Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands


Land-Ocean Interactions
 in the Coastal Zone


Progress report on the preliminary impact of the Tonga Beach lodge on the Mabibi community

M. R. Jury, A. Mthembu and G. Mulder (survey leaders)
Centre for Environmental Studies University of Zululand

January 2005

1 Background
2 Natural Attractions
3 Development Issues
4 Preliminary impression of the impact of Tonga Lodge
5 References

Tourism is regarded as an industry that promotes contact between people and cultures. As people travel and stay in places outside their home environment, they meet people in the area of destination and also learn about a foreign culture. In addition tourism has the capacity to play a strategic role in the economic development of communities. In recent years South Africa has embraced the notion of tourism as a potential solution to the country's economic needs (Kepe, 2001). With this paradigm shift in tourism, South Africa has experienced an increase in the number of overseas tourists to over 2 million in 2004. According to Rogerson (2001) the country's role as a symbol of peaceful transition to post apartheid democracy created a magnet for international tourists.

Tourism has been recognised as means of empowering people economically and has the potential to contribute significantly to the GNP (Magi and Nzama, 2002). The same strategy has been adopted by Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative (LSDI) in the creation of the infrastructure bringing tourism investment in Maputaland. The infrastructure includes the development of a road network and the establishment of tourism nodes. In Mabibi a tourism node has been established where the new Tonga Lodge has recently been commissioned. This lodge is geared for upmarket tourists and generates 20-25 jobs and over R 1 million in income to the tribal authority for infrastructure development in community areas. Here we provide a progress report on the preliminary impact of this development in the context of earlier perceptions, surveyed in the period 2002-2003.


1. Background

Mabibi village consists of 200 traditional households in an isolated rural setting on the coast about 20 km north of the town of Mbazwana. The socio economic activities of the majority of the inhabitants include subsistence agriculture, selling of goods, harvesting of natural resources from the lake, sea and forest (Mthembu, 2001). There are two schools, pre-primary and primary school, which serve the area. There is a health clinic situated next to the primary school. The sandy roads make access difficult. Mabibi camp is situated within the coastal forest reserve in Maputaland near Hully Point. It covers an area of about 9 hectares. The camp is self-catered and consists of ten camping sites each with a tap water. There are ablution facilities centrally located in the camp, which are used communally. Although the area is part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, which is a World Heritage Site, the camp was a bit run-down and in need of commercialisation. This became the goal of the conservation agency in 2002 and plans were put in place to privatize and extend tourist development at Mabibi with a beachfront lodge.

Data on perceptions had been previously obtained from the three sources: (i) the tourists who visited the area (ii) Mabibi Camp records and (iii) the community of Mabibi. Questionnaires were the main instruments in the collection of data, applied to 136 visiting tourists and 87 local households. It was found that the majority of tourists are engaged in professional occupation (71%). About 26% of the tourists were in a technical occupation. The majority of the tourists (78%) come from five major cities of South Africa (Johannesburg, Durban, Richards Bay, Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg). It was found that majority of the tourists stay in Mabibi camp (38%) and Sodwana Lodge (38%). The recently introduced ban on beach driving has increased the tourism potential at Mabibi, as those visiting the beach to snorkel in the tidal pool would have to stay nearby.

The camp has experienced an increase in the monthly average number of tourists to over 200 in 2004. The peak months were January, April, June, July, September and December. The length of stay in the destination area was determined. It was found that the majority of the tourists (56%) stay for period ranging from 3 to 6 days. 96% came as a group in sizes ranging from 2 to 8 tourists.


2. Natural Attractions

The popularity of attractions in Mabibi was determined from the tourists. It was found that the sea, marine life, unspoilt wilderness and natural beauty of Mabibi areas served as the main attractions for the majority of the tourists. Other tourist attractions included the unspoilt beaches, quietness of the area, Lake Sibaya, great biodiversity and sunny weather. The extent, to which the tourists were attracted to the area, was noticed by the number of times that they have visited Mabibi. It was found that the majority of the tourists (63%) have visited the area more than once. About half of the tourists (48%) have visited the area more than two times. There were tourists (9%) who have visited the area more than 10 times.

It was determined whether the tourists take the natural resources from the area. It was found that the majority of tourists (88%) were not taking the natural resources home from the study area. The main resource that was taken by the tourists was fish. The recreation activities in which the majority of tourists (above 30%) were engaged include snorkelling, fishing, swimming, and scuba diving. Other recreation activities included bird watching and watersport activities. The level of interaction with local community was low, despite new trends in tourism that show that the tourists visit the destination with a view to understand the indigenous cultures, history and how local community live and work (Cooper, et al, 1999). It was found that the activities of the tourists in Mabibi did not include the visits to the community areas of Mabibi to learn more about the surrounding area, history and the culture of the people.


3. Development Issues

The tourists were asked to express their opinion on the extent and kind of development that is most desired. A proportion of tourists suggested extending eco-tourism activities, improved security, electrification of the camp, better ablution facilities, establishment of a launch site for diving at Mabibi and a market place for crafts.

The majority of community members (above 60%) wanted to see improvement of the road and the provision of water supply. There was a proportion of community members (18%) who expressed the need for shops and the creation of job opportunities.

Earlier studies have found that the natural beauty of the environment and its pristine state function as a magnet for Mabibi tourists. It is suggested that the new Tonga Beach Lodge development become a focal point for beachside development and tourist - community interaction. In conjunction, there is a need to create a variety of recreation activities such as visits to see hippos on Lake Sibaya, hiking trails in the coastal forest. A market where the community can sell their products to the tourist is needed to widen benefits from tourism.

4. Preliminary impression of the impact of Tonga Lodge

The Unesco project team visited Mabibi at the end of November 2004 and recorded a number of pictures during an inspection of facilities and an interview with the manager. We found an efficiently run lodge with high occupancy rates, and cordial community relations becoming established. In addition to the 20-25 jobs on offer, the community obtains a spin-off of profits that could amount to about R 1 million per annum, enough to promote tangible infrastructure developments in the wider community. Environmental impacts have been minimized and the new management are conservation biologists with commercial background, so will help maintain natural assets in the landscape. Subsequent discussions with the community indicated a good acceptance of the lodge and an increased awareness of the benefits of eco-tourism.

Mr Nhlonzi, junior manager.


Entrance to communal dining room.


Inside the communal dining room.


Upstairs: sitting room with a view.


Discussions with the community.

5. References

Cluster Consortium, 1999: South Africa's tourism challenge: a profile of the tourism cluster. Unpublished Discussion Report of the Cluster Consortium, Pretoria.

Cooper, C.; Fletcher, J; Gilbert, D. and Shepherd, R. (1999): Tourism: Principles and practice. Longman, New York.

Kepe, T. 2001: Tourism, protected areas and development in South Africa: views of visitors to Mkambati Nature Reserve. South Africa. Journal Of Wildlife Research 31(3&4): 155-159.

Magi, L.M. and Nzama, T.A. 2002: Perspectives on recreation and tourism geographies in South Africa. South African Geographical Journal. 84(1): 67-76)

Mthembu, A.T. (2001): Mabibi socio-economic survey. Communication to the Power and territories seminar. 1st October 2001, IRD, University of Zululand.

Rogerson, C.M. (2001): Tourism and Spatial Development Initiatives: The Case of the Maputo Development Corridor. South African Geographical Journal. 83(2): 124-136)


See other articles related to the UNESCO pilot project on 'Development-conservation strategies for integrated coastal management in Maputaland (South Africa, Mozambique)'


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