Village of the Blessed
Molatedi is a small dusty town right next Madikwe Game Reserve. When I saw it, the scene looked a little like a film set for an African village - in more ways than one.
There were very few people around. School children and teachers, yes. Shop-keepers and old grannies, yes.
But all young and middle-aged adults were singularly absent. They were gainfully employed, most of them in the game reserve beyond a line of thick riverine forest.
Madikwe Game Reserve is a strange and wondrous anomaly in the world of conservation. It was not created because the land was ecologically valuable (although all land really is). Instead, it was created from old farmland because economists calculated that wildlife-based tourism would generate more jobs and income than agriculture.
It was a massive project, with 8 000 animals translocated to this newly game-fenced area of 62 000 hectares.
And as a result, the villages of Molatedi, Supingstad and Lekgophung, those closest to Madikwe, have benefited hugely. Two of these communities have gone on to create their own bush lodges (Thakadu River Camp, in the case of the Molatedi Community, and Buffalo Ridge Safari Lodge in the case of Lekgophung).
Best of all, the women have been the biggest winners.
A local councilor explained.
“From being dependent on their family or men, the women now are mostly self-sufficient. In the cities, they struggle to pay for rent, for transport, for food, to look after their children.
“But if they work in the park, they get food and accommodation for free, plus their salary and often, tips. There is training available for them. And they are close to home. Park jobs are seen as far higher quality than city jobs.”