Karoo Development

I recently attended a conference held at the De Stijl Hotel at Gariep Dam, hosted by the Karoo Development Trust. The aim of the trust is to brand the Karoo, making it a destination (much like the Australian Outback). The Guest speakers came from far and wide and definitely had wonderful insights in this regard.

The 'Karoo Highways' cover four provinces: Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and the Free State. It is thus  imperative that the provinces work together.

A conference was held in Graaff Reinet in March 2009 and the progress made since then is looking good.


November 2009


Lake !Gariep Tourism Route


Excerpts from the Free State Business Bulletin Sept 2004 edition

This major initiative started with the need to develop the greater Gariep Dam area, resulting in the formation of a Tri-District Alliance between the district municipalities surrounding the dam. Evidently opportunities exist to unlock significant undeveloped potentials in amongst others, environmental conservation, tourism and agriculture existing in the region surrounding the Gariep Dam, the water of the Orange River and the Dam itself.

Consequently an implementation action plan was adopted and in that the idea was mooted that the dam be branded “Lake !Gariep” to achieve National Tourist Destination Status.

Lake !Gariep is located within the Karoo Heartland, close to the historical towns of Bethulie, Venterstad, Colesberg, Gariep Dam town, Oviston and Aliwal North, crossing the boundaries of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape Provinces.

Lake !Gariep is surrounded by three provincial game reserves which include Oviston Nature Reserve, Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve and the Gariep Nature Reserve. A Memorandum of Understanding has been drafted by the MEC's of the three provinces, which, when implemented, will effectively join the three reserves and create a conservation area in excess of 85 000 hectares.

The inclusion of Tussen-die-Riviere reserve within this new conservation initiative is particularly significant as the reserve is bounded by two major river systems the Caledon and Orange.
The protected areas and game reserves that surround Lake !Gariep give sanctuary to a wide diversity of wildlife species, which are endemic to the semi-desert areas of the central Karoo.

Ecotourism activities within the protected areas of Lake !Gariep include game viewing by private vehicle, walking trails under the supervision of professional guides, angling, ornithology and the simplistic and intrinsic value of exploring wild and unspoilt landscapes.
Lake !Gariep offers a tremendous diversity of adventure tourism activities, the majority of which are water related. The 360 km˛ lake surface offers superb opportunities for yachting, sunset cruises, power boating and skiing.
An unique house-boat operation, similar to those based on lake Kariba, is to be initiated during 2004 and based at the small town of Oviston. The shoreline provides the fisherman with a diversity of angling activities, including fly-fishing and bait fishing for yellowfish, tilapia and mudfish.

Downstream of Lake !Gariep, the perennial Orange River offers a variety of adventure tourism activities, including river rafting, kayaking, abseiling, horse trails, hiking and flyfishing.

In this special feature a bird's eye view is presented of the Lake !Gariep Tourism Route together with the stakeholders and product owners will actually make up this route.

New Lake !Gariep Tourism Route to unlock central South Africa

• Johann Dannhauser

One of the highest impacting developments in the central region of South Africa for a long time, takes place this month with the formal introduction of the new Lake !Gariep Tourism Route. Spanning three provinces around the country's largest inland water mass, the route is inescapably to impact reverberatingly on tourism development, economic progress, ecological management, job creation, social advancement and other developments in the surrounding area.

Completed in 1971 as an outstanding achievement by any standards in structural and social engineering, the immense potential of Lake       !Gariep (first known as the Verwoerd Dam) has yet not nearly been fully exploited. Now an integrated tourism route around the dam has been structured in such a way that for the first time the true socio-economic potential of the dam and its adjacent areas is being purposefully addressed.

The Lake !Gariep Tourism Route is the result of long and meticulous planning by a triprovincial Working Group, known as the Lake !Gariep Initiative, representing the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape Governments and complemented by the Ukhahlamba District Municipality and the Gariep Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape, the Xhariep District Municipality and the Kopanong Local Municipality in the Free State and the Bo-Karoo District Municipality and the Umsobomvu Local Municipality in the Northern Cape, together with a host of private stakeholders and tourism product owners. The process came to a head in January this year an Implementation Action Plan was approved.

The first phase of this plan comprises the introduction and development of the Lake !Gariep Tourism Route. Further phases comprise other socio-economic sectoral developments, such as SMME promotion, agro-processing, etc. - all aimed to develop the region as an integrated, cross-border unit.
As such the Lake !Gariep Initiative is an exemplary example in South Africa of what can be achieved through co-operative communication and synergy between various provincial governments and municipalities, between the public and private sectors and between various population groups. This seems especially true if all sorts of hidden political agendas and selfish demands are being kept in abeyance.

An idea of the content and magnitude of the Lake !Gariep Tourism Route is being presented on pages 4 - 11 of this edition of the Free State Business Bulletin. Although clearly still in its infancy stage, the initiative unmistakably has all the potential of a giant in the making, set to unlock socio-economically the central part of South Africa.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for this momentum now put into motion, is to keep it above the social ills and material greed that such rapid progress invariably attracts. Especially to protect the ecological richness of the region notwithstanding economic progress, which can even reach the extent of a mini-Gauteng powerhouse, would pose a particular challenge.

Socio-economic impact of the route

With the development of the Lake !Gariep Tourism Route, various tourism related projects around the lake were identified to alleviate poverty and to create unique tourism products.

  • At Bethulie, The house of Litema, is a group of women who produce unique and traditionally hand-manufactured items. They create unique beadwork which are sold at the tourism office. The tourism office is privately owned and is a good example of a private investor who reaches out to the community to create job opportunities and alleviate poverty.
  • At Gariep Dam, the Hydro Weavers group was established through funding by the LEDF programme. This project developed into a larger Craft Centre and through funding by the National Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, a Tourism Centre was built in which handcrafts of local crafters are sold.

R9 million injection for Lake !Gariep tourism

The national Dept. of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) has allocated R9 million for specific developments concerning the Lake         !Gariep Tourism Route currently been developed around Lake Gariep, traversing three provinces. The R9 million has been made available through DEAT's Social Responsibility Project Unit for the 2005/06 financial year.
Of the amount, R3 is earmarked for a Lake !Gariep Communication Centre with IT facilities, the Bethulie Tourism Office, a Management Plan for the Oviston Nature Reserve, tourism signage and the Oviston Lake !Gariep Resort, while R6 is earmarked for the Vanderkloof Visitors Site, the Lake Gariep houseboat project and again for tourism signage.
This allocation is seen as confirmation of the general consensus that development of the Lake !Gariep Tourism Route forms the flagship development project for unlocking meaningful socio-economic development in the central region of SA.  

Gariep Dam to become developmental pivot in central SA

 Planning is in an advanced stage to establish an Environmental Economic Development Zone (EEDZ) at Gariep Dam at a total project cost of R275 million. Driven by a tripartite provincial initiative between the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provincial governments, the EEDZ involves 14 significant projects aimed at creating some 3 000 jobs in one of the poorest regions in South Africa.
News on the project was officially broken by the Free State Premier, Ms. Winkie Direko, at a news conference in Bloemfontein on 29 January 2004 following a meeting of the Free State Executive Council. The project is based on identified opportunities to unlock huge potential in environmental conservation, tourism and agriculture in the region surrounding the Gariep Dam. In a draft implementation plan, a co-operative partnership is proposed between the three provinces adjoining Gariep Dam, namely the Free State, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, and which would enable the community, the public sector and the private sector to invest in environmental biodiversity, conservation, eco-tourism, LED and agriculture.

Also notable is that Gariep Dam is to be renamed Lake !Gariep (or "Gariepmeer" in Afrikaans). Similar to what Industrial Development Zones (IDZ) such as Coega, Richards Bay and East London have done for their regions, Lake !Gariep EEDZ would offer a unique range of opportunities in the heart of South Africa where environmental and eco-economic programmes - instead of factories - could change people's lives and create wealth, quality of life and improved opportunities even for future generations.
A working group of the three provincial governments, local government's concerned, the private sector and the community, together with private consultants, has already done much spadework for the implementation of the co-ordinated project and is inter alia in a process of amalgamating the Xhariep and Tussen die Riviere reserves in the Free State, the Oviston reserve in the Eastern Cape and a 100km stretch of land adjacent to the Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape. 120 permanent jobs and 150 temporary jobs per year will be created through this part of the project. Tourism related activities will include hunting, power boating, an international gliding competition, boat houses, fishing, 4x4 trails and game drives.
Conservation benefits include complying with the requirements of the World Parks Congress and to this end will include the introduction of new and endangered species like cheetahs, raptors, hippopotamus, wild dogs, 4 of the big 5 animal species and black rhino. While a lot of detail obviously still needs to be ironed out, the parameters announced for the tripartite project seems sound and destined to create a whole new economic and developmental ball game in central South Africa.


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