The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park’s Kudu Awards

The Kudu Awards – “equivalent to that of a Grammy, an Olympic gold medal, or even winning the Football World Cup,” – celebrates and recognises the successes, contributions and commitments to conservation within and across South Africa’s national parks. 

SANParks’ annual Kudu Awards ceremony serves as a platform to showcase the country’s best protection practices, educational efforts and sustainable developments at both individual and group levels. These awards recognise “exceptional commitment to sustainability, improving livelihoods, and achieving real change on the ground,” across all national parks. Not only do the Kudu Awards intend to honour and commemorate, but named after South Africa’s majestic antelope, these awards are associated with reverence and prestige. The aspiration of being awarded a Kudu trophy inspires and motivates future innovation and ensures that conservation standards are not only maintained but constantly revised and updated. 

2022 was truly a unique year – not only because it marked the first post-pandemic Kudu Award’ ceremony, but the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route celebrated its first-ever Kudu accreditation. The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route received three awards; two of which represented the Park’s large-scale team efforts, while the third was based on individual performance. 

Grant Grootboom, Hospitality Services Manager of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park and Kudu Award nominee, sat down with the Otter African Trail Race and Faces team to discuss the significance of the parks’ 2022 Kudu Awards. 

The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park was nominated as the ‘Best Performing Park’ for their “outstanding achievements in terms of staff efficiency, professionalism, excellent customer service,” as well as for the camp’s “tireless work towards elevating tourism, improving the financial health of the park and prioritising stakeholder management.” Grootboom contextualised the weight of this achievement by noting that the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park competed against twenty-one national parks; whereby, the highly competitive nature of this award spoke to the team’s proactive investment into the park and surrounding area. 

The second Kudu Award, for ‘Best Ranger Post,’  was awarded on the grounds of “exceptional conservation management and efforts regarding anti-poaching strategies, and area of integrity management.” Grootboom spoke of the great significance of this Kudu Award, “as it dispels myths around the Big Five focused conservation.” Tsitsikamma as a protected area continues to play a fundamental role in the conservation of South Africa’s rich biodiversity including very critical species of special concern. The work of rangers and park management goes beyond the Big Five and this award sufficiently demonstrated that Tsitsikamma Rangers are not only highly competent but are competitive by international standards. For a smaller park like the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park to win this award, especially given that it does not have the allure of the big five, “is something spectacular,” shared Grootboom. While competitive parks “obviously hold huge responsibilities in terms of overseeing and conserving their (big five) wildlife,” Grootboom insisted, “it must not be forgotten that the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park is home to many endangered species – such as abalone – which demand as much, if not more, conservation-attention.” 

“What makes these recognitions even more remarkable,” added Grootboom, is “that they were awarded for the financial year 2021 and 2022;” consequently reflecting the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grootboom maintained that the Kudu nominations were a testament to the park’s hard work despite the obstacles onset by the pandemic, and he offered their commitment to the Otter African Trail Race in 2020 as evidence. Despite the pushback of lockdown and recreational restrictions, the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park team delivered on their promises to facilitate a smooth race operation during the COVID-19 year, officially marking the Otter African Trail Race as the first large-scale sports event for its time within a National Park. 

Grootboom, alongside manager Victor Mokoena, was part of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park’s management changeover team three years back. Mokoena, Grootboom and the Tsitsikamma team have since built on the SANParks’ pillars, which include (1) conservation, (2) sustainable tourism and (3) SET, social economic transformation. The importance of “local communities,” was emphasised by Grootboom and explains the park’s focus on SETs. Grootboom reminded us that “parks cannot exist in isolation and that national parks are there for the people;” and subsequently, he spoke of the pre-1994 history of land dispossessions suffered by black South Africans where the majority of communities adjacent to the National Parks were not spared. SANParks therefore stands on conservation-pillars of biodiversity, responsible tourism and socio-economic transformation as a catalyst to once again reconnect people and local communities to the system they have always existed within. Tsitsikamma National Park has embarked on an intentional drive to implement inclusive SET objectives such as enterprise development by identifying and ring-fencing certain opportunities for local businesses. Consequently, many local businesses have started to reap the benefits through these recently implemented opportunities. 

The accreditation of two Kudu Awards set the stage for the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park SANParks team; as Grootboom shared, it’s “similar to being star-rated, where putting up these achievements on your building, around the establishment and on the website assures people that the park delivers on exceptional experience, quality, safety and so-forth.” Not only do the awards speak to the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park’s elite standard of service, but it sets a precedent for future years, and has now become a benchmark to continuously compete for and achieve. 

The final Kudu Award, ‘Best Performance in the Workplace,’ was allocated to Grant Grootboom for his commitment, consistency and continued efforts to make change. To compete against all SANParks employees is a huge accomplishment, and as a result of the award’s highly competitive nature, Grootboom wears this honorary title with immense pride. Grootboom shared his employment story with SANParks, saying that he has worked for the national parks for a number of years, and is “in fact, coming up for 19 years of employment.” His initial SANParks introduction was originally driven by a need to make a living, but with time, has evolved into a burning desire to actively educate on conservation matters. 

“Like many of my colleagues, we share a similar story, as there was not much opportunity for people of colour at the time,” said Grootboom. “Most of us started off employed as temporary seasonal employees, but there came a point where I decided to make something of my life and SANParks transpired as an organisation rich with opportunities to do so.” Grootboom said that he slowly climbed the ranks; he studied, he was promoted and eventually secured his first permanent job with the parks as a receptionist. Grootboom moved between career titles and across the country’s parks to finally fix his current position as Head of Tourism at the Storm’s River Mouth Rest Camp office; sharing, “when I received the Kudu award, I had flashbacks of my career.” To Grootboom, his Kudu Award recognised all the effort he put into his personal career, into working with his colleagues and in supporting his community. Grootboom added that he was born 15 kilometres from his current park position, and in his hometown, there is a lot of “hopelessness,” but an award as such “becomes a beacon of hope for peers and those that I grew up with.” While Grootboom stressed the importance of these awards instilling hope in the community and the Tsitsikamma workplace, he closed our interview reiterating their park’s saying; “do the right thing, even when no one is watching.” A saying that Grootboom strongly believes laid the foundation for the park’s three Kudu Awards; and a saying which will continue to motivate the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park as future Kudu Award contenders.