By Surihe Gaomas WARMBAD The small dusty village of Warmbad received a major tourism boost and rural empowerment initiative with the official opening of the Warmbad Community Lodge by President Hifikepunye Pohamba yesterday. From as early as six o’clock in the morning, both young and old congregated under a tent to witness the memorable event which for the first time marks the official handover of the N$2.5 million Warmbad hotsprings project to the local community. Addressing his audience, Pohamba said the community is the rightful owner of the lodge that was constructed over a two-year period and should therefore work towards developing themselves. The Head of State dispelled rumours that the lodge at Warmbad belongs to the regional government. “There are some rumours and the people of Warmbad are questioning whether the hotsprings lodge belongs to the regional government or the people. In fact, it belongs to the people of Warmbad. It is yours,” he insisted. The government in 2003 purchased the springs from a well-known American prospector George Swanson, who now lives in Springbok, South Africa. At that time, Cabinet directed the Ministry of Regional, Local Government, Housing and Rural Development to buy the springs for N$66 000 and government invested an additional N$2.5 million as start-up capital for the site to be turned into a fully fledged resort. Not only is this seen as a major economic boost for the village, but it will also provide jobs, skills and income-generation opportunities. In view of this, community members were urged by President Pohamba to look after the property and not cause any problems that might hinder its successful progress to attract local and international tourists. “I also request the community leadership not to allow any interference in the running of the management of the lodge by members of the community,” added the President before unveiling the plaque. He also called on the people to “aggressively promote the lodge”. Two aspiring young women, Evaliza Nailenge, a fisheries inspector from Windhoek, and Nadine Pickering from LÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼deritz, will jointly manage the lodge situated around the hotsprings. The Consolidated Pickering and Nailenge Company (CPN) will employ seven local people from the community as staff members at the lodge. “We still plan to upgrade the place and we are busy securing a private loan to develop the site,” said Nailenge in a brief interview with New Era. On its part, the German government through its embassy donated N$496 000 to the Karas Regional Council for upgrading the dilapidated old German building near the lodge. The building, built in 1908, carries with it a rich cultural heritage for both the German and Bondelswarts communities. “The preservation of the cultural heritage countrywide is important and so far the German government has made available over N$8 million for this purpose,” said German Ambassador Arne Freiherr von Kipplitz Und Ottendorf. The old building, which was a museum before, has now been renovated into a restaurant for the new lodge at Warmbad. For the public, this is a step in the right direction as it is the third time to own property that was rightfully theirs from the start. “I am very happy, the ancestors are happy and we are pleased with everything,” said Johannes Josob, an elderly man. “What we have sacrificed all our lives for has now become a reality. The remains of our ancestors will rest in eternal peace,” said Josef Christiaan, a special representative of the Chief of the Bondelswarts. Project Coordinator Michael Jimmy, who is the pioneer behind the project, told New Era that he sees the handover of the project to the community as a major milestone in his career. He said tourism in the region, especially in the Karasburg constituency, has great potential to tap into the close-lying Ai-Ais Richterveld Transfrontier Park and Conservation area. “There is new growth coming and we are encouraging traditional authorities to lobby government to get those farms for settlement from Sandfontein. The area can then be used for prospective investors to enter into joint ventures,” explained Jimmy. The new lodge, which consists of five traditional huts, three family units, a hot spa as well as an outdoor swimming pool, will be opened for business next week Monday. This marks the fourth visit by the Head of State to the Karas Region.