Uses of hot springs around the world

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This chapter describes the location of the study area with reference to its geographical location, terrain features, climate and vegetation as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the region in which it lies. An explanation of the research methodology follows in section 3.4.


 Geographical location

The study area is located within the Vhembe District of the Limpopo Province in South Africa. The province is in the far-north of the country and occupies an area of 123 910 km². It shares borders with Botswana to the west, Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. The province is the link between South Africa and the sub-Saharan Africa countries to the north and is often described as the ‘Gateway to the North’ since it offers easy access to foreign markets (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). Limpopo shares provincial borders with Mpumalanga, Gauteng and North West towards the south.
Topographically, the province consists of central highlands, sloping northwards to the Limpopo valley and descending abruptly to the east. The Waterberg mountain range forms the southern boundary of the province. The Soutpansberg in the north separates the highland plateau from the Limpopo Valley lying further north, while the eastern escarpment that extends in a north-south direction is the boundary between the highlands and the lowveld to the east.
Limpopo Province is divided into five districts and each one is subdivided into municipalities, of which there are 26 in all. The districts are Vhembe (4 local 54 municipalities), Capricorn (5 local municipalities), Sekhukhune (5 local municipalities), Mopani (5 local municipalities) and Waterberg (7 local municipalities). All three thermal springs, the focus of this study, are located within the Vhembe district.
The Vhembe district covers an area of 21 407 km² and is located in the far-northern part of Limpopo, sharing borders with Mopani and Capricorn districts on the eastern and western sides respectively. The Vhembe district comprises four local municipalities namely, Thulamela, Musina, Mutale and Makhado (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10) (Fig. 3.1).
Thermal springs in the Vhembe District include Moreson, Mphephu, Minwamadi, Sagole, Siloam and Tshipise. Mphephu, Minwamadi and Siloam are in the Makhado local municipality, Moreson and Tshipise are in the Musina local municipality and Sagole is in the Mutale local municipal area. The location of the hot springs at Mphephu, Sagole and Tshipise are indicated in Figure 3.1.
Mphephu Resort is in the village of Tshavhalovhedzi at 22º 54’19’’ South and 30º10’37” East. It is situated on the R523 road between Makhado and Thohoyandou in the Nzhelele Valley ( It is approximately 30 km from Louis Trichardt (Makhado). Sagole Spa is in Tshipise village, approximately 40 km from the P?afuri gate of the Kruger National Park at 22º37’44” South and 30º40’46” East. The Tshipise hot spring (22º36’22” S, 30º10’24”E), currently known as Tshipise Resort, is surrounded by farms and the village was previously called Dondwe. It lies about 50 km from the Beit Bridge border post into Zimbabwe and 105 km from the Phafuri gate. Geographically, Mphephu Resort is only about 30 km to the south of Tshipise and Sagole and Tshipise are approximately 50 km apart (Mphephu, 1988; Hoole, 2001).

 Morphology / terrain

The Soutpansberg range of mountains is the most prominent geological feature of the district. The name is derived from the salt pans that lie at its western base. These pans have supplied communities with salt ever since prehistoric times.
The Soutpansberg topographical zone lies between 23°05′ S & 29° 17′ E and 22° 25′ S 31° 20′ E and is approximately 210 km wide from east to west and 60 km from north to south at its widest. Its altitude ranges from 250 m above sea level to Hanglip 1 719 m (second-highest peak) and Letjuma 1,747 (the highest peak) on the western half of the mountain (; The Soutpansberg mountain system evolved from tectonic processes leading to faulting and folding some billions years ago (DBSA, 1989). Large parts of the area are characterised by dongas and furrows. This is attributed to a high level of erosion caused by short-lived torrential rain (DBSA, 1989). Figure 3.2 shows the morphology of the Vhembe District. Tshipise and Sagole are located on the lowland with hills. Mphephu is located in different morphology compared to the two thermal springs as is found in low mountainous area.
The mountains receive a high summer rainfall and support a wide range of crops and cultivated lands. The Soutpansberg is a unique wilderness area that accommodates over 500 tree species, of which 50 are endemic to the Soutpansberg or the Limpopo River Valley. The mountain range is home to approximately 467 species of birds and numerous mammal, reptile and amphibian species. Currently, the mountains are a haven for tourists and the area features many nature reserves, game farms and accommodation facilities (


The climate of Vhembe is subtropical with mild winters and warm to hot summers. The area experiences an annual rainfall of approximately 500 mm of which about 87.1% falls between October and March (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). Rainfall decreases from east to west and the whole area is prone to frequent droughts, most particularly in the Mutale and Musina localities (DBSA, 1989; Mutale IDP, 2009/10; Musina IDP, 2009/10; Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). According to the Vhembe Integrated Development Programme (IDP) (2009/10) report, the rainfall pattern is largely influenced by the orographic effect of the Drakensberg mountain range. Figure 3.3 illustrates the climatic conditions of the Vhembe District.
The annual temperatures range from a minimum of 10ºC during winter to a maximum of up to 40 ºC in summer, with the highest temperatures occurring in the Limpopo Valley, especially around Musina (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). Sagole and Tshipise area have a mean temperatures of 21ºC-23 ºC.


The Vhembe area has amazing biological diversity of flora and fauna, due largely to its geographical location and diverse topography (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10).
The district falls within the greater savanna biome, commonly known as the Bushveld, with some small pockets of grassland, woodland and forest biomes. These factors contribute to an assortment of ecological niches in the area, and abundant forests and Baobab trees are a common sight (DBSA, 1989; Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). Figure 3.4 shows the vegetation cover of the area.
There are large conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park. The Phafuri and Punda Maria Gates, Makuya Park are in Thulamela, and the Mapungubwe National Park is a World Heritage Site in the Musina local municipal area. The Makhado Municipality has initiated the ‘Conservation Initiative of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve’ along the western Soutpansberg mountain range. The biosphere reserve provides a habitat for a diverse number of species and has a range of different and strong altitudinal and climatic gradients, giving rise to a mosaic of ecosystems from mesic savanna and wetlands on the slopes, to sourveld grassland and mist belt forest on the summits (DBSA, 1989; Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). The biodiversity also provides the local communities with many kinds of materials for shelter, food, fuel wood and medicinal plants, and contributes to the growth of the eco-tourism industry within the area. According to the Vhembe IDP (2009/10), the land cover is under threat due to the impact of human activities. Such activities include deforestation, mining and uncontrolled land use developments. The effects may even lead to the extinction of some species (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10).


 Demographic characteristics

Data from the 2007 Community Survey conducted by Statistics South Africa will be used to illustrate the demographic profile of the population of Vhembe. Vhembe District had approximately 1 240 035 million people in 2007 (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). According to Stats SA (2007), Thulamela local municipality had the largest number of people (602 819) in the region, followed by Makhado (471 805), Mutale had 108 215 and Musina 57 195 people. According to Vhembe IDP (2009/10), these population statistics indicate an increase in the number of people in most local municipalities compared to those of Census 2001. Stats SA (2007) noted that, whereas these three municipalities experienced a population increase, Makhado was an exception in that it recorded a population decrease of about 23 456 people. The decline in population may be ascribed to few job opportunities in the area and people migrating to other provinces especially Gauteng, the youth migrating for study purposes and the impact of various illnesses and diseases such as AIDS and other bacterial and virus infections often eventually leading to death.
In terms of population composition, Vhembe District is dominated by the black population group with a total of 1 226 206 people (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). Table 3.1 shows that the area has more black females (668 341) than black males (557 865). Population composition follows a similar pattern in all the local municipalities. The white community is the second highest population. The white community is dominant in Makhado (Louis Trichardt) especially, and also in Musina, local municipalities that were not part of the former Independent State of Venda but were under the white government of the apartheid era. The areas surrounding these towns are the major source of commercial agricultural products in the region, which accounts for the large white population. Coloured and Indian (Asian) communities were reported to be fewer than 1 000 and this may be attributed to the fact that the coloured community are concentrated in other provinces especially Western Cape and Indians live mostly in other provinces especially KwaZulu-Natal but often migrate to other parts of the country in search of business opportunities.
Vhembe district has a predominantly youthful population (Table 3.2) with 187 614 people between the ages of 5 to10 years old. In this age group, 92 899 are males and 94715 are females making them the dominant gender, a trend that is evident in the entire 0-34 year old category. The 15-19 year olds total slightly over 165 000. In the adult population, the over 35 year olds, women outnumber men particularly in the older categories even though population numbers are markedly lower in this youthful population.



The educational characteristics of the general Vhembe population are categorised in terms of people with formal education, including those from tertiary educational institutions. As Figure 3.5 indicates, slightly over 60 000 people in the area have Grade 8 education and 60 000 to 80 000 Grade 10. People who attended Grade 12 but did not
complete their schooling are about 40 000 to 60 000 in number. Those who attained the school-leaving level with university exemption are less than 20 000 people. People with post-Grade 12 qualifications are few in number, below 20 000 and have either diplomas or have graduate and post-graduate degrees.The graph went up to 120 000 for people without schooling. It is probable that the level of current illiteracy could be due to the impact of the previous apartheid government’s education system that disadvantaged a section of the black population, particularly in the rural areas of which Vhembe is a typical example.

 Employment status

The region is reported to have had approximately 194 000 people employed in 2007. Of these, 97 000 are female and 97 300 male. There are 130 549 unemployed people of whom 76 838 are female and 53 711 male (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10).Table 3.3 refers to employment status per local municipality in the study area. Municipalities with the highest number of people employed and unemployed are Thulamela and Makhado. The former had approximately 80 000 people employed and 60 000 unemployed respectively, and the latter had about 70 000 employed with 50 000 unemployed people. Musina had about 20 000 employed with approximately 5 000 unemployed. Mutale is the municipality with fewest job opportunities as 14 000 people were said to be employed and less than 10 000 unemployed in 2007. It is assumed that these trends still represent the current situation. The main source of employment in the district seems to be the public sector especially in the fields of education, health, safety and security. The district has created employment opportunities through various programmes such as the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). Very few opportunities exist in private sector (manufacturing, etc.) although Musina and Makhado local municipalities are creating employment opportunities in this sector. Dominant employment opportunities are in the agricultural and tourism sectors especially in Makhado and Musina (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10).
Limited job opportunities in the district are attributed to issues such as lack of business management skills, lack of market research, food insecurity, transfer of indigenous skills and lack of information about opportunities (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10).

Economic activities

The Vhembe district has experienced low economic growth in the past. However, some economic potential exists in sectors such as agriculture, tourism and mining. There are a number of challenges hampering economic development in the region. According to Vhembe IDP (2009/10:28), some of these include poor infrastructural development (communication networks, electricity, roads, etc.), crime, lack of Investment, high illiteracy, unplanned settlement, land degradation and lack of reliable business data at local municipal level.
Since this study is about thermal springs as tourism destinations, tourism will be discussed as a sector with potential in the region. Agriculture is also considered because the literature review showed that hot springs could be used in agricultural activities such as fish farming. It is therefore feasible to note the regional status of these particular two sectors.


Agriculture in the region is a major source of employment. In view of job opportunities in the sector, the regional IDP has devised various plans to improve the industry (Vhembe IDP (2009/10).
Agricultural activities occur within all the local municipalities. The area around Musina and Makhado are known for stock farming (cattle and sheep) and crop production (tomatoes and cabbage). Mutale’s agricultural activities are dominated by stock farming. However, subsistence farming is often practised in many areas.
Ways to increase agricultural job creation would be to include agro-processing of dairy products and fruit. At present a large proportion of raw products are processed in other provinces such as Gauteng (Vhembe IDP, 2009/10). The introduction of agricultural subsidies to small scale farmers and the provision of equipment such as tractors and fertilisers are other possible mechanism to boost the agricultural sector.

1.1 Introduction
1.2 South African hot springs
1.3 Motivation for study
1.4 Study area
1.5 Aim and objectives
1.6 Layout of the dissertation
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Characteristics of thermal springs
2.3 Uses of hot springs around the world
2.4 South African thermal springs
2.5 Historical use and development of South African thermal springs
2.6 Hot springs in Limpopo
2.7 Sustainable development
2.8 Destination competitiveness
2.9 The Lee and King 2006 model of hot springs destination
2.10 Chapter summary
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Physical characteristics of the study area
3.3 Socio-economic characteristics of Study area
3.4 Research methodology
3.5 Data analysis
3.6 Limitations of the methodology
3.7 Chapter summary
4.1 Introduction
4.2 History of Tshipise hot spring
4.3 Competiveness at the Tshipise Resort
4.4 Chapter summary
5.1 Introduction
5.2 History of Mphephu Resort
5.3 Competitiveness of the Mphephu Resort
5.4 Chapter summary
6.1 Introduction
6.2 History of Sagole Spa
6.3 Competiveness of Sagole Spa
6.4 Chapter summary.
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Tourism destination resources and attractors
7.3 Tourism destination strategies
7.4 Tourism destination environments
7.5 Chapter summary
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Results
8.3 Conclusion
8.4 Recommendations

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