The story of Pafuri Camp and RETURNAfrica is inextricably bound up with that of the Makuleke people, who once lived on the land and have now returned as are our landlords and business partners.
In the 1820s, the ancestors of the Tsonga-speaking Maluleke clan – of which the Makulekes are a sub-group – left their home in modern-day Mo- zambique to press on into the ivory-rich lands further north. The leader of a Maluleke army sent his son, Makuleke or Hlekane, to settle the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers where an ancient trade route passed to the Mozambican coast. Over the next 150 years, his followers and their descendants lived in scattered settlements throughout the Pafuri Triangle, developing a fierce independence and a subsistence economy based on cultivation, harvesting, hunting and fishing. Despite growing European intrusion into the area – most notably recruiters seeking labour for the mines of the Witwatersrand but also hunters, traders, outlaws and conservationists – the Makulekes remained on the land until their forced removal by the apartheid authorities in 1969.
The ejection of the people allowed the northern extension of the Kruger National Park to incorporate the important biodiversity of the Pafuri Triangle, but it also caused a severe crisis for the Makuleke people. At a stroke, they were impoverished, losing the land that sustained them to be dumped in an overcrowded Bantustan some 70 kilometres to the south-west where there was no chance of re-establishing their subsistence economy. The people – like hundreds of thousands of others ‘resettled’ by apartheid – were left bereft. Overnight, they had lost not only the material base of their economy but also the rich social, spiritual and political life it sustained. This terrible trauma lives on in the collective memory of the Makuleke people. If you visit their villages on one of our tours, you will be treated to a performance that vividly re-enacts the experience of loss, longing and redemption that is the story of recent Makuleke history.
After the end of apartheid, the Makulekes reclaimed their ancestral land. In a landmark restitution in 1998, they regained ownership of the land but, remarkably, decided to keep it within the Kruger National Park and to use it responsibly for the benefit of the people and the wildlife it sustains. For us at RETURNAfrica, it is a privilege to be part of this great endeavour. As part of our agreement with the Makulekes, we pay a concession fee for the use of their land. We also share profit, create jobs, transfer skills, support local entrepreneurs and invest in community development projects. In return, we are able to operate in this ancient, diverse and magnificent place, and to share it with our guests.
This heritage day we would like to celebrate with our business partners, landlords, guides and friends, the Makuleke people.