Place of joint-twisting journeys and renewed hope – Makuya Nature Reserve
The reserve, which lies hidden in one of the remotest parts of Limpopo, is an adventurer’s dream and carries the hopes of a community that has become involved in its conservation.
We were meant to explore one of the tough hiking trails that form part of the attractions at Makuya Nature Reserve in far northeastern Limpopo on a not-so-late Saturday morning.
Temperatures soared into the mid-30s on our Friday-afternoon arrival. That night, countless stars illuminated the rugged landscape, with not a single cloud in sight. Someone who knows the secrets of Mother Nature advised that this was a sign that the next day, Saturday, was going to be hell on Earth. A quick check with the online weatherman confirmed the dire warnings. The temperature would be nearing 40°C by late morning.
It sure wasn’t going to be a day for adventure seekers, especially a bunch of superbly unfit journalists, to be walking about in the sun. Relief swept through our group when it was announced that the hike had been cancelled because of the extreme heat.
We were a group of journalists and some government agency staff on an adventure to the park as part of the Limpopo department of economic development, environment and tourism’s activities for Tourism Month.
Instead, we hopped into 4×4 game vehicles and headed east. But in the end I was left wondering if perhaps the hike on foot wouldn’t have been better.
The drive turned out to be a joint-twisting, muscle-stretching bumpy ride over precipitous terrain. We twisted through rough paths and ascended jagged hills while dodging tree branches.
Makuya Nature Reserve is Big Five country. But we saw not a single animal on the drive. It seemed even the game had taken the advice of the weatherman and sought refuge from the broiling sun. But the sight of massive baobab trees that dot most of the landscape made up for the rough drive.
After what seemed like a lifetime our entourage stopped in an open clearing high up in the hills. After a short walk through dense vegetation with a ranger armed with a rifle – just in case – we emerged into the open on the edge of a rocky mountain about 1.5km above sea level. The spectacular Luvuvhu River meandered through a gorge down below. Beyond the gorge, lush vegetation stretched as far as the eye could see into the Kruger National Park and towards Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
The gorge is one of the attractions to this community-run 16,000ha reserve, which borders the Kruger. The land for the reserve is leased by the tourism department from the Makuya, Mutele and Mphaphuli traditional authorities. It is one of 43 provincial nature reserves managed by the department – some, like Makuya, in collaboration with communities.
Tourism MEC Rodgers Monama said the department had embarked on an intensive programme to market the nature reserves, including through the use of social media influencers, and to commercialise them through concession partnerships.
Partnership and progress
A 2021 research paper on the relationship that communities living adjacent to the Kruger have with the park noted that those living near game parks face challenges, including coming into contact with wild animals that escape from the parks and the destruction of crops and property.
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“Hostility and acrimony often punctuate the relationship between protected areas and the host community in many tourism destinations, such as national parks,” the paper, titled “Successes and Challenges in Sustainable Development Goals Localisation for Host Communities around Kruger National Park”, revealed.
“When animals encroach on human space, this often results in the destruction of property [and] crops, injuries and sometimes loss of human life, much to the annoyance of host communities, triggering conflict,” an article published by the department of tourism and integrated communication at the Vaal University of Technology notes.
[We] have been assisted by the government to get where we are. Before 1994 we would only see poles that warned us this is Kruger National Park.
But Vho-Tshifularo Makuya Muthige, the thovhele (chief) of the Makuya traditional authority, said the partnership with the provincial tourism department had brought hope to the community.
Under apartheid, the community had no access to the Kruger National Park, which occupies a stretch of their ancestral land.
Residents felt no attachment to the conservation area and the relationship with the park was less than cordial. But now that they are part owners and players in the conservation of nature and promotion of tourism, there seems to be progress.
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“[We] have been assisted by the government to get where we are. Before 1994 we would only see poles that warned us this is Kruger National Park.
“But we were not involved in running the park,” Muthige said.
“[Some] of our community members work in the reserve and we are hoping that more visitors will come here and there will be more jobs created in future,” she said. Mukurukuru Media/DM
Lucas Ledwaba is the founder and editor of Mukurukuru Media.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.