In the 19th century, it was assumed that blacks were the exterminators of wildlife in the Transvaal. This was a curious assumption as visitors to the region found an abundance of wildlife before the white man moved in. It is now clear that the decline in wildlife numbers was due to the agricultural transformation and industrialisation of the Transvaal. It is also apparent that white hunters and sportsmen killed more game than the blacks did.
In the same vein, blacks were never invited to enjoy the South African National Parks as visitors. It is therefore understandable that at times there were calls to abolish the Kruger National Park, as it has no relevance to the impoverished locals who were in dire need of farmland.
This attitude has only recently changed to one of goodwill, as the Kruger National Park is presently one of the biggest single suppliers of job opportunities in the local communities. However, it seemed to be “touch and go” in terms of the Park’s early years, which were beset with bureaucracy and interference from International Events.
The Volksraad was the parliament of the former Transvaal Republic, and comprised 24 members. The body ceased to exist after the British victory in the Second Boer War and the resultant formation of the Union of South Africa. The Volksraad of the Republic was divided into two chambers in 1890, in order to keep Afrikaner (Dutch-speaking) control over state matters and still give the foreigners (who had temporary employment in the mining industry) a say in local affairs - and in order to fend off British complaints in this regard.
After the entry of the first whites into the area of what is now the Kruger Park, came the ‘sportsmen’ from Europe, hunting for trophies. There seemed to be no limit to the abundance of game available. When the Voortrekkers moved into this area they initially utilised the wildlife as resources for survival. Later, they became dependent on hunting for economic purposes. They therefore regarded game as a national asset.
The Volksraad proclaimed the first law, with attempted to control hunting, in 1846. It stated that only game for own consumption could be hunted and foreigners were prohibited from hunting. Already the idea of ‘sustainable’ yield was taking root. Although representatives in the Transvaal Volksraad agreed that something should be done to preserve the fauna and flora, not much was achieved.
In 1858 and again in 1869, saw the proclamation of the so-called Soutpansberg Hunting Law, prohibiting hunting in the Lowveld in summer months. The idea behind this was to preserve depleted game stock in that area. Pressure from the people of the Transvaal, caused this law to be repealed.
The first game reserve to be established in the Transvaal was the Pongola Game Reserve in 1894. This was not established so much to preserve the wild life, but to claim a possible route to the sea, freeing the Transvaal from dependence on British harbours. This, however, all came to nothing as the British had annexed much of Tongaland in April 1895, effectively cutting off this route to the sea.
Sabie Game Reserve:
As early as 1890, two republican officials, GJ Louw, and Abel Erasmus proposed that an area be set aside as a game reserve. Louw suggested the Barberton area and Erasmus, the area between the Crocodile and Sabie Rivers. The government did not respond to these proposals.
The matter was raised again in 1893, and in 1895. This must have had an effect as the Volksraad finally asked Erasmus (of the 1890 proposal) for an opinion, and agreement was reached that a second game reserve in the Transvaal would be a good idea.
As it was obvious that the government was not very interested in this venture, two other members of the Volksraad, RK Loveday and JL van Wijk took matters into their own hands. On 6 September 1895, they informed the Volksraad that they intended to submit a motion the following week for the proclamation of a game reserve in the Lydenburg district. The debate took place on 17 September 1895. Loveday proposed the motion and Van Wijk seconded it.
This was met with limited success, as although the Executive Council was instructed by the Volksraad to proclaim the game reserve, nothing was done. Loveday once again took the matter up but by November 1897, still nothing had been achieved. At last, on 29 December 1897, the Executive Council discussed the matter and 3 months later, on 26 March 1898, a proclamation for the ‘Sabiewildreserwe’ was finally issued.
In what was proving to be a slow process, in September 1898, the Executive Council agreed to appoint a caretaker. Due to the lack of funds, two members of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek Polisie (ZARP’s) were instructed to patrol the area! However, the 9th of October 1899, saw the outbreak of the Second Boer War, which put further delays in place.
In the last months of the war, the British Administration, led by Lord Milner, decided to re-proclaim the Sabie Game Reserve. On the 28th of August 1903, the proclamation numbered 38 was issued, which described the borders of the Reserve:
North: Olifants River
East: The Portuguese Boundary
South: The Crocodile River
West: The watershed running from the Crocodile Poort Railway Station to Logies Kop,then following the North Sand River to where it joins the Sabi River, then following the Sabie River to Mambatene’s kraal, northwards along the old wagon road to where is touches the Selati Railway Extension, and finally, following the Selati Railway Extension to the Olifants River.
Singwidzi Game Reserve:
After a letter from the Secretary for Native Affairs dated 22 April 1903, the Singwidzi Game Reserve was proclaimed without much ado, (Proclamation 19 of 1903). This proclamation meant that apart from the triangular shaped area between the Letaba and Olifants Rivers, all of the eastern Transvaal Lowveld from the Crocodile River in the south to the Luvuvhu in the north was a game reserve.
The Singwidzi Reserve included Crook's Corner, a small triangular tongue of land between the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers, where the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet. In the 1900s, this area was a safe-haven for gunrunners, poachers, fugitives and anyone else dodging the law. It was an easy hop across the river whenever police from one particular country approached.
There is a large plaque here commemorating the legendary ivory hunter Cecil Bernard (Bvekenya), who hid on an island in the middle of the Limpopo to avoid being tracked down by pursuing rangers and police in the 1920s. Ironically, Barnard later became a ranger himself. A police station was later built here.
In 1914, with the Administrator’s Proclamation 48 of 1 December 1914, the territory between the Sabie and Singwidzi Game Reserves, belonging to the Department of Mining, became a protected area. These two reserves were then joined, and, in 1916, were consolidated into the Transvaal Game Reserves.