Sisonke meaning "we are all together" is one of the 11 district municipalities in Kwa-Zulu-Natal. The inland municipality is located in the south of the province. The district includes the Southern most part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg
National Park adjacent to Lesotho and borders the Eastern Cape Province in the west. Sisonke is well endowed with natural resources and has massive potential for the development of its foremost economic sectors - agriculture and tourism.
Sisonke has good agro-ecological potential due to its good quality soils, high altitude and abundant water. Commercial farms and to a large extent commercial plantations form the bedrock of the regional economy. Climatic extremes make the area suitable for a variety of products including crops and vegetables, livestock and sugar cane around the Ixopo/ Highflats area.
A significant portion of dairy produce is produced within the district, 10% of milk consumed in South Africa and 5% of Clover Milk is from this area. Sisonke in ensuring that dairy remains a vibrant economic subsector in the region, has earmarked a farm (Dawn Valley) that was acquired through the Land Redistribution and Restitution Programme for dairy production.
In 2010 the forestry sector contributed R 331.329 million per annum to Sisonke's GDP and constituted more than 8% of the district economy. Sappi; Mondi, Mondi-Shanduka and Hans Merensky are the dominant figures in the forestry sector.
The agri-processing sector is a viable economic driver for development. Opportunities exist for the expansion of agri-processing within the region. These include land suitable for citrus production, opportunities offered by new production techniques, tunnel /hydroponics and shaded production, processing, packaging and distribution of local produce, canning, drying, freezing and further product beneficiation, forestry, milling and production of related products (biofuel, charcoal etc).
Eco, Adventure and Cultural Tourism
The District has massive potential in its tourism sector. The natural environment has high eco-tourism adventure, and cultural tourism potential. Eco-tourism is a major component of the KZN tourism economy. Activities such as horse riding, mountain biking, river rafting, abseiling and canoeing are available. Fly-fishing has the potential to be better marketed. Overnight trips take ardent hikers deep into the mountains and even up the great escarpment onto the South Africa-Lesotho border. The Sani2C, one of the South Africa's top multi stage mountain bike rides starts from Underberg. Rivers such as Umzimkhulu and Umkomaas provide a marvellous basis for paddling and the mountainous landscape provides
the base for the Drakensberg Freedom Challenge 4X4. The region possesses diverse culture and cultural tourism initiatives based on customary villages, craft production and traditional dance.
Sisonke is reasonably endowed with accommodation establishments such a guest houses, bed and breakfast establishments and hotels. Foreign tourists also flow steadily into the region.
Rail Tourism is one of Sisonke's unique tourism features. Sisonke and the Paton Narrow Gauge Railway have developed a fledging steam rail tourism sector based on the existence of the underutilised Cape Natal Railway line and the remnants of the narrow gauge line from Ixopo to Carisbrooke with a proposed extension to uMzimkhulu. This steam train offers a chance to experience the beauty of the KZN Midlands and Southern Drakensburg while the off train experiences touch the hearts of all people fortunate enough to enjoy this journey.
The Sisonke Stimela is a magnificently restored luxury steam train which provides an unforgettable experience to its passengers. The train is pulled by one of three beautifully restored steam locomotives and consists of 21 luxury suites with handsome wood panelling and air conditioning. The Paton Express complements the Sisonke Stimela. This narrow gauge train travels through the spectacular scenery which inspired Alan Paton to write "Cry the beloved Country" with the theme of the quest for freedom and social justice. The movie "Cry the beloved Country" was partly filmed in this district. This alone presents an opportunity to market the district as a potential location for the filming industry. The District also prides itself on the Alan Paton Express which offers tours to specific locations and also caters for steam train enthusiasts.
Linked to the Rail tourism is the Art Gallery and Museum, featuring work of Gerald Bhengu, an internationally recognised artist as one of the off train experiences. The art gallery also provides a historical record of African life.
Avi Tourism forms the single largest group of eco-tourists globally, and 25% of domestic tourists are interested in birding. Sisonke has two top national birding spots and seven important birding areas. The Marutswa Forest Board Walk in Bulwer has been completed by Sappi and is fully operational. The Ntsikeni Mobile Vulture Hide at Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is home to some rare bird species and has a Ramsar Convention status.
Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, including its 12000ha wetland, epitomizes a raw, untamed, quiet and natural beauty. Within the Nature Reserve the Ntsikeni Eco-Tourism Development Enterprise operates two lodges, May and Ntsikeni. The lodges each offer comfortable chalets, a large equipped conference facility and a dining area.
The beautiful Centecow Mission in Creighton is one of the largest mission centres established by the Trappist brothers in KwaZulu-Natal and houses the Gerald Art Gallery and Museum. Other Trappist stations are Reichenau, Emmaus, and Kavelear, Lourdes and Mariathal.
Municipal Demarcation Board Code: DC43
Location of Head Office: Ixopo is 85 km south
of Pietermaritzburg and 150 kmnorth-east of
Municipal Area (km²): 10 109 km²
Population (estimated): 298 384
Local Municipalities: Greater Kokstad; Ingwe;
Kwa Sani; Ubuhlebezwe and Umzimkhulu.
Main Towns Include: Creighton, Himeville,
Underberg, Kokstad, Ixopo, Highflats, Bulwer,
Donnybrook, and Umzimkhulu
The Sisonke District Municipality strives to uplift the quality of life of its residents by providing sustainable infrastructure, water, health
services, sanitation and social amenities. There will be equitable distribution of land for residential, farming, investors, sports and recreation.
Sisonke will be one of the province's viable tourist destinations characterised by a sustainable natural, social and economic environment. Its men, women, the elderly, disabled and youth will equally enjoy living in a safe and healthy environment.