Our game drive has taken us from Letaba, north along the tar road towards the Middelvlei windmill. At first we’re surrounded by thick mopaneveld, promising little in the way of sightings except elephant. Eventually the thicket opens out into grassland where we’ve been told we might unearth some rhino, lion or cheetah. But we’re too early or too late, or we’re simply not looking properly, because we spot nothing but impala and more impala.
The journey hasn’t been wasted, though. It gives us the opportunity to turn east along the H15 to Makhadzi, a picnic site halfway to the Giriyondo border post into Mozambique. The charming and friendly Joseph and Lombard look after this very pretty site, set among apple-leaf and fever trees.
They’re an enterprising pair, making and selling vases of ‘flowers’ out of old cold drink cans, and intricately cut cans for use as candlestick holders. The ‘stems’ are cut from the can in a spiral that remains attached and the ‘flowers’ are made of the six-pack shrinkwrap. Even the immaculate ladies loo has its own long-life bouquet of shrinkwrap flowers.
Here we hire a skottel to cook our bacon and eggs, enjoy the shade. Then we pop into the information centre for what we think will just be a minute or two, and find ourselves in the grip of some intriguing stories. Most interesting are the potted histories of the horse regiment that used to patrol these borders during the Anglo Boer War (more about that in the next blog post) and of the Maluleke people to the north – a slightly atypical South African story of forced removal and land restitution.
The Maluleke people had hunted and farmed in the Pafuri area for nearly 200 years. Then in 1969, after years of wrangling, they were evicted from their land by the South African government, all in the name of conserving nature.
Nearly 30 years later, finally acknowledging the need for a balance between the need to conserve our natural heritage and the local people’s need for both land and work, Kruger decided to give back 24,000 hectares to the Maluleke people. Unusually, the new owners agreed not to resettle the land, but rather to use it as a contractual park for conservation purposes so that the animals in the area could continue to roam freely.
So now the Maluleke once again possess the land of their forebears, including the rocky hilltop that was the site of the chief’s homestead, and the giant baobab where they used to gather to resolve disputes. Although some wildlife fanatics originally saw the Maluleke’s claim as a threat, it’s now considered a model for how indigenous communities can be successfully integrated into conservation programmes. No longer the centre of squabbling and resentment, the land is now a source of tribal income through community tourism initiatives in the Maluleke concession. One example, built in partnership with private operators, is the luxurious five-star Pafuri Lodge on the Luvhuvhu River.
‘The issue of conservation was hidden to black people,’ the info board quotes Livingstone Maluleke. ‘When I was growing up if I saw a herd of impala, I thought about killing them. A tree, I thought about cutting it down. Now, when I see those things, I think about saving them.’
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