The South African government has launched a unique boatbuilding project to produce a fleet of vessels for isolated rural villagers threatened by crocodiles and hippos.
Student boatbuilders at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence will learn critical skills by rebuilding a derelict catamaran to serve as the project flagship – the first of about 10 vessels for the Ekovukeni community, which is often cut off by water and run the gauntlet of wildlife attacks when traveling out of their area.
Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga is due to hand over the first batch of boats and engines at an official ceremony on Friday (September 9).
“The learners are refurbishing a boat (cat) as part their training,” confirmed KZN Sharks Board spokesman Vincent Zulu. “The boat will be donated to the community trust. It will ferry 12 passengers at a time.” An additional 12 smaller boats would also be provided, Zulu added.
Led by the Department of Transport and the South African Maritime Safety Authority, the project is viewed as a way to bolster the boatbuilding sector and simultaneously provide a much-needed community service. It was launched earlier this year to mark Nelson Mandela International Day.
In a statement released earlier this month SAMSA said the project was prompted by news reports describing “apparently calamitous living conditions” facing the community – as a result of their unavoidable use of the Wasbankrivier, home to many crocodiles and hippos: “The community was profiled as being cut off by a crocodile and hippo infested river from the rest of the community. There is no bridge to cross the river, leaving the community with having to swim across it and face all the attendant risks,” the statement said.
According to SAMSA acting CEO Sobantu Tilayi the initiative followed a community needs assessment: “There is a need for interdepartmental responses into the challenges faced by the community. It is key for us to bring the private and public sector together to focus in on the area and provide the infrastructure required for their lives to be uplifted. We will continue to monitor the progress of the work we have started and in September during the launch, the fruits of this public-private partnership will be realised. An inter-governmental task team will also be engaged to provide the much needed support,” Tilayi said.
Zulu said the project would serve a dual purpose of driving skills and community development: “The idea is for this project to be expanded to include more communities across the province. An enterprise development component is for the training of local communities to build and operate the boats for tourism related ventures,” Zulu said.