A R30-million marula-processing factory will provide jobs and boost tourism while keeping an age-old tradition alive, says MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Mike Mabuyakhulu.
He was speaking at the opening of the factory in KwaMhlabuyalingana in the UMkhanyakude District in northern KZN on Saturday.
The marula fruit thrives in the area and it has long since been used by the community as a source of food and income.
The factory was officially opened by premier Senzo Mchunu and marked the start of the annual Umthayi Marula Festival hosted by inkosi Mabhudu Tembe in his eMfihlweni royal residence in KwaNgwanase.
This was the sixth year the provincial government supported the festival at which the inkosi tastes the brew of the first marula fruits of the season. Despite the drought, the yield was good.
“With its growing popularity, thanks to the support of the provincial government, the festival has brought economic growth opportunities for our people,” said Tembe.
He said all the accommodation establishments in the area were fully booked at the weekend.
More than 30 local caterers had been hired and informal traders benefited from the influx of festival goers.
“Umthayi is one of the biggest celebrations of the Tembe people, but sharing it with a wider audience has helped capitalise economic development. We are moving towards sustaining that with the factory,” said Tembe.
Boosting the economy through culture is exactly why the provincial government had ploughed millions into the factory as part of the government’s prioritisation of rural areas in a meaningful way, said Mchunu.
“We take a look at what local people (are) producing and intervene as government to streamline a production process and make sure there is added value. This factory means the production of marula jam and other products is mechanised, that increases the output. We then look for markets for it and make sure production is at a scale that local people can really benefit from,” he said.
To ensure a consistent supply once production started, Mabuyakhulu said they would also look to other provinces to source the marula fruit, thus casting the net of benefit from this factory beyond the about 50 people who will be permanently employed there.
“Once operational, the factory will produce and supply marula products to major retailers and breweries in KZN and abroad. We are in negotiations with some of the major retailers and breweries who have shown a keen interest in some of the products that will be produced at this factory,” Mabuyakhulu said.
Rural Development MEC, Cyril Xaba, said local lodges and hotels and a national company specialising in the manufacture and distribution of jams had already pledged their support as customers.
IOL Business News 22 February 2016