Mjejane lies tucked between a broad reach of the Crocodile River and the modern N4 highway that follows one of the old trading routes connecting the goldfields of the Witwatersrand to the Indian Ocean at Delalgoa Bay (now Mozambique’s capital of Maputo). It is a magical place where – after the briefest of moments in geological terms when it was ploughed for crops and grazed by livestock – a far-reaching conservation vision has returned the landscape to its original custodians and the wildlife that once teemed there.
The Mpumalanga Lowveld, where Mjejane shares a common boundary with its renowned northern neighbour, the Kruger National Park, is an ancient lanscape that dates back well before the beginning of any form of life we would recognize today. For example, as you leave nearby Nelspruit en route to Mjejane the highway winds through the Crocodile Gorge mountains where lichen covered boulders are among the oldest exposed rock formations known anywhere on earth. And as you follow the course of the river eastwards to the more recently formed Lubombo Mountains that straddle the border between South Africa and Mozambique, you trace a geological history that spans some 3,4 billion years.
Little wonder therefore, as you allow your mind to wander while looking out over the Crocodile Valley, there is a very real sense of insignificance, of being the merest spec of carbon in a very old place. And at night below the trillions of tiny pinpricks of light that make up the cosmos any remaining pretence of self importance melts into nothingness.
And so this stretch of Africa has borne witness to the uninterrupted span of our planet’s evolution. Even our own early ancestors were here and if we could transport ourselves back about three million years we might well see small groups of upright walking apes moving along the floodplain searching for food. These would have been the small-brained hominids known as Australopithecines, but they would have soon been lost in the pageant of time, just as certainly those who followed were, including Homo erectus the maker of more sophisticated stone tools who eked out a living along the banks of the Crocodile some one-and-a half million years later.
Archeological evidence gives us tantalising glimpses of this ancient history, just as grinding stones, potshards and arrowheads point to the fact that our own kind, Homo sapiens, must have been well settled in the valley by some 1,500 years ago. From this time on the historical record becomes ever more complete and well documented as the game-rich Crocodile River Valley became settled by Bantu-speaking people at the van of the great sweep of African migrations that spread ever southwards from the Great Lakes of Central and East Africa.
Later wars of ascendency sparked by the rolling conquests of Shaka Zulu in the early to mid 19th century were to send shockwaves through the subcontinent, displacing thousands of people. One of Shaka’s generals, Shoshangane was despatched to subdue the Tsonga people of the region, but to the displeasure of his king he decided to remain in this fertile region, melding the Tsonga people and his Zulu retinue into the new Shangaan nation.
But peace was only intermittent. Inter-tribal squabbles continued and friction developed between local people and European settlers and their enterprises. The historical rights of the tribal communities were simply swept aside and the land was steadily usurped. The process became ever more entrenched and between 1926 and 1953 the people of the Lugedlane community were forcibly removed from the Mjejane area and the process of exclusive white ownership of the land that became known as the farm Ludwichslust was complete.
The story, however, was far from over. With South Africa’s new democracy in the early 1990s a process of land restitution got underway and Mpumulanga’s largest land claim was finalized when the 3,853 hectare farm, now valued at R24 million, was handed back to the 5000-households of Lugedlane community living outside the town of Mjejane (then known as Hectorspruit).
Following the settlement a solution was sought on how best to align the land with the conservation objectives of the Kruger National Park. But this was in stark contrast to the initial intention of the community who saw their land as property for housing and farming. However, because the soil is relatively poor with limited water resources for agriculture, and little potential for cattle farming owing to the proximity of the Kruger National Park and the threat of wildlife transmitted illnesses such as bovine TB as well as foot & mouth and corridor disease, a different strategy emerged, one that would embrace eco-tourism and private land ownership in partnership with Mjejane community as the benefactors in perpetuity.
And so The Mjejane Private Game Reserve with a 10-kilometre frontage on the Crocodile River was born, embracing the only residential estate that boasts a private bridge into the Kruger National Park. The fence separating the reserve from the Kruger National Park was removed to allow wildlife to move freely between the wildlife sanctuaries on either side of the river. Almost immediately herds of elephant and buffalo moved onto Mjejane along with predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog. Species such as giraffe and zebra were re-introduced to the southern bank by South African National Parks under whose authority and the conservation management of Mjejane has been placed.
But this is just the first chapter in the unfolding of Mjejane’s story, a story that embraces the needs of people and wildlife in the creation of a superb eco-destination.
NOTE: Peter Borchert was invited to experience Mjejane first hand. This, the second article of a three-part series that explores the reserve, traces the history of this special part of Africa from the beginnings of time. The first ‘Mjejane – where conservation works for people and wilderness’ gave an overview of the project as a whole, while the final will discuss how private investors can have their very own home in this superb environment. For more information contact Mjejane Lifestyle, Telephone +27 87 231 1594.
Article written by Peter Borchert