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IIt seems quite fitting that the statesman who gave the world the word ‘holism’ and was a major force behind the international body that would become the United Nations, was also the first to champion what is now the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Back in 1922, Jan Smuts – then prime minister of the Union of South Africa – saw the potential of this land (then in the northern Transvaal province) and agitated for it to be protected. First, it was set aside as a botanical reserve. Later, in the early 1940s, it was proclaimed as the Dongola National Park. It was then that Smuts mooted the joining of this area with wilderness regions across the border in Botswana (then Bechuanaland) and Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia).
Unfortunately, the park became a victim of politicking, and was deproclaimed shortly after Smuts’ opposition, the National Party, came to power in 1948. With their apartheid policy founded firmly on the dogma of white supremacy, the last thing the new government wanted to acknowledge was a pre-colonial African civilisation.
All through this time, however, academics quietly carried on excavating the fascinating lost kingdom of Mapungubwe, as they had since the 1930s.
Now things have come full circle for the Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. The rare vegetation – Acacia-Salvadora woodland – that may have inspired Smuts to protect this land is now officially conserved. Red-data-list animals like wild dogs, tsessebe and sable have been introduced. The cross-boundary sanctuary Smuts envisaged is in the process of creation.
On the South African side, a patchwork of land is being consolidated around the anchor: the Mapungubwe National Park. Already local communities are benefiting from the Greater Mapungubwe Conservation Area. The South African government has funded the creation of camps and other infrastructure in Mapungubwe through its poverty-relief funding.
Across the Botswana border is the Tuli Block, 36 privately owned farms working as a single, elephant-rich conservation entity. On the Zimbabwean side is the Tuli Circle hunting area and a few large game farms. Linking all this land will dramatically increase rangeland for the famous Tuli elephants.
The Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, when it is complete and fully operational, will mark a victory for holistic thinking.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
How to get here
Enter the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area from Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo province. It is easily accessible by car from the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria – via the N1 and R521, it’s about 530km from Johannesburg.
Best time to visit
Autumn, winter and spring (March to November) are lovely times in this part of the world. Summer is beautiful too, but often extremely hot and humid.
Tours to do
There is an excellent tour focused around the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe, which from around 1075 AD controlled the trade routes through this area between the hinterland and the coast until the early 13th Century. It is fascinating, and you will not want to miss it.
There are excellent game drives in the Mapungubwe National Park, for which a vehicle is provided. But you will find your own vehicle gives you a lot more freedom.
What to pack
Take something warm for the evenings in winter. Don't forget your camera and binoculars, and always pack a hat and sunscreen.
Where to stay
Mapungubwe National Park has an array of options to suit all budgets and tastes. The Tuli Block in Botswana offers several luxury lodges.