30 May 2005

CapeNature to close Gamkasberg and Swartberg 4x4 trails

Cash-strapped CapeNature will close its two 4x4 vehicle trails in the Swartberg and the Gamkasberg to cut costs, but will not to close any of its nature reserves.

David Daitz, CEO of CapeNature, said the board had considered closing some reserves to save money, but had decided that even those that were not profitable were making a contribution towards covering the organisation's overheads.

"We have a cash crunch and it's going to be a very difficult year for CapeNature, but we will survive," Daitz said.

This year's budget cut back heavily on transport and marketing.

In 2000, CapeNature had been transformed into a board, which allowed it to raise funds and to enter into public-private financial partnerships, Daitz said. It had aimed to raise R50 million over five years, R15m of which was to come from donor funds, R15m from public-private partnerships and R20m from the government.

CapeNature had raised R35m in donor funding, but this had created unforeseen financial problems.

"It was all project money and donors don't want to give money to the management costs of the project, which is 15% of any project value. They say the organisation must put that money in," Daitz said.

The donor funding from Cape Action Plan for the Environment (CAPE) went from the Global Environment Facility through the Wold Bank, which had a policy that recipients could not use bank money to pay taxes. That meant that for every rand spent and claimed back by drawing on the CAPE funding, CapeNature would be given only 83c.

"That means if we draw on the CAPE funding as planned, we would have to find R1m to cover the shortfall. We only realised in the past year that raising donor funding can get you into more financial trouble," he said.

Another problem had been with the public-private partnerships, where it was envisaged that private companies would develop tourist facilities in nature reserves and pay rental to CapeNature in return.

But CapeNature had not managed to sign a single lease in five years.

One of the reasons, Daitz said, was that private enterprise was scared off by the huge bureaucracy they had to deal with. Another was that they had to shoulder all the financial risk.

"They were not interested in putting in infrastructure like roads and sewerage. It was too big a risk, but we had no money to pay for the infrastructure ourselves. Also, although we've got stunning reserves, we said development would be limited to areas which had already been disturbed, say an old storehouse or labourers' houses. But those places are generally not well suited to tourism," Daitz said.

He said CapeNature would investigate using poverty relief money to build infrastructure in its reserves, which would attract investors, as the financial risk would be reduced.

CapeNature is exploring the option of creating a second Whale Trail along the eastern section of De Hoop Nature Reserve.

The more luxurious trail will be fully catered and guided, and cost R1 000 to R1 500 a person a night, according to the CapeNature website.

The original Whale Trail offers overnight huts with only basic facilities.

Nazeem Jamie, programme manager for the new trail, is accepting applications from architects interested in developing four small lodges along the trail. Planning will begin this week, and should be finalised by late this year or early next year.

One lodge will cater for staff, and the other three for guests. Guest lodges will have beds with en-suite bathrooms, and guests will share kitchen, dining and lounge facilities. Each lodge will cost an estimated R1.4m to build.

All facilities will be designed to minimise the impact on the environment and to blend in with the landscape.

Source: www.capetimes.co.za


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