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SSouth Africa’s Makuleke people are a shining example of how local communities can benefit from tourism. Two luxury eco-lodges now stand on the 24 000 hectares that the Makuleke people regained after being dispossessed during apartheid, and the community has used the income generated to improve their lives.
There is a day in 1969 that Livingstone Maluleke can never forget − the day the apartheid government authorities came to forcibly remove the Makuleke people from the Pafuri area in the northern Kruger National Park.
‘There was no prior agreement or arrangement, no time to pack. Our fathers were in Johannesburg or working on the mines. It was only the women and children at home. This was a terrible tragedy in our lives. We lost our identity. We even lost our traditional leader − he was taken away to become a leader under another chief.’
The Makuleke were able to lodge a successful land claim in the Pafuri area after apartheid ended in 1994 – but for a time, there were serious challenges. Here was a land claim inside the Kruger National Park, a flagship game reserve. Eventually, through negotiation, a win-win solution took shape. The Makuleke have not moved back onto the land, but they have full commercial rights within a conservation context.
Two luxury eco-lodges, Pafuri Camp (operated at time of writing by Return Africa) and Outpost Lodge (operated at time of writing by Rare Earth), now stand on the Makuleke’s 24 000 hectares – and from the rental first generated, the community was able to electrify three villages, build a school, and upgrade five others.
Years later, the land and the tourist lodges upon it continue to provide economic benefits to the Makuleke people, who receive a percentage of both camps’profits. Livingstone says: ‘I must say, the community is very happy with what’s happened. We can see where we are benefitting.’
Senior ranger and guide Enos Mngomezulu can only agree. ‘Some of the older people wanted to come back, to be a part of the culture of the Makuleke. But now they see they have ownership in a way that offers their children opportunities.
‘It’s a story with a happy ending,’ he says contentedly.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Makuleke Information and Implementation Office
Tel: +27 (0)15 853 0063
How to get here
The most convenient way is by your own vehicle, entering through Pafuri Gate, the northernmost entrance to the Kruger National Park.
Best time to visit
Each season has its attractions, although the heat can be oppressive in the height of summer (November to March).
Around the area
This is baobab world, and some of the largest baobab trees in Africa are found here. There’s plenty more worth seeing such as spectacular gorges, riverine forests and much more. Although you might be lucky enough to see the Big 5 and other game, this is not known as one of the best game areas of the Kruger National Park. But the landscape, plant and bird life more than make up for any scarcity of game.
Tours to do
Enquire about a trip to the lost kingdom of Thulamela, a fascinating archaeological dig at Pafuri. You can also do walking trails in this area, through local operators (see the websites listed below).
Once you’re at either of the camps, you’ll be taken around on game-drive vehicles.
What will it cost
These are luxury game lodges and are priced accordingly; see websites for current details.
Length of stay
Set aside at least 2 nights; more, if possible.
What to pack
Don’t forget your binoculars and camera, a hat and sunscreen for the game drives and something warm for winter evenings. Pack comfortable walking shoes if you'd like to walk in the bush, and a bird book, because this area is known as one of the top birding spots in the country – it’s a RAMSAR Convention-designated wetland of international importance.