Footprints Of Time & Collective Memories Of The Kruger National Park

Apr 2 2015

From the beginning of time history has defined us, but as Nobel Prize Laureate, William Faulkner once said, “In a sense the past is never dead, it is not even past”. Perhaps, it is because time is more circular than it is actually straight, and past events go on like ripples. The Park’s history and evidence of life however dates back to hundreds and thousands of years ago. And this month we explore the footprints of time in the Kruger National Park, when once heavy laden ox-wagons trawled treacherous mountain passes and remote prairies…

But even prior these ox-wagon days were even older civilisations. From the San tribe who had a legendary ability to track and live off of the land, they could navigate their surroundings like we today read traffic signs. Infamous for their symbolic rock paintings, there are nearly over 130 rock art sites within the Kruger. The Iron Age, which succeeded the Stone Age, is another era within the Kruger Park of which we can bear witness to. Varying dramatically from the San, they commonly made their living from melting iron. Close to the Phalaborwa gate, lies the last Iron Age site – the Marorini Ruins with its dome shaped clay furnaces. Another illustrated Iron Age site in the far north of the Park is Thulamela, where hillsides are dotted with collapsed walls and signs of dwellings which indicate that up to 2000 people may have lived there.

It was in 1898 that the Kruger National Park first became a protected area. Twenty eight years later it became a national park, and it was in this year that the first motor vehicle drove through the Park’s gates!
We also take a look at more recent influencers within the Park, some celebrated, and some notorious with questionable actions…

  • 1825 – 1904 – Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, known to South Africans as Paul Kruger, or to the Afrikaans community as “Oom Paul”, was the State President of the South African Republic. Also a founding member of the reformed Church in South Africa, it was he who first appealed to set aside protected areas where nature would remain unharmed. However his conservation vision was not mutual with other members of parliament and he was met with great demur. Dwindling wildlife due to hunting in the late 19th century prompted Paul Kruger to succeed in finally advocating the policy of protected areas. Naturally homage was paid to him through both a memorial tablet and a monument at the Paul Kruger entrance gate of the Park.
  • 1830’s – Joao Albasini, initially from Lisbon, Portugal was appointed vice-consul of Portugal in South Africa. With his seeking spirit and boundless business sense he was also recognized infamously as a skilled “Elephant Hunter”, “Slave Trader”, and the “White Chief” of the Shangaan people, a diverse population who were fundamentally traders. With zero authority to enforce laws, each year he controlled and dispersed armed African troops. Consequently enormous numbers of elephants were hunted for skins and ivory; others for meat and trophies. Ruins of Joao’s brick-built house can be seen not too far from the Hippo Pools near Pretoriuskop in the Park.
  • 1848 – Willem Pretorius, a Voortrekker (Afrikaans and Dutch speaking pioneers, which literally means those who pull ahead) was a member of Carl Trichardt’s 1848 expedition to Delagoa Bay. The group of Voortrekkers investigated various possible routes through the Lowveld to the Portuguese harbours in Mozambique in an effort to establish trade. Willem Pretorius died along the way, and it is Joao Albasini who buried him at the foot of a koppe, later named Pretorius Kop. The ruins of Pretorius’s homestead north of the rest camp have been partly rebuilt. Visitors may leave their vehicles and view the exhibit of old photographs and artefacts documenting daily life of ‘the’ day.
  • 1902 – James Stevenson-Hamilton, arrived in South Africa as a member of the 6th Enniskillen Dragoons, a Calvary regiment of the British Army and became the first appointed warden of the Sabi Game Reserve. Nick-named Skukuza by the Shangaan people, which is translated to “he who sweeps clean”, resulting from his attempts to establish the park, eliminate poaching, and the eviction of the local people from what had originally been their territory. He was briefly situated along the banks of the Crocodile River before settling at Sabi Bridge (now Skukuza), and his only mode of transport was a donkey drawn ox-cart. The lack of authority which hampered efforts to curb poaching was remedied when the Legislative Council appointed Stevenson-Hamilton as a Special Justice of the Peace. Now with powers bestowed to arrest and detain poachers, Stevenson-Hamilton fought on every account to save the reserve. One of the Park’s great attractions at Skukuza is the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library housing a fine collection of ecologically orientated books, paintings and memorabilia.
  • 1880 – Sir Fitzpatrick & Jock of the bushveld – Sir Percy Fitzpatrick was a South African author, politician, mining investor and innovator of the fruit industry who with Jock of the Bushveld commemorated the Park. Jock was a cross-bred staffordshire bull terrier, and the ill-proportioned runt of the litter who was constantly subjected to sibling attack. Sir Fitzpatrick foiled Jock’s owner from drowning the pup in a bucket of water who believed he would collapse the litter if left with them. Jock alongside Fitzpatrick grew into a fearless dog and through a bona fide friendship with his master stole the hearts of audiences world-wide. Jock’s birthplace is marked along the Voortrekker Road, which runs southeast of Pretoriuskop. Found at Jock Safari Lodge, there is a bronze statue that immortalises the bravery and loyalty of Jock. Further bronze plaques have been erected wherever Jock’s original routed crosses present day roads. A mark also overlooks the crocodile drift on the Malelane-Crocodile Bridge road where Jock, Fitzpatrick and Jim Makokel had a fight with an old crocodile. This story of Jock was later portrayed in the pages of Fitzpatrick’s book after he took pen to paper.

It is through these personal records of triumphs, customs, delights, pains, gains and losses that the Kruger National Park’s legacy is created. The past is not flexible in that it allows us to invent historical actualities, it is collected, noted and handed down, allowing the future to find nourishment and knowledge with the possibilities of expansion.

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