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History of the Kruger National Park

In 1902, the Sabi Game Reserve was proclaimed as a protected area by the government of the time and covered the area between the Crocodile and Sabi Rivers. Lieut.-Col. James Stevenson-Hamilton travelled from Scotland to South Africa to take up the position as the first warden of the game reserve in July 1902 after the end of the Second Anglo-Boer War. He stationed himself briefly on the banks of the Crocodile River, familiarizing himself with the land and animals he would come to know so well, but soon moved and settled at Sabi Bridge on the Sabi River. The people living in the Sabi Game Reserve at the time were moved by Stevenson-Hamilton and settled to the North of the Sabi River and to the South of the Crocodile River respectively. In 1903 the Sabi Reserve extension between the Sabi and Olifants Rivers as well as the Shingwedzi Game Reserve between the Letaba and Pafuri rivers were incorporated into the reserve. About half of the farms between the Sabi and Olifants rivers were owned by private landowning companies interspersed with government farms. While they continued to farm with cattle, they were no longer allowed to hunt wild animals. With all these changes that were brought about, Stevenson Hamilton was nicknamed “Skukuza” by the local Shangaan people living in the area at the time. The name “Skukuza” means “he who comes and sweeps clean” or “he who turns everything upside down”. Stevenson-Hamilton was not the most popular character in the region. Today the main rest camp in the Kruger National Park is named Skukuza to honour him. In 1923 the area between the Sabi and Olifants rivers was bisected by a line running in a North-South direction. Private farms were bartered for government farms; so that all the farms east of this line belonged to the government and that west of the line remained privately owned (today these areas are the private reserves of Timbavati, Manyaleti, Klaserie, Umbabat and Sabi Sands Game Reserve). On 31 May 1926, The Kruger National Park was proclaimed as a National Park and the land between the Letaba and Olifants Rivers was added to the National Park.

With the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 1938 all the small stock and cattle of the people living in the park were destroyed by the government. Compensation in money was regarded as inadequate and having been deprived of their meat supply, many of them packed up and emigrated. The park opened it gates to the first visitor’s in 1927. There were very few roads that were very rough and there was no accommodation available for visitors who had to stay in tents within campedoff thorn bushes. The Park has remained open ever since only closing once for the Duration of World War 2 from 1939-1945. The park was re-opened in 1946 by the British Royal Family on their visit to South Africa. James Stevenson Hamilton continued to serve as the Warden of the Kruger Park until his retirement in 1946 at the age of 79.

James Stevenson Hamilton went on to write the book “South African Eden” which tells this remarkable story of the history of the Park. He dedicated his book to his beloved Park who he referred to as his “Cinderella”. In his foreword he says, “Although the analogy is, I fear hardly a complete one, yet there has always seemed to be a certain resemblance between the story of how the Sabi Game Reserve became the Kruger National Park, and the old fairy tale of Cinderella. At any rate I liked to play with the idea of the little handmaid, whom no one recognized for what she really was, sitting unregarded among the ashes, while her big half-sisters, the important government departments, received all the attention, and the money wherewith to buy themselves fine clothes.

One might fit in, more or less, the other characters by supposing President Kruger to have been the god father who died while the young child was yet very young, the public to represent the prince, and Mr. Piet Grobler, if he will permit the simile, the fairy godmother. I suppose the members of staff and I might be deemed the minions who drove her to the ball, whose humble origin I will not stress but will leave those who have read the old tale to recall for themselves. By a further stretch of imagination, the first bringing of the Reserve into the limelight through the Commission of 1917 might be pictures as the episode of the slipper, after which our Cinderella faded away for the time from public notice, indeed, very nearly faded out altogether, but she had left her slipper behind, and it was found to fit, just in time to save her life.”