Phalaborwa, Limpopo’s most north eastern town, is a gateway into the Kruger National Park (KNP) – otherwise named after the great river from both Zimbabwe and Mozambique, with the latter having named it the Parque Nacional do Limpopo. This not so big town of Phalaborwa – a Sotho word loosely translated as “better than the south” – draws the imaginary line that marks the end of the 75% of the entire South African portion of the park which falls under Limpopo province – stretching from the Punda Maria gate not far from Thohoyandou in Vhembe district. 

Yes, stop it! There’s no region of the country called Venda. I’ve seen one comrade shamelessly trying to defend such usage on social media which I believe inadvertently justified the violent political tensions in Vuwani fanned by tribalism. This reminded me of that ill-conceived rebranding of the North West province into Bokone Bophirima (a translation of north west into Setswana) – which naively brought back Bophuthatswana tribal arrogance whose trend I have seen been unconsciously continued since 1994 when each of the premier the province has had have tried to be eloquent only in Setswana as if Kgosi Lucas Mangope was their yardstick of oratory excellence which could win them mass support from Batswana – as if other tribes in the province do not matter. I’m talking the national question here. The same allies to the misconceived nation of the Zulu “nation” purported by the mainstream media – it’s a tribe for Christ’s sake! Sorry for my detour, but this has to be said. 

Back to my subject of Phalaborwa being a gateway into the KNP, yes, you’re reading me right: only 25% portion of the park falls under Mpumalanga – blame the misperception on the unmatched ingenuity of marketing excellence of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA). 

The Phalaborwa Gate into the KNP takes you to the Giriyondo border post which leads you into Mozambique’s Masingiri province. I had the pleasure of doing this route from Xai-Xai in 2006 as I returned from visiting the Gaza province as part of Premier Sello Moloto’s delegation aimed at strengthening structured bilateral relations between Limpopo and its Mozambican counterpart through a twinning agreement. By the way, Mozambique’s Gaza province is the original and not apartheid’s creation, through Prof Hudson Ntswanisi, Gazankulu bantustan – that claimed seniority. Joe Maswanganyi had previously written extensively on social media about the migration from Mozambique to South Africa – highly impressive and educational.

Although as the entire Limpopo delegation to Xai-Xai we drove there through Mpumalanga into Maputo, I managed to recruit the few who could be as crazy as I to drive back home through the transfrontier park. It was easy for me as I drove a Landrover Defender, so it was comfortable on the dirt road inside the park.

But before I wax more lyrical about the KNP, let me tell you about some tiny wonders of nature that Phalaborwa is endowed with – namely, marula. I have covered this in my previous comment about the need to develop regional tour packages. The potency of the fermented marula juice was canonised by Jamie Uys in his seminal film, “Beautiful People” a multiple award-winning wildlife documentary film that observed many wild animals over a period of time until one day they indulged in eating the marula fruit that fell of the tree and the heat of the Kalahari desert sun had fermented the fruit.

The film showed how staggeringly the intoxicated animals undertook cautious and conscious steps like Johnny Walker as they moved away to their sanctuaries. Typical of their cheerful character engraved in their DNA, the drunk monkeys merrily and cheerfully danced the evening away.

This cheerfulness is a common occurrence in Phalaborwa after the marula harvesting season as the women elders brew the marula fruit beer from these tiny wonders of nature. Legend says the marula beer did not only serve as a concoction for merrymaking, but was also used as a contraceptive as it was meant to knock those men who indulged in it into deep slumber, so they wouldn’t make love to their partners.

I experienced the magic of these wonders in 2006 when we went to attend a provincial meeting at the then prestigious Hans Merensky Estate (rumour, sadly, has it that it’s deteriorating). A friend, colleague and comrade Evans Selomo brought a container of the brew from the locals. Yes, I had asked him to organise it. The two of us locked ourselves in his room after dinner to indulge. I enjoyed it. The facility’s rules said no guest should walk at night from one room to another as there were animals roaming – it’s divided by a fence with the KNP. Yes, we indulged as we engaged in vociferous gymnastics intellectualising about the state of communication in the province. To cut the long story short, I found myself in my room the next morning – I couldn’t recall how I got there. Yes, throughout the province, it was only that political leader nicknamed “The Animal” and I with the reputation to indulge until 3h00 and yet be ready for full breakfast and for our first meeting at 8h00 without oversleeping and a babalaas. Iron discipline!

Realising this brewing potential and talent, commercial distillers such as Distell then adopted the traditional brewing techniques and gave the alcoholic beverage from this fruit a post-modernist African beverage touch. They thus produced a liqueur they named “Amarula”. The name is the reconfiguration of the original Sotho name for the tree, “morula” (singularly used), and “Amarula” (a plural adaptation of the original name).

Amarula is a sweet and creamy liqueur. It is made with sugar, cream and the marula tree fruit. Unlike many other cream liqueurs, Amarula is not made from a whisky or brandy base. The marula fruit is distilled to produce a fruit spirit base.

The scientific name given to this African marula tree is “Sclerocarya birrea”, which is also locally called the Elephant tree or the Marriage Tree. It has an alcohol content of 17% by volume. Almost anyone who has read a travel brochure about Africa has heard of elephants getting drunk from the fruit of the marula tree. The lore holds that elephants can get drunk by eating the fermented fruit rotting on the ground. Uys has demonstrated this.

In 2007 while I served as an executive at then Trade and Investment Limpopo (TIL), I arranged a provincial trade and investment mission, led by Premier Moloto, to the Western Cape. In our itinerary was also a visit to Distell offices to go register our discomfort that Phalaborwa’s produce was creating sustainable jobs in that province while the harvesters of marula were employed seasonally, we argued the company needed to invest in long term projects in this town for its economic development.

It is behind this background that the Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality has to be the custodian of all events celebrating the marula tree by ensuring the cultural and economic benefits accruing make a difference in the lives of the people of Phalaborwa and the surrounding areas. The marula tree does impact on the local economic development as it creates job opportunities for the locals beyond just it being the source of merrymaking. 

The province, through the Limpopo Economuc Development Agency, used to host the annual Marula Festival in Phalaborwa. This was one of the pair of festivals that were hosted in the province – the other being the Mapungubwe  Jazz Festival held in Polokwane. But the two have never reached iconic status like tge Cape Town International Jazz Festivals because of the short term project management model that the province – under the pretext of compliance with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) – was imposing on its organisation. While Mapungubwe Jazz Festival was the brainchild of Bruce Kgapane of Ziyaphenduka Promotions, it was soon taken away from him and thrown into the public tender system. In my books, this was an infringement of the intellectual property laws of the country – but the province was lucky that he didn’t register it as a trade mark. But even if he did, we know what lengths government using state resources may go in intimidating an SME – last week, though I didn’t go into the specifics, I’ve spoken about such challenges. The Marula Festival has always been a government property.

Though the principle of supplier rotation is noble, it doesn’t work in the strategic imperative of building the two festivals as sustainable brands. Take a leaf from the Cape Town jazz jamboree: it is OWNED by espAfrika but ENDORSED by both the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Provincial Government and the national Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. Its ownership is critical because it means the organisers, who are the BRAND OWNERS, may negotiate long term strategic partnerships with sponsors, airlines, tourism agencies, music industry, corporates and even with their peers across the world. Without belabouring the last point, it was easy for me while on a diplomatic posting to forge a partnership between espAfrica and the Turin International Jazz Festival. 

The point I’m making is that appointing a service provider on a short term basis to project manage the event isn’t sustainable. As someone who spent twenty years in the public sector, I know event management can’t be government’s competence but the state could become an excellent BRAND CUSTODIAN. Secondly, the cultural bonanza has to be international as we’re part of the global community – and in our case, let’s also attract regional audiences from the 15 SADC member states who have a population of over 200 million. Let it build brands that could be on everyone’s annual calendars – everyone knows all roads lead to Cape Town in March.

The cultural bonanza has to piggyback on the twinning agreement between Limpopo and Xai-Xai which has been gathering dust. This has to transform it into a living document particularly now as we talk about the integration of the region and the continent through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Before signing off, this has been a rewarding week for me as I continued appearing on Thobela FM – one of the SABC’s major radio stations – talking about the latest on Aftica’s integration project. Words aren’t sufficient to eloquently capture how grateful I am to the sassy Nkgadimeng  Kekana, the programme anchor of Ntshirogele (“inform me”) and her team. This veteran presenter is a journalism graduate from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) who has broadened her horizons within the media and entertainment industry by working in both radio and television. She is also a graduate from the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute. As the station pay offline says: “moshito o tswella pele” (“let the rhythm flow”).

Enjoy your weekend.

Saul Molobi
Publisher: Jambo Africa Online

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