Mpumalanga – Place of the Rising Sun

By Raine St.Claire

Known for its stunning natural landscapes with waterfalls, wetlands, forests, and Savannahs teeming with wildlife, Mpumalanga is considered one of South Africa’s most geographically diverse regions. Renowned for its breathtaking natural scenery characterised by the convergence of cascading waterfalls, wetlands, dense forests and Savannahs filled with roaming wildlife, this province is considered as one of the most geographically diverse places in South Africa.

It comes as no surprise then that the De Berg Nature Reserve, situated over 2 300 metres above sea level, the highest-altitude wetlands in the region, was recently crowned as South Africa’s 30th Ramsar site, a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, administered by UNESCO. Within this grassland biome, the reserve features pristine valleys, wetlands, and mountain streams, supporting a rich variety of plant and animal life, including numerous threatened and endangered species. The reserve hosts 878 indigenous plant species, 30 of which are threatened. Among these is a new species of bulbine discovered in the reserve’s valleys; home to 18 frog species, 71 reptile species, 432 bird species, and 120 mammal species, including unique wildlife like Vandam’s girdled lizard, various cranes, and the mountain reedbuck.

Rare and vulnerable species, such as flocks of up to 30 southern bald ibis, can be found roosting near Ibis Falls, one of the reserve’s ten iconic waterfalls. Although wetlands cover less than 3% of South Africa’s land, they play a vital role in flood control, water purification, and storage. Estuaries, marshes, rivers, lakes, and their biodiversity are essential for health, food supply, tourism, and employment.

The Department’s Working for Wetlands Programme, initiated in 2000, has invested over R1.4 billion in restoring 1 873 wetlands, creating 43 662 jobs. The South African National Biodiversity Institute contributes to wetland conservation through research and mapping of these critical sites. Minister Barbara Creecy emphasised the significance of conserving and restoring wetlands and the importance of partnerships to “monitor, protect, and rehabilitate wetlands” keeping them free of litter and invasive alien plant species. Opportunities like this are crucial in Mpumalanga, which recorded the country’s highest quarterly loss (-3.8%) in 2023.

Employment Challenges

In Q1 2023, employment in Mpumalanga increased by 2.4 percentage points, accounting for 7.0% of South African employment. With 713 361 unemployed, 39.1% were new entrants, and 29.5% had recently lost their jobs. 27.3% of the unemployed in Mpumalanga reported not working for more than five years. 47.8% of youth (15-34 years) in Mpumalanga were not employed or in education, highlighting the ongoing unemployment challenge in the province.

Glimmers Of Hope For Job Creation

New connection sparks tourism and job creation potential for Mpumalanga:

Alongside Cape Town, the Kruger National Park (KNP) in Mpumalanga is South Africa’s most popular tourist destination. These two locations, however, are situated in opposite corners, making travel between them inconvenient and costly. To address this, FlySafair, the low-cost airline, will launch a direct route between Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) starting in April 2024. The new route will offer eight roundtrip flights per month, aiming to boost tourism by encouraging Western Cape residents and international visitors to explore both Cape Town’s urban charm and the KNP wilderness, contributing to the overall growth of tourism in South Africa.


Cape Town saw a 76% increase in international tourism from January to July last year. In the first half of 2023, CTIA had a 9% year-on-year growth, welcoming 3.2-million domestic travellers, benefiting local tourist attractions. Airports Company South Africa, CEO Mpumi Mpofu highlights the growth in urban and safari tourism, emphasising the positive impact this route will have on inbound tourism.

Matsamo CPA projects ‘a blueprint for land reform:

Inala Farm, situated in Nkomazi near Malelane, Mpumalanga, was a flagship land reform project. Once a thriving estate with an estimated turnover of R16.4-million, the farm became severely neglected after accumulating over R20-million in debt. Six months ago, Inala was a decaying farm, with banana, mango, and litchi orchards and sugar cane plantations dying. Now, thanks to the Matsamo Communal Property Association (CPA), the 1 300-hectare property is undergoing revival and signs of its former glory from a decade ago, when it exported products to Europe and the Middle East, are visible.

Matsamo CPA, along with a strategic partner, invested R25-million to clear 300 hectares for sugar cane and papaya. Currently, 131 hectares of sugar cane have been planted as part of this revitalisation effort. As a prime land beneficiary worth over R800-million, Matsamo CPA successfully runs projects without government funding. Engaging in joint ventures, reinvesting profits, and leasing land to agricultural companies, the CPA has paid R8million in annual dividends, offered bursaries, and supported public institutions over the past decade. About 90% of Mpumalanga land reform projects and reform projects, covering about 9- million hectares, have collapsed due to government’s lack of an after-care plan and became unproductive for various reasons, such as squabbles among beneficiaries and a lack of funding.

Deputy President Paul Mashatile, after visiting the Matsamo CPA projects, said, “From government’s side, we want to see what they are doing and learn from their experiences because we want to replicate this throughout the country. We have realised that in land restitution and redistribution projects, when people acquire the land they do not use it productively. Matsamo is an example of what needs to be done.” Mbuso Thumbathi, CEO of Phahlane AgriSolutions, emphasised the importance of forward-looking leadership and stable environments for successful investments. Matsamo CPA’s strategic partnership with Tomahawk, South Africa’s largest litchi producer and a major producer of citrus, bananas, mangoes, papayas, and sugar cane, that exports to Russia, Canada, China, Singapore, Europe, and the Middle East, showcases success through aligned values and clear conditions.

The stability and entrepreneurial spirit of Matsamo CPA members have attracted further investments, including a R62-million state-of-the art packhouse at Tomahawk. This packhouse is set to expand citrus production and increase employment opportunities in the region. However, the CPA runs Laughing Waterfall banana estate on its own as a pilot project. It developed the estate with R5-million raised from leasing other farms and aims to eventually run all its projects similarly when joint venture contracts expire. The success of Matsamo CPA is evident of how land reform projects can contribute to a more resilient future for Mpumalanga.

Mpumalanga Green Solutions Challenge

The Mpumalanga Green Solutions Challenge, organised by the Mpumalanga Green Cluster Agency in partnership with GreenCape and the UK PACT, invited innovators and entrepreneurs with green economy businesses in Mpumalanga to participate. Held on November 1, 2023, the challenge aimed to support economically viable green solutions for sustainable development in the region. Samanjalo, an Emalahleni-based fly ash beneficiation business converting coal waste into eco-friendly construction products, and Green Guru, a female-owned local waste management business, emerged as winners of the Mpumalanga Green Solutions Pitch Challenge.

They secured cash prizes from Seriti Green (a responsible coalproducing company) and Enertrag (an alternative energy producer). House Harvest Produce, an aquaponics startup selling leafy greens and fish using a circular model of waste management by incorporating Black Soldier Fly, received the youth-focused prize from the Anglo American Foundation. Gugulethu Mahlangu from the 100% black female-owned urban smart farms establishment emphasised that this recognition cements their business idea and gives hope for achieving climate-smart solutions. Judges included representatives from the Presidential Climate Commission, the British High Commission, Grindstone, Untapped Global, the Anglo America Foundation, and Seriti Green.

British High Commissioner Antony Phillipson highlighted the UK’s commitment to support funding initiatives. “Mpumalanga’s transition to cleaner forms of energy is integral to helping South Africa meet its climate change commitments. This is why the UK is dedicated to funding initiatives like the Green Solutions Pitch Challenge, where we have the chance to support green innovations in strategic sectors of the province.”

“For me and the Presidential Climate Commission, this marks the start of activating and stimulating green entrepreneurship among the innovative and talented young people in Mpumalanga. Real people, doing real things, for real impact,” emphasised Dipak Patel from the Presidential Climate Commission. Excited about the opportunities it opens up for their team, Stacey Lee Engelbrecht from Green Guru Solutions explained that the implementation of Black Soldier Fly farming for sustainable food waste disposal in Mbombela and surrounding areas marks a significant step forward.

An overjoyed Prudence Simelane from Samanjalo, reinforced her belief that, “Winning this challenge is all in the timing, as long as you continue to wake up with hope, give every opportunity your best shot, treat it like it is the first one. “This was the day we needed to remind us of hope.” Opportunities like this highlight the potential for sustainable solutions, promoting a greener and more resilient future. These initiatives not only tackle environmental challenges but also create jobs, boost economic growth, and foster a sustainable and inclusive society. Through innovation and entrepreneurship, they contribute to environmental stewardship while providing meaningful employment and positive community impact.

Source: Department of Tourism and Industry/ Mining Weekly / Mpumalanga Green Solutions/Engineering News / African Farming

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