Mapungubwe National Park
Mapungubwe National Park is a national park in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It is located by the Kolope River, south of the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) to the NE of the Venetia Diamond Mine. The National Park borders Mapesu Private Game Reserve to the south. It abuts on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, and forms part of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. It was established in 1995 and covers an area of over 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres). The park protects the historical site of Mapungubwe Hill, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, as well as the wildlife and riverine forests along the Limpopo River. The Mapungubwe Hill was the site of a community dating back to the Iron Age. Evidences have shown that it was a prosperous community. Archaeologists also uncovered the famous golden rhino figurine from the site. It is one of the few places in Africa that has both meerkats and Nile crocodiles.
Mapungubwe National Park is renowned for its scenic landscape, with sandstone formations, woodlands, riverine forest and baobab trees.
The history of the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape dates back 210 million years ago when one of the earliest plant-eating dinosaurs, Plateosauravus (Euskelosaurus), was known to have lived in the area.
The Mapungubwe area became a focus of agricultural research in the 1920s through the efforts of the botanist Illtyd Buller Pole-Evans. Pole Evans was instrumental in the creation of the Botanical Survey Advisory Committee, which was tasked with coordinating botanical research throughout the Union of South Africa. One of the network of botanical and research stations set up by the Botanical Survey was situated in the Mapungubwe area. At the request of General Smuts, the government set aside a block of nine farms in this area as a preserve for wildlife and natural vegetation in 1918. A few years later this became known as the Dongola Botanical Reserve.
Pole Evans set about expanding the Dongola Botanical Reserve. By the early 1940s, the reserve had grown to include 27 farms, including Greefswald, the property on which the Mapungubwe Hill is situated. Pole Evans lobbied to have the reserve proclaimed as a national park, with the support of Prime Minister Jan Smuts. In 1944, Minister of Lands Andrew Conroy proposed the formation of the Dongola Wild Life Sanctuary, which would include 124 farms, 86 of which were privately owned. This proposal was strongly opposed by the National Party, then the official opposition in parliament and the National Parks Board of Trustees. In one of the longest running debates in the history of the South African parliament, supporters argued that it was necessary to conserve the country’s natural assets, that the land set aside for the proposed reserve was unsuitable for agricultural purposes and that the area had a rich archaeology which should be protected. Those opposed to the establishment of the reserve argued that it was unacceptable to alienate agricultural land for wildlife conservation, to expropriate private land or to evict people from land they had occupied for generations. The debate, which has become known as the “Battle of Dongola”, resulted in the declaration of a much reduced area as the Dongola Wildlife Sanctuary, after members of the ruling United Party voted in favour of the proposal. The National Party won the elections in 1948, and the sanctuary was abolished in 1949. Expropriated farms were returned to their original farmers, farms owned by the state were allocated for resettlement and funds returned to donors.
In 1967, another proposal to protect the area was initiated and the Vhembe Nature Reserve, comprising three farms, including Greefswald, was established as a Transvaal provincial reserve.
In 1993, De Beers Consolidated Mines, which had established the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve on land that adjoins Greefswald, called for the area to be declared a national park. In 1995 the South African National Parks Board and the Limpopo provincial government signed an agreement committing themselves to the establishment of the new national park. The Vhembe Dongola National Park was proclaimed on 9 April 1998.
The Vhembe Dongola National Park was renamed Mapungubwe National Park and opened officially on Heritage Day, 24 September 2004. In the 21st century, Mapungubwe has been embraced as a site of significance by South Africans and the international community. The Mapungubwe National Park was declared in 1998. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (MCL) was declared as a National Heritage Site in 2001 and it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003.
With the park’s UNESCO World Heritage Status, a building has been constructed that houses a museum section with many of the artefacts uncovered in the park on display. Information on the park’s history and biology is also available at the Interpretive Centre.