The Kruger National Park is one of my favourite places in the world. There is nothing like those early mornings edging slowly down a gravel road, squinting into the rising sun, sipping hot coffee – all the while wondering what is around the next corner or what is happening a metre off the road in the tall grass, behind the thicket or in the culvert. We often speak about getting equipment that detects body heat and how we’d be amazed at all the animals we drive straight past right next to the road.
Pafuri Border Camp
Last year I stayed for the first time at Pafuri Border Camp in the northern most part of the Park. While I have visited the Pafuri picnic site often (it’s a wonderful drive from Punda Maria for a picnic breakfast), the Pafuri Border Camp only opened in 2015. It is now the third of Kruger Park’s bush lodges along with Roodewal Bush Lodge and Boulders Bush Lodge.
Apart from the privacy and independence this camp allows, it is located in the most beautiful part of the park with groves of fever trees, amazing riverine nyala trees and clusters of baobabs on rocky outcrops. Plus it is close to Crooks Corner and the camp itself is steeped in history.
History of Pafuri Border Camp
The camp’s early history is firmly located in the history of labour recruitment for the mining industry. The Pafuri Border post was set up to process labour from what was then Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique. On the one side of the camp is a small building whose sign indicates it was used by the Employment Bureau of Africa Ltd WENELA and THEBA. This was the recruitment agency for foreign labour for the mines. As early as 1896 there had been a loose association of labour employers who recruited labour from PEA/Mozambique (the history and methods of these recruitments are shameful to say the least.) At the end of the South Africa War post 1902 (during which time mining had been suspended), the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA) was formed as one of the labour recruiting agencies. During 1912 most of these recruiting organisations were amalgamated under the name of the Native Recruiting Corporation Limited (NRC). But WNLA was so closely associated with the NRC that no mine could be a member of the NRC without also being a member of WNLA. And the two companies operated under the same board of directors and the same management. Eksteens, which recruited labour for the Corner House Group of Mines, was the largest of the independent labour organisations that formed the NRC. The head of Eksteens was Mr H M Taberer, who was known in what is now the Eastern Cape, as “Teba”, a simplified African pronunciation of his surname. In 1912 Taberer was appointed General Superintendent of the new company and the name “kwaTeba” (the house of Teba) was adopted as the ‘Native’ name of the NRC. In the Nguni-speaking areas it has been called by this name ever since, but in the Sotho speaking areas it was generally known as “Gaudeng” (the place of gold) or simply as “NRC”. (Much of this is taken from research by Johan Schutte in a paper entitled ‘The Origins of WENELA and TEBA’). The WNLA building was turned into a museum (or was going to be) but it is currently empty and closed. This is really sad as it could tell a fascinating history of labour recruitment, albeit shameful, and albeit for quite a limited audience.
The history of the camp is inscribed in its buildings. Pafuri Border Camp has three self-catering houses: Mockford House sleeps 8; Mockford Cottage has one bedroom plus beds on the veranda so can sleep four; and we stayed in Doctor’s Guest House which has three bedrooms. Although it officially sleeps 6 we squeezed in an extra 3 and 4 year old. The initial wood and clay houses were replaced in 1938 with brick houses with the wonderful wrap-around verandahs that exist today. There was a resident doctor who had a house (where we stayed)– he had to ensure that labourers were fit for work.
Mockford House na cottage take their names from Harold Mockford previously a big-game hunter, who was employed in 1938 by WNLA as recruitment manager at the Pafuri border post. In 1997 he became the first honorary lifelong ranger of the Kruger Park.
South Africa’s first land claim
During the 1820s the Maluleke settled on the land between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. Up until 1969 this area remained in their control. But when the Kruger National Park decided to extend the park north to the Limpopo and incorporate their land, the Maluleke were forcibly removed and relocated to their current area next to the Park . However, in 1998, the land was returned to the Makuleke community, who chose to leave it with the Kruger Park system and use it to generate development funds and jobs. 22,000 hectares of land that the community have a stake in also has 80% of the biodiversity of the Kruger Park.
Private Luxury Pafuri Lodges
The Kruger National Park’s Pafuri Border Camp is not to be confused with the several private luxury camps in this area. Pafuri River Lodge and the Outpost are five-star lodges in the area that employ community members and pay rental to the Makuleke Communal Property Association as well as subsidize conservation of the area. Besides the two lodges there is also the Ecotraining facility on the Makuleke land which offers field guide training. The Pafuri Camp is 5 star and has 19 luxury designer tents with en-suite bathrooms. There are seven ‘family tents’ that sleep up to four persons, making this a 52-bed camp. The Outpost Safari Lodge has one large main building and 12 stand-alone en-suite rooms that are placed alongside a long walkway (made of Zimbabwean teak) with views overlooking the Luvuvhu River. Baobab Hill can accommodate 8 guests in a house previously used by a game ranger. Luvuvhu River Lodge has 5 tents, a lounge and dining area and a large wooden deck, and there is also a plunge pool. Guests provide their own food but there is a cook who will help prepare. Pel’s Post can accommodate 8 guests in stand alone units.
Another historic part of the Pafuri area is Crook’s Corner wherethe Luvhuvhu and Limpopo rivers come together where South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe meet. Legend has it (and it’s probably more truth than legend), in the early 20th Century, gun runners, poachers, fugitives and anyone other dodgy characters escaped to Crooks Corner as a safe haven. There’s a beacon marking the corner of the triangle where the three countries met – the countries in those days being the Union of South Africa, Portuguese East Africa and Southern Rhodesia. If you hopped on top of the beacon were you in no-man’s land? Immune from the long arm of the law?