Stray natives and problematic animals: A bounded history of the Kruger National Park, 1926 to 1951

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Seminar Date
February 9, 2011
The Kruger National Park was founded on the fiction of territorial integrity. Its founders, the South African government, imagined the park as a place with finite boundaries – even if these had to be fixed by law in order to turn a political desire to preserve South Africa’s fauna into the legal fiction of a bounded and sovereign national park (Hansard 1926: 4367). They believed that the park “must form one continuous whole” and be large enough “particularly for animals who require plenty of room to move about” (Hansard 1926: 4367). The imaginary park thus conceived demanded a fiction of form (a clearly demarcated place with identifiable borders) and a fictive content (flora and fauna that existed independently of the world beyond the park’s boundaries). But how to achieve this fiction in a place that was in fact peopled by Africans? This was the question that confronted the founders. However, in what they took to be an act of divine intervention, the place chosen for the park was not suitable for farming or grazing, had little water and “only a few natives” living there. As Piet Grobler, South Africa’s Minister of Lands, told the National Assembly on 31 May 1926 when introducing the second reading of the bill that led to the creation of the Kruger park: “It seems a dispensation of Providence that we have been given the locality to establish a national park in the interests of the preservation of our fauna” (Hansard 1926: 4367). Grobler seemed aware that claims of territorial integrity for the Kruger park were fictitious and therefore open to challenge. However, he conceived of the threat as coming from the government itself. He told Parliament: “In the first place we must fix the boundaries by legislation” (Hansard 1926: 4369). There were vocal mining and farming lobbies that wanted free reign in the park, which had existed since 1898 as the Sabi Game Reserve but was now about to become the Kruger National Park. Grobler worried that these lobbies might prevail – unless the park’s boundaries were cast in law. He said: “As long as the alteration of the boundary is in the hands of the Government the Government will always be exposed to being pressed by supporters to alter the boundary” (Hansard 1926: 4369)...
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