Programme Directors, Messrs Zakes Garrine and Sydney Baloyi; Hosi Shilungwa Cydrick Mhinga II; Mr EPP Mhinga, the Chairperson of the Mhinga Royal Council and other members of the Royal Council; members of the Traditional Authority; the Premier of the Province, the Honourable Dr Ramathlodi; the Honourable Mr Thaba Mufamadi, MEC for Finance, Economic Affairs, Tourism and Environmental Affairs; other Honourable Ministers present; members of Parliament; His Worship the Mayor of Thohoyandou, Mr TN Makumbane and Councillors; the Reverend RN Khoza; Mr Mavuso Msimang, Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Parks; Dr Elijah Maswanganyi; other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Today we gather in one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa to celebrate the success of a community development project which has far exceeded our greatest expectations. Wisani Lodge has grown up out of this soil, the remarkable substance of a bold vision, unfolded through the determined effort of the Mhinga tribe, and the brainchild of its traditional leader, Hosi Shilungwa Cydrick Mhinga. By itself, this place sings the praises of its people. Their history is written on its soil. Their courage is emblazoned on its new face. The development which has taken place here speaks of every great hope and every aspiring dream we have for the future of our country. Here, a vision has been given flesh and a community has grown stronger, closer, more prosperous and forever filled with hope and enthusiasm for what might be achieved and what can be grasped.

I am honoured to attend today’s celebration of the Wisani Lodge and cultural village and to officially open this development. What we see before us is a testimony both to the spirit of excellence, and to the possibilities flowing from good leadership. The development of this project began not only with a vision for a prosperous and independent people, but from the basis of good old-fashioned business sense. I must commend Hosi Mhinga for stepping into his father’s shoes with the courage of making greater footprints in the history of this community than ever before. The Mhinga people have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings for generation upon generation. This community has always known how to draw the best possible benefit from its environment. Today, it takes that knowledge to new and tremendously exciting heights.

Environmental preservation is quintessential to our African tradition. Since time immemorial, we as Africans have pioneered the field of nature conservation, recognising our intimate relationship with the land, the fauna and flora. Maintaining the balance in our natural environment has been a matter of life or death for our people for generations. Our grandfathers and their grandfathers before them knew that if they over-hunted any animal, there would be none of that animal to hunt tomorrow. Eating tomorrow demanded wisdom and preservation today. Over centuries, we as Africans developed a fine-tuned sensibility to nature, learning the responsibility which came with the gift of bounty, and teaching our children so that the inheritance might be passed on.

In time, the sense of responsibility towards our natural environment has etched its way into the heart of our culture. It is simply a part of who we are. With this African heart beating in my own chest, I have dedicated much of my life to the cause of environmental conservation and the preservation of our unique wildlife. Out of this sense of tradition I have created a policy of government which preceded most other environmental efforts in South Africa. I am proud to have achieved many milestones in this area through continued, determined, passionate efforts, which I have shared with like-minded, responsible South Africans. In the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, we established programmes to protect our natural heritage, years before it became politically correct to do so.

I took many stands in favour of environmental protection. In so doing, I spoke with the voice of my ancestors, with the voice of my people, and with a voice which echoes out of the history of Africa. Historically, Africans have never hunted for pleasure or without prudence. It was understandably painful for our ancestors to witness the white man coming in with rifles to destroy animals for pleasure. Looking down the corridors of time, our ancestors feared a future stripped bare of the riches our country owns. Even then, something rose within our people. We felt then, as we do now, the protectiveness of children over the mother who has given us life.

This tradition of protectiveness, environmental awareness and responsibility towards nature, has grown together with our people and remains an intimate part of our identity. Environmental conservation is a provincial competence for which we must assume responsibility both individually and collectively across South Africa. We should not think that provinces are incapable of performing the task of dealing with environmental issues adequately and properly. In fact, I firmly believe that the responsibility of managing the environment and protecting nature should be primarily carried out by provinces. In KwaZulu Natal, we have a unique track record in nature conservation and our Parks Board is a source of pride and an example for the whole of South Africa. We must build on this track record to show that we as a province can do more and better, without the necessary tutelage of the central government, but with co-operation from the national Department responsible for the particular line function.

This land belongs to every South African. It belongs to every hand which sows into this soil, and to every eye that gazes at an African sunset and feels the awe of the gift over which we are custodians. We can, we should, and we must, look after what we have been given. Knowing this, I am proud of the Mhinga Tribe and what it has achieved for nature conservation in this province. I am proud of the manner in which it has looked to traditional wisdom and built on what we already know. At the base of this community project lies an age-old responsibility that speaks of commitment to posterity, prudence and harmony.

You have already heard that the grant of R6 million which made this project possible came from the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, from its poverty relief fund. You are aware that my colleague, the Honourable Mohammed Valli Moosa, our National Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, was supposed to be here with us today. When I received conflicting messages that this function was postponed, and later was assured that Hosi Mhinga who had invited me, still felt I should come and deliver the key-note address, I consulted my colleague, Minister Moosa, who gave me the assurance that he had no objection to me accepting the invitation from Hosi Mhinga. It is encouraging to see the co-operation between the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

My heart swells with satisfaction to witness the Wisani Lodge taking its place at the gateway to the Peace Parks. Throughout my life, I have always championed the cause of sustainable rural development, speaking time and again on the values of self-help and self-reliance. I believe these to be the twin pillars of prosperity for all our people, knowing that until we can help ourselves, we remain without hope. From a mind which shares this foundational knowledge, Hosi Mhinga brought forth the notion of bringing tourism into the net of profitable activities for this community. During a drought, with crops failing all around, he recognised the precarious hold a people can maintain over the reigns of nature. Its sheer unbridled majesty can shape the lives of people dependent on the soil and the rain. Yet this same majesty holds a promise of its own.

The promise of this place is that we will always stand in awe of it. Man is attracted by places he has not yet tamed. His soul remembers a way of life left behind. The hunter is kindled. The natural desire for quiet, for harmony, for simplicity is reawakened. It is for these things that he continually packs up his family, leaves the rat-race and comes out into nature to restore his balance. Holidaying in nature is deeply South African. We are a nation proud of our natural heritage and rich bounty of unblemished, beautiful, wild land. As a South African and an African, I have always stood firmly on the side of nature conservation and the protection of our natural environment. I see this as part of who we are. If we wish our children to recognise their roots and celebrate the treasure of our unique heritage, we must preserve for them and their posterity the animals, plants and land of our beloved country.

South Africans will always come to places like Wisani Lodge. As a new spirit spreads across Europe, Europeans are also increasingly seeking the experience we have enjoyed for generations. Our world is changing and, as horizons disappear, tourism is growing. The benefits of the tourist industry have been harnessed by the Mhinga Community Development Trust. The Wisani Lodge and cultural village have been well-planned and specifically created to meet an existing and a growing need. The experience to be gained here is one of comfort in the midst of simplicity. It is also a truly African experience in that our culture is celebrated and promoted through entrepreneurial opportunities, encompassing the making and sale of traditional arts and crafts.

I understand that there are numerous opportunities through which local people may provide services, become employed and assist in the ongoing development of Wisani Lodge, the cultural village and the overall project of the Trust. Even as the project attracts outside investors, the community Trust will maintain a large shareholding. This is wise not only for the benefit of the local people, but also for the success of any future project, as this community will take ownership of new developments and pour their support, effort and experience into it. I am pleased that the community will remain interwoven and involved, and will benefit every step of the way as this camp begins to turn a profit. By continually ploughing back into the community, development here remains a sustainable venture.

In South Africa, tourism has the potential to generate a sustainable and considerable contribution towards our country’s economy. We are blessed with a rich diversity of natural attractions, unmatched in many countries throughout the world. If we are to capitalise on this industry, we need to look at what tourists expect, want and appreciate. In this regard, I feel I must mention that even if we have comfortable lodging, adequate amenities, beautiful game parks and a unique history, tourists come to meet the people as much as to see the country. In many ways, the people make the country. I am impressed that the Mhinga projects have included the concept of a boma with a stage for traditional dancing. Few arts express so fully the African spirit of joy, unity and community, and the true ethos and pathos of our people, as does our dancing. Yet foreign tourists will consider their waiter as much an ambassador for South Africa as the traditional dancers or singers.

Simply put, the success of this project will be built on the backs of ordinary people. Time and again throughout my career in politics and as a leader of my people, I have witnessed the immeasurable strength and patriotism which wells up when hearts are knit together in a single purpose of goodwill and collective good. I know what can be achieved when ordinary men and women begin to dream, and take the first steps towards making their dream a reality. Indeed, I believe that our creator loves dreamers. I believe that when we choose to reach up out of the depths of our human condition, towards the stars, power comes alongside us and lifts us higher. We have seen this happen in the community of Mhinga. A vision has been realised. A plan has come together. The people have won through. A spirit of excellence and foresight weaves through this project of the Mhinga Community Development Trust. As a champion of excellence, I recognise the potential within this community and wait with eager anticipation to hear of their success in this and other endeavours. For these future projects, I wish the Mhinga tribe everything of the best.

Clearly the development of Wisani Lodge and the cultural village, and the further developments beginning as stages of this project press forward, are the result of good leadership. Without a good head, the body falters. Today, as we officially open the Wisani Lodge, I wish to pay due tribute to Hosi Mhinga, who has given the example of a true traditional leader, leading his people according to their best interests. The institution of traditional leadership remains the backbone of our Kingdom. As the custodians of our culture, customs and traditions, our amaKhosi embody a way of life we have known since time immemorial. The role of our amaKhosi is always to express the collective good of our people, and they do so as stewards of generations of wisdom, knowledge and experience.

In the Mhinga tribe, the institution of traditional leadership has proved itself an institution of excellence and commitment to serving. Hosi Shilungwa Mhinga, a man of letters and learning, a man of great standing and recognised position, a man of good business sense and vision, indeed a man of the people, has displayed a harmonious merging of modern and traditional ways. As a true Hosi, Hosi Mhinga has proven the truth of words I have spoken for many years. A truly modern and truly African South Africa is indeed possible. The African Renaissance must be a merging of what we have known for generations in Africa, and what generations outside Africa have already learnt. Our African-ness is not a feature of the past, to be left behind as we walk into the dawn of a new millennium. It is indeed our guide as we embrace a changing world.

Our identity as Africans speaks of strength, history, perseverance, victory, courage and boldness. Our amaKhosi are essential to that identity. Now that we have emerged from the tragic episodes of our past into democracy, political enfranchisement and a quest for nation-building, we need to look at new ways of doing things that build on the ways we already know. I firmly believe that new is better than old. But I also know that new comes out of old and a house built with no foundations will quickly fall. It is good to see development projects like Wisani Lodge being established within a rural community. Its successful completion speaks volumes about the opportunities we may grasp when we set our hearts towards self-help and self-reliance as a means to prosperity. This new lodge, built on the foundation of age-old wisdom and community solidarity, will surely stand as a proud testimony to the merging of modernity with our traditional way of life.

With these words, it is my great privilege to declare the Wisani Lodge and cultural village of the Mhinga Community Development Trust officially open.