A group of young graduates in Welverdiend in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, came together in 2001 to form a cooperative that has so far created more than 35 jobs in the tourism sector.
Mutlhwarheni Cooperative Ltd is a true example of what can be achieved if communities join hands and collaborate with experienced companies to fight poverty and unemployment in society.
According to the cooperative’s General Secretary, Clifort Mathebula, the cooperative was established in 2001 by 17 unemployed youth in rural Welverdiend who were graduates in different fields of study, including teaching, accounting and tourism, among others.
“The aim was to establish a cooperative that will create jobs in the tourism sector because our community is situated at the borders of Kruger National Park and Manyeleti Game Reserve,” he says.
Mathebula adds that sustaining the vision and keeping the cooperative running has not been a smooth ride, but giving up has never been an option.
“In the first few years of our existence, we managed to secure 50 hectares of land within the Welverdiend community, and the National Department of Tourism funded our project of building the lodge with approximately R10.9 million between 2005 and 2008. Unfortunately, we could not finish the project and ran out of funds,” says Mathebula.
While looking for ways to complete the project, the cooperative decided to start the Wild Olive Tree Camp in 2013 to offer tented accommodation for tourists, which came into operation in 2014.
In 2021, the cooperative received a R5 million grant from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of South Africa Ltd to finish building the lodge. The IDC has a role to fund programmes and to support the acquiring of cooperatives’ equity in joint ventures.
Recently, the Deputy Minister of Tourism Fish Mahlalela launched the first 10 luxury suites at the lodge as part of the first phase of the project.
During the construction phase of the lodge, about 35 temporary jobs were created for locals. The lodge is planning to add an additional 10 chalets and introduce local game on the premises in order to create more jobs for local residents.
The cooperative currently has 20 employees at the lodge and 15 at the camp, and it has plans to employ more than 200 locals in the near future.
“We also trained a manager from our community to run the business,” he says.
Head of Corporate Affairs at the IDC Tshepo Ramodibe says investing in the new lodge aims to reignite the tourism sector post the damaging effects of the lockdown period. “It is part of our broader strategy to invest in the tourism value chain in Mpumalanga and revive a sector which is critical to the provincial economy,” he says.
How the cooperative got it right
The cooperative collaborated with Indalo Inclusive South Africa (IISA), which is a non-profit organisation (NPO) that supports and promotes social, green, inclusive, and responsible entrepreneurship in the country.
It works in different sectors including water, agriculture, energy, tourism, and biodiversity, among others.
The cooperative also collaborated with Mont d’Or Clarens Group, which is a company that operates hotels in South Africa.
“As part of the partnership agreement, the cooperative owns 51% of shares of the company,” says Mathebula.
He adds that the milestone is a prime example of how public-private partnerships can work very well to build sectors and industries, with support from government.
The Director and Head of Operations at IISA, Rest Kanju, says the NPO was responsible for putting the partnerships together, which were only established about three years ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the agreement, 10% of the Opern Kruger Lodge profits is directed to IISA for facilitating social and economic activities at the lodge.
Kanju says starting a project of this magnitude requires understanding community dynamics, commitment and patience. It also requires transparency and clean governance so that all members can avoid any acts of corruption.
He applauds Mutlhwareni Cooperative for bringing people who have different skills sets together as this is a recipe for success.
The Bushbuckridge Local Municipality also came on board and installed the fence and a gate at the lodge.
For more information about Indalo Inclusive South Africa, visit www.iisa.org.za, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 012 844 0135. For more information about Mutlhwarheni Cooperative Ltd, email email@example.com