Samara is located in the Eastern Cape province, which routinely ranks as one of the poorest in South Africa. Unemployment in the province stood at 39.5% at the end of 2019, compared to 29.1% nationally, with 36% of households wholly dependent on social grants for survival (Stats SA). These rates will undoubtedly have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated impacts. The Great Karoo also forms part of a rural Presidential Poverty Node, the “spatial manifestation of the second economy”, where only 20% of residents have completed formal schooling.
Our key objectives are to provide opportunities for job creation, to catalyse rural upliftment and to promote economic diversification from conventional farming to ecotourism, land restoration and regenerative agriculture. Already, the land-use change from conventional farming to conservation and ecotourism pioneered by Samara in the region has tripled the number of jobs available on the farms concerned. These tourism jobs also command higher salaries and more extensive benefits than agriculture jobs.
Our closest community is the body of staff that makes up the Samara family, currently numbering some 60 people. Staff training is ongoing, encompassing technical skills like baking and wine-pairing, technological upskilling on software and accounting systems and knowledge development on multiple aspects of guiding and the natural environment. Certain aspects of the business operate on a profit-share basis with staff, such as the spa and gift shop.
Emphasis is placed on serving and selling products that are either made or procured locally, and recognisably from the Karoo region, renowned for its warm hospitality and small livestock farming culture. Typical ‘Karoo’ products include local farm produce and mohair items (blankets, socks and yarn). All food and services are procured locally, with an emphasis on supporting small, family-run and cooperative businesses.
This includes Boundless, a woodwork, needlework and crafts NGO in Graaff-Reinet which supports adults with physical or psychological disabilities, and McNaughton’s Bookshop, run by the family of the same name who have lived and farmed in the region for generations, which also has a tour guiding arm called Karoo Connections.
As well as trading locally, Samara conducts philanthropic work with several local NGOs through its registered non-profit, the Samara Foundation. One such NGO is Vuyani Safe Haven, which Samara has supported since 2010. Vuyani Safe Haven is a registered Child and Youth Care Centre in Graaff-Reinet which provides safety and care for children whose families cannot or do not care adequately for them. Samara organises an annual Christmas party at one of the lodges, providing gifts, treats and a game drive to the kids, as well as a swim in the pool for the older ones.
In 2018, Samara launched the Heritage Day Cup, an initiative to provide the youth of Graaff-Reinet with a platform to envisage a future for themselves in the context of challenges facing the community, from unemployment and drug-taking to teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence. The concept is simple – unite and give hope through sport. Today the tournament covers football and netball across a variety of age groups, reaching 700 local youth, with plans to expand further in years to come.
In 2020, as a result of restrictions on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heritage Day Sports Tournament has been replaced with stew kitchens for 1,500 members of the local community and a celebration of the written word. The poetry and writing competition, open to entries in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, has as its theme “Hope in difficult times.” Prizes include food vouchers and the publication of the winning works in the local newspaper, the Graaff-Reinet Advertiser.
Through our membership of The Long Run, we look forward to learning from other members working across the globe in order to grow our community programmes and intensify our positive local impact.
When you visit Samara, make sure to ask us about our projects and, if you can, consider “Packing for a Purpose” by bring supplies for our various community projects during your stay. If you cannot yet visit us, consider making a donation to our Heritage Day Cup project via Empowers Africa.