Makuleke community selfless act benefits conservation

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The landscape in the Pafuri region of the Kruger National Park is incredibly diverse, with expanses off ever tree forests, giant baobabs and of course, unparalleled vistas of Lanner Gorge. Sandwiched between the mighty Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers, this incredible landscape dates back 250 million years and features incredible diversity.

Visit any of the RETURNAfrica tourism products in Pafuri and you will find a strong connection with the Makuleke people. It is through their selfless decisions and conservation mind-set that visitors from all over the world can share in the beauty today. But the journey has not been easy.

When the Makuleke people first arrived in Pafuri they settled the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers, where an ancient trade route passed through to the Mozambican coast.  Here, they were able to maintain a subsistence economy through cultivation, harvesting, hunting and fishing.

Lanner Gorge

Image by Gideon Mendel

Facts about the Makuleke people 

  • 1820s: The Makulekes first arrived in Pafuri.
  • Mozambique: The Makuleke’s original home.
  • 1969: The Makulekes were removed from their land. It was returned to them in 1998.
  • 3: The number of accommodation options in Pafuri run by RETURNAfrica. Baobab Hill Bush House sleeps eight guests. Pafuri Luxury Tented Camp has 19 tents, seven of which can accommodate families of up to four. The Pafuri Walking Trails can accommodate 16 guests in two trails camps from April to October.

Forced removals in the greater Kruger

For 150 years they enjoyed this lifestyle, but in 1969 it all came to an end. Their ability to support themselves vanished overnight as the apartheid government forced them to move 70km south-west of Pafuri, so this beautiful area could form part of the greater Kruger. In an overcrowded region where they were unable to support themselves through a subsistence economy, everything crumbled.

Reconciliation of the Makuleke people

However, after decades of struggle, 1998 brought a new dawn for the Makuleke people. They finally regained the ownership of their home. But despite the restitution and their attachment to the land, they decided to keep it within Kruger for the benefit of those visiting the region, in the form of responsible tourism and conservation.
Today, the Makulekes are the custodians of the land and share a close friendship with RETURNAfrica, a partnership that has greatly benefitted the community.

Image by Gideon Mendel

How the Makuleke people benefit from Pafari

Through the Community Property Association, they receive 10% of all revenue generated in the concession, says Samantha Lincesso from RETURNAfrica. Furthermore, they also have the option to shares after a period of time. Through various tourism initiatives, over 60 families of the community benefit through employment. Training and skills development, such as formal guide training, internships and mentorships, also form part of the arrangement.

Makuleke dancers cers-performing-at-the-Zion Christian Church

Image by Gideon Mendel

Lastly, through the partnership, RETURNAfrica has given even more back to the community through the donations of school ablutions, school uniforms and donations to centres where children can have a meal or do their homework.

RETURNAfrica, a member of Fair Trade Tourism, originated at Pafuri. “Our brand is rooted in fair trade and aims to maximise returns to the community, the environment and the business. We are deeply grateful to the Makulekes for the opportunity to operate on their land,” says Lincesso.

Written by René de Klerk

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