Introductionto Tourism Development in the Marico
Tourism in Groot Marico developed from very modest beginnings during the late 1980's and has slowly and organically grown in an incremental way as part of an integrated community development approach. A concerted effort by local community workers, a sympathetic support group, and members of the community at large to improve their living standards, served to lay the foundation.
The Groot Marico tourism initiative, which, even though still modest, exceeds by far those limitations which could reasonably have been expected to circumscribe such attempts in so small a place with ostensibly so few resources. Paradoxically the first hesitant attempts at initiating tourism-oriented activities derived from a growing concern at the degradation of natural resources as a result of farming mismanagement. A hot, dry climate with low rainfall, scarcity of water and sour bushveld conditions make of this part of the Marico district a marginal farming area. Relentless competition for these scarce resources resulted in unfailing deterioration of the soil and all that depends thereon.
The establishment of game farms in the region was one of the first visible signs of a contribution towards reversing these negative trends. Of course tourism is in itself no unmixed blessing and tourist impact on the environment could be as detrimental as any other activity dreamed up by mankind. However, it points to alternative ways of generating an income, wherein conservation of the natural beauty of the region, which is undisputed, and a rich cultural-historical inheritance and diversity of human resources may be viewed in a completely new light - as substantial assets - instead of being deemed a drawback or merely incidental background noise to the thankless and tiresome occupation of being a farmer in the Groot-Marico.
Our ongoing experience in tourism during subsequent years have proved our initial intuition to have been largely valid. Certainly the task of motivating our local community was not to be underestimated and required patience as well as perseverance. Habits acquired over many generations are not relinquished in an instant, and expectations cannot be sustained in a void.
Meanwhile we have concentrated on those areas where goodwill and cooperation were forthcoming and have proved to ourselves and many other people over the broad spectrum of the community that tourism has the potential not only to generate an income for many people but at the same time to satisfy a growing need for people of diverse cultures and background to get to know each other better and to co-operate in new ways.
What Groot-Marico has to offer.
This may be divided into two broad areas currently known as ecotourism and cultural tourism. A limited opportunity for water sport exists at the Marico Bushveld Dam but is dependent on a very unpredictable rainfall in the area. For many years at a stretch the dam could be close to empty. Angling seem to have better prospects. The above-mentioned natural beauty of the area is an asset with endless possibilities for which there is a steadily growing need in the urbanised environment where most of our visitors come from.
Absence of industries imply an unpolluted environment, fresh air, clean water and a marvellously brilliant starlit sky at night. More than five veldtypes in the Marico indicate the large ecological diversity and is reflected in the presence of the second most bird species in South Africa (more than 430 species have been identified). Some 200 indigenous tree species make this a peerless Bushveld destination only 2 1/2 hours (200 km) from Gauteng.
Therefore, in addition to countless game farms, with everything it implies for a visitor, like game viewing, hunting safaris, nature outings and hiking routes, a large game park is in the process of being developed in the northern parts of the district. Called Madikwe Game Reserve, it will be the fourth largest in the country, almost 80,000 ha in extent and supporting 30,000 animals. Five tourist lodges are planned, of which some are already in operation.
Nature lovers can also choose from a wide range of facilities offered very reasonably under the heading of Farm Accommodation and Guest houses.
The Information Centre in Groot-Marico can be contacted for details concerning these as well as for arranging reservations. Camping and caravan facilities are also available on the Marico river and at the Marico Bushveld Dam. The Information Centre also offers a selection of hiking routes where hikers are accompanied by a knowledgable guide, providing the visitor not only with instruction relating to the natural environment but also supplying a cultural and historical background to the experience. The Information Centre in Groot-Marico is a service to the public run on a voluntary basis. It co-ordinates relevant data, furnishes visitors with advice and promotes tourism in as many ways as possible, especially through nationwide media coverage.
A promotional service which has proved itself successful through the years is the Day Package Tours. Offered by the Information Centre, these tours come under the general heading of cultural-historical tourism and draw more than a thousand visitors to Groot-Marico every year. It includes a Tobacco tour, a Traditional Village tour and the popular Mampoer tour. On demand the Information Centre will also design tours for special interest groups.
Being in more than one sense isolated, the Marico has responded to the dramatic global changes of our century in a much more leisurely fashion. It therefore has plenty to offer in terms of a way of life that holds much of interest for a visitor from the cities.
A Tswana culture at least 1000 years old is highlighted by the vast iron age settlement of the Bahurutshe at Kaditswene, visited by John Campbell in its hey-day in 1820. This is supplemented by cultures of European and Asiatic origins dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The heritage of the more remote Koi-koi and Bushman cultures in our region has hardly been touched and could prove to be a rich vein for future research.
Battlefields dating back to the early 18th century testify to the above mentioned relentlessly waged competition for scarce resources in the area. A curious restlessness during the same century show the Marico as a point of departure for peculiar schismatic groups like the Jerusalem Gangers and the Dorsland Trek. Famous (or notorious) personages who settled, or tried to settle in theMarico in that century include Mzilikazi, Coenraad de Buys and David Livingstone, not to mention those who took part in the establishment of the ill-fated republics of Stellaland and Goosen.
Many of these people and events were immortalised in the stories of Herman Charles Bosman who in no small way contributed to the present popularity of the Groot-Marico as a tourist destination. A literary society named after this, South Africa's most popular English writer, was established in Groot-Marico some years ago with the aim of making the place more accessible to his large reading public and specifically to restore the little farm school where he taught in 1926. The society organises events which annually draw hundreds of enthusiastic Bosman aficionados to the Marico.
Concomitantly with the expansion of tourism-related activities as outlined above, Groot-Marico also saw the growth of a community craft/art market catering to local talent, called The Art Factory. Some thirty people are involved at any one time and it is supported mainly by the tourism trade. The Art Factory have also organised an art, music and dance festival locally. Two more Home Industry outlets also recently opened their doors in Groot Marico.
This then is a brief outline and summary of the tourism-related activities and potential in Groot Marico.
In no small measure the success or failure of a tourism initiative hinges on invisible factors that cannot always be demonstrated or even put into words. Certainly one of them pertains to attitude. A visitorfriendly approach is half the battle won. Nowadays this calls for some little effort. An accelerated pace of living has made personal contact tenuous and transient. Without additional effort our traditional platteland hospitality may prove insufficient. Another factor not unconnected with the foregoing may be called loyalty to one's locality. Enthusiasm for one's own seem to be contagious. To be interested is to be interesting.
In the Groot Marico, however, there are factors even more elusive but perhaps equally or in greater measure responsible for the fascination exerted by the place. Somehow Herman Charles Bosman appears to have encapsulated it to perfection in these few words:
"There is no other place I know
that is so heavy with atmosphere,
so strangely and darkly impregnated with that stuff of life
that bears the authentic stamp of South Africa."
from Marico Revisited.
Written and compiled by Egbert van Bart
Contact the Information Centre for more information.
Phone Santa at Cell 083 2722 958 or send an Email message to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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