National Parks in South Africa – a Scotsman’s perspective

Just under four years ago, I posted on this blog about National Parks in Australia and Scotland. My trip to South Africa on research leave and a short trip within my bigger trip has opened up the possibility of another wee post about national parks there, so here goes. Hopefully this will be of interest to people in the UK and South Africa. Before going any further though, I should reiterate my thanks to the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for providing funding for my travel to South Africa and (in case anyone is wondering) please note I took a few days annual leave to facilitate a long weekend in Johannesburg then the trip to Kruger National Park that I refer to below, and I financed the sojourn myself.

Not much has changed as regards Scottish national parks since I wrote my post about Australia and Scotland. There are still only two national parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. (The Borders and Harris have been mooted as potential park locations: work is ongoing about the former, but the latter seems to have stalled.) The law relating to national parks remains largely the same as it was, although mention might be made of the change in regulation of wild camping in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, where the Park Authority has passed byelaws to police this. This means that the right of responsible access under Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 will not allow for campers to simply pitch up and camp without a permit in these areas.

That reform was controversial in Scotland. Meanwhile, in South Africa, I needed a permit just to get into Kruger Park, South Africa’s oldest national park, never mind camp.

Kruger Permit

Perhaps I should have taken a photo of the gate I entered through to give you an idea of how well-staffed and secure the park entrance was, but then again the staff at the well-staffed gate looked very official and not desirous of being photographed. So here’s a substitute photo of a sign.

Phabeni Gate sign

As for wild camping even when furnished with a permit… not so much. Human accommodation (in static, caravan, or pitched form) was restricted to designated rest areas (in my case, Skukuza – more about that name and its meaning later).

Skukuza Rest Camp Entrance

Mind you, camping is also regulated in another national park area which I visited (without a permit) at the opposite end of the country.

Glencoe Quarry

Seriously, Glencoe Quarry. There are Scottish connections aplenty in South Africa. As for the Glencoe thing, I did not enquire as to whether it was possible to buy a rock and become a Laird of Glencoe as a result.

That brief comparison shows Scotland’s slight concession to camping regulation in national parks is really nothing compared to the regime in the spots I visited in South Africa. I should probably not make too much of that though, for highly practical reasons: restricting recreational humans to rest areas at Kruger is somewhat sensible, because lions and leopards and armed poachers; whereas camping in and around Cape Town is not exactly recommended for tourists in the Lonely Planet.

Enough about where I happened to go. What about the regime as a whole, as opposed to at Kruger or the Cape Peninsula?

There are 19 national parks in South Africa (compared to Scotland’s two), operated by South African National Parks (SANParks, compared to two boards in Scotland). SANParks draws its existence and powers from the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 (which superseded the National Parks Act 57 of 1976). Other older legislation dealt with specific national parks, with Kruger National Park being worthy of comment here. The Sabie Game Reserve – a predecessor to Kruger – was proclaimed by the then president of the Transvaal Republic in 1898 (Paul Kruger), James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the first warden of the Sabie Game Reserve in 1902, then the National Parks Act 56 of 1926 merged the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves to form Kruger National Park. (More on James Stevenson-Hamilton – who came to be known as Skukuza – below.) There are also public nature reserves, managed below central government level, which I will skim over in this post.

The overall function of SANParks is nicely summarised in this document as being to “protect, conserve and control the national parks and other protected areas assigned to it and to manage those areas in accordance with [section 57 of the 2003 Act]”. (The document is also available here in Afrikaans and Northern Sotho.) This broadly chimes with the Scottish approach, although apparently with more joined-up-ness. Another intriguing contrast is that the legislation providing for SANParks requires a 2/3 majority in parliament to get rid of the body.

In terms of other differences with Scotland, some of the practical points (predators and poaching) have already been highlighted. Before anyone asks, poaching activity (particularly of the rhino) in South Africa is of a different scale to any criminal activity relating to wildlife that is going on in Scotland. Can you imagine the Cairngorms authority putting out a press release like this? As for other differences, South African national parks are much older, and there are more of them, although not as many as Australia. Then there is the size of (some of) the parks. Kruger weighs in at 7,580 square miles (19,633 km²). This is almost but not quite as big as Wales, to use the standard measurement of the British press.

So there are clear differences, but there are commonalities in terms of what the national parks are for in both jurisdictions. This was evidenced in one of the displays in this museum in Skukuza Rest Camp.

Kruger National Park Museum

It highlighted the benefits the park brings (or at least claims to bring), including via environmental education, economic empowerment, and cultural heritage management. And whilst I am no brand consultant, it seems fair to say the shop on-site was doing a decent trade and Kruger Park has a certain attraction for tourists. SANParks’ website also notes it generates 75% of its operating revenue, a fact it is somewhat bullish about.

That museum also detailed some other interesting trivia, which I will summarise below, and in turn tie it a bit to the land question.

The first display in the museum has a quote from someone from a local township about the importance of the conservation and tourism aspects of the park, which seems a good sign. Then the inevitable land issues that pervade South Africa come into play, as Voortrekkers then the South African (Anglo-Boer) War arrive. We also discover a bit more about James “Skukuza” Stevenson-Hamilton, whose Shangaan or Swazi name means “to sweep away like a flooding river” or “he who sweeps clean”, a name bestowed for his early efforts to control poaching, and (more tellingly) his steps to move people living inside the park to elsewhere. The last removals from Kruger National Park took place as recently as 1969 (during the apartheid-era). Perfunctory eviction letters are on display in the museum, telling inhabitants to leave and making no provision for their alternative accommodation. (By way of contrast, the museum also notes there were no forced removals in the Mkhuze Reserve in what is now KwaZulu-Natal.) To say this was a thought-provoking read for someone who was drawn to the area as a tourist for the whole safari thing would be an understatement. [EDIT 9 May – I have since discovered a successful land reform claim was made in relation to part of Kruger National Park by the Makuleke community. See below.]  The display then concluded with some possibilities for the future, including transfrontier work with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. That takes matters somewhat away from my national park focus, so I will not say anything more about that.

As for Stevenson-Hamilton, I read a bit more about him in the “WAC Campbell Museum Hut”. (Incidentally, Campbell was a founder member of the National Parks Board, along with a bunch of other white men.)

Campbell Museum Hut

In that museum hut, I learnt that Stevenson-Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1867, and that there is a Scottish connection. His mother was heiress to the estates of Fairholm and Kirkton in Lanarkshire, apparently. The museum also made reference to a couple of Scottish farmers that were in the area. So there you go.

Anyway, that is enough about national parks. Here’s a nice picture of a zebra crossing… [EDIT but please note I have added some more text below about that actual land claim involving Kruger National Park.]


UPDATE: When I was doing some reading in the library at the University of Stellenbosch today, I stumbled upon a reference to a land claim involving Kruger National Park in the book Re-conceiving property rights in the new millenium: towards a new sustainable relations policy edited by Ben Chigara in a chapter by Munyaradzi Saruchera and Sibongile Manzana. I was intrigued and after a quick internet search I can confirm that, yes, a successful land claim for approximately 24,000 hectares was made under the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 in relation to a removal that happened in 1969. A judgment handed down on 15 December 1998 essentially gave effect to an agreement that the interested parties had come to regarding this (those interested parties being the Makuleke Community, SANParks, and various state and government entities). That agreement had been entered into by those parties in the knowledge of the direction of travel in South African land reform. An online story about this can be found here and the event is noted in the relevant timeline on the SANParks website.

About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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1 Response to National Parks in South Africa – a Scotsman’s perspective

  1. Pingback: Some Scottish perspectives on land reform in South Africa – Aberdeenunilaw

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