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The Waterberg is a Brand Name Worth Protecting

Edited from the original published in The Sunday Independent, 15 February 2009.

The Waterberg Mountains benefit from many features, including the name itself. To those who live here, and to many others, the very words conjure up all that is positive about the region – its bio-diversity, craggy heights, and vistas, its game, watercourses, and even its remoteness from urban centres. Throw the words Waterberg Biosphere Reserve into the mix, and more value is added. Those who operate tourist establishments profit from the natural branding; the rest of us are simply delighted to be here.

So it is with some alarm that we watch as the Waterberg name is abused by some and misused by others. The abuse is intentionally deceitful; the misuse is accidentally detrimental.

For those in the tourism industry who are not located in the Waterberg Mountains, but rather nearby, identifying themselves with the Waterberg Mountains or Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is intended to reap good will by association, even if inaccurate. Thus, a golf estate near Bela-Bela calls itself simply Waterberg, though it’s not in the Waterberg Mountains. Its marketing material says that the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is one of four UNESCO identified reserves in South Africa, true enough, but the estate is not located within it; rather, it’s more than 60 kilometres from the outer reaches of the Biosphere’s buffer zone, and that’s as the African snake eagle flies.

A private nature reserve near Mookgophong claims that it’s located in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve; at 50 kilometres distance, it simply isn’t.

Meanwhile, what is to become of the Waterberg’s positive image if the media and even the likes of national and provincial departments and monopoly electricity producer/distributor Eskom identify coal-fired power stations as located in the Waterberg area of Limpopo. One thing is for sure – by such misnaming, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, for one, will be denigrating the very tourist potential of the region it purports to promote.

Eskom’s existing Matimba Power Station is about 15 kilometres west of Lephalale, far from the Waterberg. And Eskom’s new Medupi Power Station is even farther, nearly 30 kilometres north of Lephalale. They shouldn’t be labeled Waterberg Power Plants.

In the 1940s, there was a small mine in the Waterberg, about 16 kilometres north-northeast of Vaalwater, but they had the good sense to call it the Nooitgedacht Lead Mine. Now, a very large mine 25 kilometres north of Lephalale is properly named the Grootegeluk coal mine. Accurate naming is possible.

More than 50 years ago, the coalfields around Lephalale were identified as the Waterberg Coalfields, an area stretching 40 kilometres from north to south and 88 kilometres from east to west. We may be stuck with the name forever, confirmed as it is by the geology and mining industry for so many years, but other Waterberg names need not be so casually accepted.

Using the name Waterberg is nothing more than a convenient, but lazy way to avoid an exact location. Mining and energy project locations should be identified accurately and clearly, and to say it’s in the Waterberg is no help at all.

And if any of the tourist establishments and energy activities are simply in the Waterberg District Municipality, you say? Sorry, not good enough. The Municipality is a very large area, nearly five million hectares (that’s 50,000 square kilometres), extending well northeast of Lephalale, well south of Bela-Bela and well east of Modimolle. At about one and one-half million hectares (15,000 square kilometres), the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve comprises only about a third of the Municipality.

We should make a concerted effort to correct the name when we see it wrongly used, and further, we should actively urge the use of some other suitable names. The mining and Eskom activities and the tourism establishments are located in, for instance, the Limpopo Western Bushveld, the Western Limpopo Bushveld or simply in Western Limpopo. If it’s a mine near Lephalale or Thabazimbi, say so. If it’s a tourist destination near Bela-Bela or Mookgophong, say so.

The misuse of the Waterberg name has chipped away at its positive image and value. Without any change in usage, in 20 years time when people hear the word Waterberg, they’ll sadly but likely think of industry and mining rather than nature.