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Greater Mapungubwe

Park Development

© Koos van der Lende
© Koos van der Lende
The concept of establishing a transfrontier conservation area around the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers dates back to an initiative by General J C Smuts who decreed in 1922 that some farms along the banks of the Limpopo River be set aside for the Dongola Botanical Reserve. The primary aim of this Reserve was to study the vegetation and assess the agricultural and pastoral potential of the area. This idea was transformed into the Dongola National Park in the 1940s when the results of the study showed that the area was not suitable for human habitation and that it could best be used as a wildlife sanctuary for the recreation of the nation. It was during this time that the idea of linking the sanctuary with similar conservation areas in the then Bechuanaland Protectorate and Southern Rhodesia was first mooted.
The Botswana component of the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA encompasses the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (Notugre), an association of private landowners who have agreed to remove the fences that separate their properties and to jointly manage wildlife resources. Notugre presently embraces 36 farms with a combined area of 70 000 hectares. It is renowned for its Tuli elephants, the largest elephant population on private land in Africa. Needless to say, the establishment of this TFCA will considerably expand the range of land available to this population. Notugre is also a conservation success story, given its abundant wildlife today which was virtually non-existent in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The South African component comprises a complex mosaic of private land, state-owned land and national parks. South African National Parks (SANParks) with the assistance of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, the National Parks Trust and Peace Parks Foundation, has since 1998 been involved in land purchases to create the Mapungubwe National Park. This park, which was opened in 2004, forms the core area of South Africa's contribution to the TFCA and includes 18 properties of 25 800 hectares in total. A major advance in the consolidation of the core area was made in 2002 when De Beers, a world leader in the diamond trade, and SANParks signed an agreement whereby properties owned by De Beers would be integrated into the core area.
The Zimbabwe component comprises the Tuli Circle Safari Area covering an area of 41 100 hectares. This area is contiguous with the northern end of Notugre and has no physical barriers to impede the movement of wildlife. Sentinel Ranch, Nottingham Estate, Maramani Communal Land and the Machachuta, Masera and River Ranch Resettlement Areas will also be included in the TFCA.
The TFCA will be developed in phases, as it will not be possible to acquire all the properties simultaneously. The initial phase links Notugre with the Tuli Circle Safari Area and also with the Mapungubwe National Park. A common characteristic of the areas that will constitute the TFCA is the low and erratic rainfall (an average of 300 mm or 10 inches per annum) which, together with the frequent cycles of drought and poor soils, makes the area extremely marginal for agriculture and ideal for wildlife conservation.
Although the idea to establish the TFCA was first mooted in the mid 1990's, a formal planning meeting involving government officials and stakeholders from the three countries was only held in September 2000. The meeting supported the principle of establishing the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA and also agreed that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to be signed by the three countries was to be developed to formalise the negotiations expected to take place.
The draft MoU was approved by a trilateral planning committee on the 31st of August 2001 and forwarded to the respective governments for their consideration. In an important development for the TFCA, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in July 2003.
On 22 June 2006, the MoU signalling the three nations' intent to establish and develop this transfrontier conservation area was signed by Mr Kitso Mokaila, Botswana's Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Mr Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Mr Francis Nhema, Zimbabwe's Minister of Environment and Tourism. This followed years of intricate negotiations.
On 19 June 2009, Limpopo/Shashe TFCA was renamed the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA.

In 2011, much time was spent to ensure responsible mining operations at the Vele Colliery that lies 5.7 km from the boundary of the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. Prior to operations commencing, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks and Coal of Africa signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA). The MoA seeks to ensure the conservation and integrity of this globally significant natural and cultural World Heritage Site and to maintain and strengthen cooperation between the signatories.

Towards the end of 2011 the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA resource management committee was formed to deal with cross-border challenges at an operational level. Area managers now directly attend to cross-border or international matters like border safety and security, veterinary concerns and other joint management matters.

In 2012 significant archaeological discoveries were made on the farm Klein Bolayi, east of Mapungubwe National Park, confirming that the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape extends eastwards or downstream along the Limpopo Valley, and corroborating human habitation in the area for more than 1 500 years.

In October 2014 a biodiversity offset agreement was signed by the Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks and Coal of Africa for Vele Colliery, whereby the mine’s development will benefit the environment.

Also in 2014, a training course was successfully conducted in Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. Rangers and resource managers from all three partner countries attended the course. The outcomes include the creation of a WhatsApp group named GMTFCA, the compilation of monthly reports to share information, informal river meetings between rangers, pre-assessment for a Green Economy project, and a proposal for enhancing cross-border communication in the TFCA.
© Patrick Black
© Patrick Black
The park rangers in the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA meet regularly to exchange information and develop strategies to overcome their particular challenges. Peace Parks Foundation procured tracking devices for the TFCA, which the park management committee handed to the Botswana rangers, as another step in jointly gathering data on the TFCA. To assist with cross-border operations and law enforcement efforts, the foundation also donated a quad bike to the TFCA.

Another successful Nedbank Tour de Tuli event was held from 13 to 18 August 2015. Over the years, Tour de Tuli has hosted over 2 700 cyclists and raised more than R14 million for Children in the Wilderness (CITW). In 2015, 540 children attended a CITW camp, while 2 271 children attended CITW Eco-Clubs.

Throughout the year, joint working groups and trilateral technical committee meetings were held. As usual, the turnout was very good and proves the commitment of government and private-sector stakeholders to the development of the TFCA.