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    For more than 50 years following its establishment as a game reserve, persistent calls were made to abolish Mkhuze. The first calls for the abolishment of the Mkhuze Game Reserve came in 1914, only two years after proclamation of the reserve in 1912 and determined efforts to achieve this objective continued right through to the late 1960s. On a number of occasions over the years, one or another of the campaigns to abolish the game reserve came very close to succeeding in its objective. In each case, as if by some divine intervention, the "Sword of Damocles" never actually fell.

    Initially, the principal reason for the call to deproclaim the reserve was the presence of the tsetse fly in the reserve, the Nagana that it caused and the threat that this disease was perceived to hold to organized farming in the area. In 1914, R.A. Branden, a government official based at Ubombo, reported that "malaria and Nagana are the curse of this Division". Writing about the Mkhuze game Reserve, he said that "this is ideal country for cattle, having the appearance of an English park... a few years ago it was heavily stocked with cattle, but it is now given up entirely to game. There are now thousands and thousands of wildebeest roaming around this area, and a large number of game, vermin, carnivore and other wild beasts. It is a shocking waste of excellent country". Later, efforts to abolish the reserve assumed political connotations, much of which was centred around the building of the Jozini Dam on the Pongola River and the concomitant attempts of the Nationalist government to establish agricultural enterprises on the Makatini Flats.

    With the perception of Nagana as being a threat to farming, the first organized attempt to eliminate game in the Ubombo area took place in August 1917. Game was seen to be the main cause for the spreading of the disease and a campaign for the wholesale destruction of game in the area was launched. During this campaign close on 25 000 blue wildebeest, and hundreds of animals of other species fell to the bullet. The campaign, however, did not have the desired effect of curbing the disease or solving their problem as far as the local farmers were concerned.

    Two years later, in December 1919, the Chief Native Commissioner: Natal again took the matter of Nagana up with the Secretary for Native Affairs in Pretoria. He informed him that the Natal Provincial Administration had authorized the destruction of game in the Umfolozi and Ubombo Districts "in order to prepare the land for European settlement". In his letter of 24 December 1919 he wrote "I should like to take this opportunity of asking you to approach the Provincial Administration with the object of abolishing the (Mkhuze) Game Reserve, lying between reserves Nos 2 and 13. This game reserve, if not done away with, is going to be a source of infection and danger all round. I have repeatedly pointed out that it is a source of danger, Reserve 13 not having been able to possess cattle for the past 15 years or more".

    "It will be extremely difficult for the native to understand the difference in the treatment of the question as regards lands occupied by the Europeans and themselves. Land required for farms is gradually cleared of game and yet the native, who has to live in the reserve is continually faced with the danger of Nagana".

    "I have constantly made representations to the Administrator on the subject of the danger of the proximity of the game reserve lying between reserves nos 2 and 13 and known as the Mkuzi Game Reserve. I feel that if pressure were brought to bear from Pretoria, we might be successful in securing the abolition of the game reserve in question".

    A conference held in 1925, attended by representatives from the Department of Native Affairs, the Divisions of Entomology and Veterinary Research, local settlers and the Minister of Agriculture, General J.C.G. Kemp. Kemp had two simple solutions to the Nagana problem. The reserves should be abolished and the game should be exterminated. Cooler heads prevailed though and it was decided to wait for the results of the scientific investigation into the disease, before any further action was taken. No action was taken in regard to Kemp's specific request, although the matter was not allowed to rest there. The pot was kept on the boil by persistent complaints from farmers regarding the existence of the game reserve and the danger of Nagana from the game that they contained, but nothing further happened in this matter for the next five years.

    From 1929 through to 1931 the further destruction of 35 000 head of game, including 2000 Zebra from Mkhuze was reported. In September 1931 the Minister of Agriculture launched yet another of his many calls for the abolition of Mkhuze and other reserves in Zululand, stating that he considered that, not only the Mkhuze Game Reserve but the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe reserves as well, should be abolished.

    The tsetse fly, always the reason behind the calls for the earlier abolishment of the reserves, now made its first appearance, as it was to do again later, as an unlikely ally in the fight for the retention of at least some of the reserves.

     It was in 1930, after R.H. Harris invented his tsetse fly trap, that the first successful experiments were made to trap large numbers of tsetse flies in the Umfolozi Game Reserve. Following on from the success of these initial trapping operations, a full-scale trapping programme was launched, during which over 6 000 000 flies were caught. As a result of this successful exercise, the Natal Provincial Administration indicated that it was willing to compromise on the question of the retention of the three Zululand game reserves. Their suggestion was that the Hluhluwe and Umfolozi should remain and that Mkhuze only should be deproclaimed.

    This, however, still did not satisfy the local farmers. In August 1932 the Hluhluwe and Northern Zululand Farmers' Association again approached the Minister of Agriculture with the request that both the Umfolozi and Mkhuze Game Reserves be abolished. This request was, in turn, forwarded to the Natal Provincial Administration.

     After re-considering the proposal, the Administration wrote to the Minister and drew his attention to its previous resolution. It added however that the Administration was, in fact, prepared to abolish both the Mkhuze and Umfolozi Game Reserves, provided adequate protection could be afforded to the squarelipped rhinos in the Umfolozi Game Reserve.  As Mkhuze did not have any of these animals at the time, there was apparently nothing to stop this reserve then from being deproclaimed.

    Dr P. J. du Toit, the Director of Veterinary Services was then instructed by the Minister of Agriculture to visit Zululand and submit a report to his department on the situation there as it applied to the problem of Nagana. He visited the area in October 1932, following which he submitted a lengthy report to the Minister, which contained a number of recommendations regarding the future of the Zululand game reserves. One of his conclusions was that "there would seem to be no reason why the Mkuzi and Ndumu Reserves should be retained. Their dis-establishment would, however, involve considerable expense. The indiscriminate destruction of game in the reserves should, under no circumstances be permitted." Again, no immediate action was taken and Dr du Toit's report was allowed to lie around and gather dust.  Four years were to elapse before the spectre of Nagana, as the principal reason for the abolition of the reserve, was to re-appear.

    The 1936 report of the Natal Game Reserves Commission looked at the whole question of Nagana in Zululand and again recommended that Mkhuze be deproclaimed. Visiting the reserve after a long dry winter, the members of the Commission were appalled at what they saw. They were looking at the area purely from a farming point of view. The report submitted after their tour stated that "your Commission was impressed, when in the Mkuzi area in August 1935 and later in October, with the plight of the farmers in the area. Apparently no rain has fallen for a considerable period and the drought conditions were marked. The Commission has no hesitation in arriving at the conclusion that the Mkuzi Reserve does not comply with the requirements for an ideal reserve".

    At a subsequent meeting with the Department of Agriculture it was agreed that "the Umfolozi and Mkuzi Reserves be abolished and steps taken to kill off all the game in a systematic and well-organized manner". It recommended though that such action be deferred until the Department of Agriculture could undertake the operations that they considered necessary for the destruction of the game and the trapping of the tsetse fly in the reserve.

    To the credit of the Natal Provincial Administration it should be mentioned that its position up to the appointment of the Commission on 1 August 1935 was very clearly stated. The Provincial Administration held the view that "the necessity for the total abolition of the existing game reserves had not definitely been established".

    In a spirit of co-operation, the Natal Executive Committee accepted the recommendations of the Natal Game Reserves Commission on 10 January 1936 and requested the Department of Agriculture to indicate whether it was in a position to take over control of the reserve. Having persistently pushed for the abolition of the reserve, an astonishing answer was sent to the Natal Executive in March 1936. The Department of Agriculture, In response to the Administration's offer of control of the reserve, stated that it regretted that it could not yet make any recommendations in connection with the control of the area.

    After 16 years of wrangling and the application of persistent pressure from various quarters for the deproclamation of the reserve, the matter had proceeded no further: fortunately, for the time being at least, the position had reached a stalemate. The reserve had now been in existence for 26 years, was still under the threat of deproclamation and the vexed question concerning the presence of game in the area, the breeding of the tsetse fly and the spreading of Nagana, still remained to be resolved. Convincing arguments had to be presented that the fly constituted so great a threat to established farming interests that it warranted the deproclamation of an area of such incalculable value to wild life. 

    The lull in the battle for the retention of the reserve was to be short-lived though and the whole question of deproclamation continued to gain wide publicity in the press and elsewhere. There were to be arguments and counter-arguments, agreements and counter-agreements. Accusations, counter-accusations, theories and suggestions were made from various quarters as to what should be done with the reserve, all of which were fueled by further outbreaks of Nagana in the area.

    A public statement was eventually issued in December 1941 which appeared to finalize the matter: agreement had been reached between the Minister of Lands and the Natal Provincial Executive Committee regarding the future of Mkhuze. The terms were emphatic.  The area of State Land adjoining the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, commonly known as the "Corridor", would be added to that reserve, subject to the proviso that the Mkhuze and Umfolozi Game Reserves be deproclaimed.

    The reserve's old protagonist, the tsetse fly, appeared on the scene for the second time and became an unseen ally in delaying the deproclamation of the reserve.  The reasons given all along in support of the campaign for deproclamation, namely that the presence of the tsetse fly justified the reserve's abolition now worked in the reserve's favour and extended its lease of life!

    The Department of Agriculture was anxious to extend its research activities on the tsetse fly and expand to Mkhuze, the trapping operations that were being carried out in the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves.  In a letter written to the Provincial Secretary in May 1939, Dr P.J. du Toit, Director of Veterinary Services stated that "as you are aware, it was decided some years ago, by mutual consent, that the Mkuzi Game Reserve should be deproclaimed as a game sanctuary. Action in this matter was delayed because of trapping operations now taking place in Zululand. As you also know, the trapping was at first confined to the Umfolozi Game Reserve and was then extended, a few years ago, to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. I have to inform you that we are now on the point of starting a campaign in the Mkuzi Game Reserve and the first consignment of traps will be sent there within the next few weeks"

    "In view of these operations, I wish to recommend that no deproclamation of the Mkuzi Game Reserve should be gazetted for the present. We have found, in the course of our work in other reserves, that it is a great advantage to concentrate the game in as small an area as possible and then to undertake the trapping in that area. In this way the maximum number of flies is caught and the whole campaign is greatly benefited thereby. In Mkuzi it will also be our endeavour to concentrate the game in the reserve and to start trapping operations in the vicinity of the game. You will realize therefore that it would serve no useful purpose to deproclaim the reserve at present; on the contrary, it may hamper our operations very materially".

    "It would seem to me best if, for the present, the complete control of the Mkuzi Reserve could be vested in officers of this Division. We would undertake not to destroy the game, but rather to concentrate it within the reserve. It may of course be necessary to shoot a few animals now and again for rations for the natives but on the whole you may take it that the game would be preserved rather than destroyed. Should it be your wish, we could also undertake to supervise the game guards of your Administration who are still in the Mkuzi Reserve".

    "I should be grateful to learn whether your Administration concurs in the suggestions made in this minute?"

    The Natal Provincial Administration agreed to fall in with the wishes of that Department and defer the deproclamation of the reserve during the fly operations and deproclamation was shelved whilst the anti-Nagana operations were in progress. The anti-Nagana campaign was successful and the tsetse fly had again played an important role in this drama.

    Following the Natal Parks Board's resumption of control of the reserve in 1953, the question of the deproclamation of the reserve refused to go away. For the almost 50 years that the reserve had been in existence, pressure had been put on the Administration to do away with the reserve because of Nagana. By 1955 the tsetse fly had been eliminated and Nagana was a thing of the past. This had been achieved, not by shooting the game, but by the aerial spraying of DDT over the reserve. The critics of the reserve were still not appeased however and new arguments for deproclamation now emerged.

    For some years prior to 1960, the construction of a dam on the Pongola River, with the idea in mind of opening up the Makatini Flats for agricultural purposes, had been mooted. By 1955, plans were well advanced for the construction of the dam and the planned irrigation of the Flats, which would include a considerable portion of the Ndumu Game Reserve. In 1955, various proposals were submitted, one of which was that both Mkhuze and Ndumu be made available for agricultural purposes. The deproclamation of these two reserves was to be in exchange for the Corridor, (less 10 000 hectares for possible Coloured settlement) that would link the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves. In June 1956, the Regional Representative of the Department of Lands advised that land taken up by the Mkhuze Game Reserve now formed a most important link in the extensive irrigation scheme contemplated for the new dam. Calls were again made to do away with the reserve. Engineers working on the design of the dam had calculated that practically the whole of Mkhuze could be irrigated from one of the main canals of this scheme. It was felt that the viability of the dam would be seriously prejudiced should the game reserve not become available for the central government's purposes. It was further pointed out that, following the anti-Nagana campaign; no specific reasons had been presented by the Natal authorities to warrant the retention of the area as a game reserve. It was argued that, even if there were sound reasons for the retention of Mkhuze as a reserve, the importance of the new irrigation scheme outweighed all other considerations. The Administration's argument, that one of the main reasons for the retention of the area as a game reserve, was that it was the home of large numbers of the relatively rare inyala, was dismissed by the Lands Department. Their counter-argument was that there were considerable numbers of these antelope to be found in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The handing over of Mkhuze would therefore not jepodise the situation as far as the inyala were concerned, for the survival of this species would appear to be assured.

      The sword of Damocles was again suspended over the reserve.

    In November 1957, yet another Inter-departmental committee was appointed to investigate the boundaries of the Zululand game reserves. The report issued on 21 August 1959 was more positive towards the future of the reserves than earlier ones had been. Amongst the recommendations, which it contained, was the one that stated that approval in principal be granted for the inclusion of a large section of the Corridor into the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve complex and that the Mkhuze Game Reserve retain its status. A rider was added that, should the land be required for some other purpose, the Administration must be prepared to have the position reviewed. The Natal Executive Committee accepted these recommendations on 4 September 1959.

    Nyala at Msinga Pan

    Any feeling of achievement on what initially appeared to be a degree of progress by the Natal Administration in their efforts to retain Mkhuze was to be short-lived. On 26 March 1960, less than seven months after the Executive Committee had accepted the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee's report, another bombshell fell. The Secretary for Agricultural Technical Services advised ExCo that negotiations should be entered into to discuss the exchange of the Mkhuze Game Reserve for land in the Corridor, on an acre for acre basis. This announcement preceded my arrival in Mkhuze in November 1960 and I well remember the degree of despondency it caused amongst the staff of the reserve; but worse was still to come!

    Discussions were held on 21 July 1961 between the Minister of Bantu Administration, the Minister of Lands and a contingent from Natal consisting of Messrs. D.E. Mitchell M.P., E.J.V. Grantham, the M.E.C in charge of the Natal Parks Board's Affairs and Colonel Jack Vincent, the Board's Director. The Administration issued a statement to the effect that it was prepared to deproclaim Mkhuze and relinquish it to unfettered state control, in return for the addition of certain sections of the Corridor to the Umfolozi Game Reserve.

    The only glimmer of hope was the Executive Committee's stipulation that Mkhuze was to remain a proclaimed game reserve and that the Board would exercise full control over it, until such time as the Government indicated its wish to take over the whole or part of the reserve. When that time arrived, the whole reserve, or the required section only, would be deproclaimed. When that decision was taken, finality had still not been reached regarding the future use of the waters of the J.G. Strydom Dam (as it was then known) at Jozini.

     Much to the relief of all of us in the reserve (and, of course, to the thousands of other people concerned with the future of the reserve), the Minister of Lands confirmed in January 1962 that the government had no immediate plans for the use of the reserve. He confirmed too that the Board would continue to exercise its normal control over the land and that matters would continue, as before - the sword hanging over our heads had not been removed, merely re-positioned! 

    At a meeting held on 18 July 1962, it had been agreed that Mkhuze would be exchanged for portions of State-owned land at Fuleni and Okuku, as extensions to the Umfolozi Game Reserve and a portion of the Corridor, as an extension to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. At the time the Department of Water Affairs anticipated that approximately 4800 hectares of Mkhuze could be placed under irrigation from the Jozini Dam. As a result of vacillation regarding the future use of the dam, uncertainty developed regarding the agricultural pattern that should follow for Mkhuze, the Nxwala State Land and the farms east of Mkhuze. The fortunate result of this delay was that the Board was never formally requested to surrender the game reserve for agricultural uses.

    The Natal Provincial Administration and the Board were by no means alone in their efforts to save Mkhuze and prevent the deproclamation of the reserve. There were numerous public protests from interested individuals and organizations, locally and abroad, against the deproclamation of the reserve. These had started to make an appearance even before the commencement of the Nagana campaign, when the early abolition of the reserve was proposed. In 1962 a vigorous campaign was instigated by the Wild Life Protection Society, to draw public attention to the plight of the reserve. More than 50 000 signatures were collected on its "Save Mkuzi" petition, all of which were sent to the government. To back up the petition, Mr Ian Hepburn, an amateur film producer and later member of the Natal Parks Board, produced and donated a film on the Mkhuze Game Reserve that was widely circulated and seen by thousands of viewers.  The petition itself was of inestimable value in the battle for the retention of the reserve, as it was launched at a time when Mkhuze was still relatively unknown and certainly not as popular as it was later to become!

    As the years moved along the urgency to develop the Makatini Flats started to recede. A slump in the price of sugar in the late sixties and other problems associated with the use of the dam caused the authorities to rethink the whole question of using the Makatini Flats for agricultural purposes. In the meantime, the various agricultural research projects that were being conducted in the area below the dam wall continued unabated. The growing of cotton was one of them. Experiments with the growing of this crop was one of the first research projects to be undertaken and although cotton is grown on the Makatini on a small scale today, extensive production of the crop fortunately never got underway.

    In 1977, a sub-committee of the Prime Minister's Co-ordinating Council again met to consider the future utilization of the area. In particular a letter from the Secretary of Agricultural Credit and Land Tenure was discussed, where it was stated that the Mkhuze East Farms and Nxwala State Lands should be allocated to agricultural uses, and not be included in any game park. Attention was drawn to the fact that, by directive of the Cabinet, the Mkhuze Game Reserve had already been "exchanged" for other State-owned land, 15 years previously. In the absence of detailed information on the agricultural potential of the area, there was no clear picture of what exactly should be done with the land. The Division of Soil Protection and the Department of Agricultural Technical services were instructed to undertake an investigation into the future use of the land. If the investigating authorities found that the land was suitable for agriculture, they were required to indicate the number of economic farming units that it could be divided into.

    During that particular meeting, one lone voice was raised in support of the retention of at least part of the area as a game reserve. A Council member spoke out in support of the reserve and stressed that the area was a very big area of land and that the requirements for wild life conservation should also be considered during any future investigations. The Council member who made the suggestion that a portion of the area at least, be retained as a game reserve, is unfortunately not identified in the official memorandum of the Council's findings that was issued on 5 August 1977. His was a brave stand in the light of government sentiment at the time regarding the game reserve. In retrospect all of us who love Mkhuze, mentally "doff our hat" to this unknown supporter.

    The whole question of the future of Mkhuze and the Jozini Dam was clouded by the political and ideological considerations of the time. During the seventies and eighties the Homelands policy of the Nationalist Government was being formulated and this impacted on the proposed use of the dam. In line with the new policy of self-development, the name of the dam had been quietly changed from the J.G. Strydom Dam to the Jozini Dam.

    The vacillation, which occurred regarding the future use of the dam, worked to the benefit of the reserve and the threat of deproclamation gradually receded during the mid-1980s.

    The Wildlife Society's petition graphically demonstrated the tremendous public interest in the reserve and this vindicated the Board's earlier decision to vigorously pursue its programme of development, despite the ongoing threat of deproclamation. Work on the new hutted camp, which had been started in April 1960 and stopped in December of that year because of the uncertainty over the future of the reserve, was resumed in April 1961. The upgrading of the road system in the reserve and the building of additional dams became a priority. These tasks were completed in 1961 and Bube Hide was built the following year. Early in 1963 the campsite at the entrance gate was laid out. Whilst the options for the future use of the dam were being considered and reconsidered, the development of the reserve as a major tourist attraction in Natal was quietly going ahead. As the attractions of the reserve became better known the Board's policy of developing the reserve started to reap its own rewards.

     The reserve gradually became very popular with both local and overseas visitors. From 1967 to 1975 the number of visitors to the reserve more than doubled rising from 7974 to 15391 and the percentage of foreign tourists rose from 16.87% to 32.69% Mkhuze had become a prime tourist attraction and its popularity has continued to grow yearly.

    Almost forty years after work on the Jozini dam was started, its waters have still not been harnessed or used to any large degree. The future of the dam today lies in the role that it will play in the Lebombo Spatial Initiative, an ambitious project that involves the regional interests of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique.

     It remains to be seen though how long it will be before the Jozini project is fully utilized for the purpose for which it was originally constructed, and in what manner. The presence of the dam though no longer appears to pose a threat to the future of the Mkhuze Game Reserve. New threats to the continued existence of the reserve, in the form of land restitution claims, have already started emerging and more will, no doubt, follow in the future. For the time being at least, the spectre of the deproclamation and disappearance of the reserve, appears to have receded.