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Few enter Zimbabwe by wading barefoot across the cool, shallow water of the Limpopo River. Even less people can say they have done it escorted by Chief Maluleke from the Makuleke Clan.
Yet this is exactly what the participants of the third ever Pafuri Cross Border Trail did. As usual, it included the honour of attending a Shangane festival in Zimbabwe, from the trail basecamp in neighbouring Kruger National Park.
Opportunities such as these present themselves because the countries are part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), a joint transboundary conservation initiative between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The initiative presents unique opportunities to use tourism development as a vehicle to facilitate regional conservation based socio-economic development.
“The GLTFCA has identified a range of cross-border tourism products that can be developed within the context of the transboundary initiative and in partnership with a range of key stakeholders,” says coordinator Piet Theron. These products include transboundary wilderness trails, self-drive 4×4 trails, and the development of a cross-border tourism node within the Pafuri/Sengwe area that forms the heart of the GLTFCA.
Based on the success of the 2013 pilot Pafuri Cross Border Trail and Shangane Festival, and the 2014 event, the implementation of this exciting cross-border tourism product continued this year. The event was operated by ReturnAfrica for the first time, which took over the reins of the Wilderness Safaris concession in the Makuleke area (in Kruger National Park, South Africa). The trail, which was run from 9 to 12 October, was completed by two groups of six people each and operated across the Makuleke area and into the Sengwe area (in Zimbabwe). The trail included a trip to a Shangane festival in the village Samu, which is located in the Sengwe area.
This year, Chief Maluleke from the Makuleke Clan participated in the Shangane Festival, which was hosted by Chief Sengwe from the Sengwe community. The Makuleke and the Sengwe communities have strong cultural ties, which made the walk across the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe by Chief Maluleke symbolically a significant event. The occasion also served to cement the cross border cultural linkages between these two clans.
Based on the success of this trail, planning for a wider range of cross-border tourism products in the Pafuri area has already started. According to Theron, these could include a similar hiking trail linked to a cultural festival, nature-based wilderness trails and a mountain biking event. All of these will involve at least two or possibly three of the partner countries of the GLTFCA initiative. “This in turn will ensure that local communities in all three countries receive tangible benefits from tourism development in the area.”