabi Sabi has been a major contributor to the Teach the Teachers and Reach and Teach Education Programmes.
This entailed workshops held on the reserve exposing rural teachers to the relationship between ecotourism, conservation and communities.
Another example of other aspects of the current involvement in community development is the ‘Lillydale Environmental Education Centre’. This is a community-run project that is supported by Sabi Sabi. The centre serves as a multifunctional environmental education centre, promotes Shangaan knowledge and rural development tourism to the area and encourages local environmental conservation practices through training workshops.
In 2003, Sabi Sabi agreed with the Huntington community (adjacent to the Sabi Sabi reserve) to provide a three-year investment budget that would be owned by all members of the community and controlled through trustees voted for by the community on a democratic basis. The trustees exclude any representatives from Sabi Sabi.
In 2004 the community registered a trust, the ‘Swi Ta Lunga Trust’, for the purpose of investing in and managing the community’s labour resources and to provide services locally. Translated from Shangaan, Swi Ta Lunga means ‘Things Will Get Better’. This model has been noticed by government and is being used in the reformulation of local economic development.
Some of the priorities identified by the Trust include: improving access to water for daily consumption and gardening; creating jobs and work in the village; improving education and educational facilities (including subsidising transport costs for teachers) and facilitating easier access to education for school children through an innovative subsidised bicycle programme.
This wonderful project means that all high school children in the local community will receive a new bicycle, giving them more freedom and reducing the enormous amount of time spent walking the 7 to 11 kilometres to and from school each day. The project establishes a proper finance, ownership, insurance and maintenance cooperative through which the children learn so much about organisation, joint responsibility and management and finance.