Augrabies Falls National Park’s Socio-Economic Transformation (SET) Division, previously known as the People & Conservation division, is very involved with educational work both inside and outside the park boundaries.
School and interest groups from all over South Africa visit the Augrabies Falls during the year with some even coming from Namibia. Visiting schools receive an educational programme that is adapted to their needs, a theme and the grades in question. Normally this involves an interactive presentation and a guided walk. During the walk, the park is experienced first-hand and all senses can be utilised in the learning process. As the park is situated in a semi-desert environment, the adaptations of the plants and animals to survive in such harsh conditions provides very interesting learning material.
SET is also involved in community outreach programmes by visiting local schools as often as possible, usually on special calendar days such as Water Day, Earth Day, World Environment Day and National Arbor Week. The information and activities prepared for the learners will be related to the focus of that special day.
Due to the nature of the arid region, it is very important for children to realize that water is a precious resource that cannot be wasted. Teaching them how to conserve water and letting them come up with ways in which they can decrease their water use is an important part of environmental education at Augrabies Falls.
Environmental Education also means bringing the message of conservation and how to live sustainably to the public, especially to the surrounding communities of the park. Currently, a tented camp functions as an overnight environmental centre. The BMW Conference Centre (near the reception area) is utilised for presentations and indoor activities. Information regarding the geology, waterfall, plants, mammals, birds, fish and other interesting facts are available on displays situated between the BMW Centre and Reception.
Youth & Community Outreach, Awareness and Socio-Economic Projects
Youth and community interaction takes place at every possible opportunity. It involves awareness-raising, career guidance and involvement in calendar day celebrations, such as Youth Day. On Youth Day opportunities are usually well utilised to participate in Netball and soccer tournaments. Socio-economic opportunities are identified and presented to communities when funding is available. The Namataradi (meaning Nama women) project was such an initiative. Five Nama women from two local communities were trained to produce Nama Kappies of a high standard, which is a part of their traditional dress. These Nama Kappies are sold in the Park shop and at other outlets. Through participating in this project the women can earn an income from working at home and at the same time they share a part of their culture with the tourists who buy the Nama Kappies.
Another project resulted in the Riemvasmaak Primary School obtaining a shaded and paved assembly area with an enclosed playground for the foundation phase learners. This structure is also of great benefit to the greater Riemvasmaak community as it can be used for all types of community gatherings.
Cultural Heritage Management
An extensive archaeological/historical study was conducted in 2001, which covered large sections of the park as well as the surrounding areas. The findings of this massive research project concluded that the area is rich in prehistoric and more recent historic sites, which resulted in a detailed inventory being compiledEarly, Middle and Late Stone Age sites were discovered in and around the national park with many artefacts and tools being discovered from these ancient times. Late Stone Age rock art has been discovered outside the park at Perdepoort near the community of Riemvasmaak. It consists mostly of figurative art such as human figures as well as depictions of ostrich, giraffe, eland, hippo, gemsbok and zebra.
San and Khoi graves have also been found in the park and the surrounding areas. Historical locations related to the first European settlers such as churches, quiver tree inscriptions and rock paintings dating back to the beginning of the 20th century are also important heritage sites in the area. One of the largest sites in the park is a Boer War fort called Manie Maritz’sFort, which was likely used by Boer General Maritz as a resupply station or a place of safety to house the women and children
Every cultural heritage site, be it a small archaeological dig or a Boer War fort, was given a conservation status depending on its vulnerability. It should be noted that nearly all cultural heritage sites are vulnerable and should never be touched or moved. While there are numerous sites within Augrabies Falls, most of them are not yet accessible to visitors.
A Cultural Heritage Plan will be compiled for the park and individual site management plans are also in the pipeline. Currently, heritage sites are visited, verified and placed on the park’s asset register. All sites will eventually be marked with signage to indicate the asset number and name of the site.
Community Support and Upliftment
During the COVID-19 Lockdown, the SET division brought relief to 250 destitute households by delivering food parcels in the communities of Vredesvallei, Riemvasmaak, Kakamas, Alheit, Marchand and Augrabies. These food parcels were supplied by SANParks and the SANParks Honorary Rangers.
The SET division also assisted in distributing 1200 x 1kg bags of highly nutritious sorghum porridge, which was donated to the Riemvasmaak Community Development Trust by the Mzansi Edge expedition, headed by Kingsley Holgate.
A donation of COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) was received from the United Nations Development Programme. The much needed PPE was distributed to 8 local clinic’s, 1 hospital, 12 local schools and to local municipal community offices and tourism facilities in the Riemvasmaak community.
As part of upliftment and upskilling, the park employs youth as Tourism monitors and environmental monitors, on a contractual basis. Nature Conservation students are also offered the opportunity to complete their experiential year in the park which is needed for them to obtain their diploma.