Way down south on the continent of Africa is where you will find the expansive country of South Africa. Its land area covers more than a million square kilometers and its coastline runs for just under 3 000 km. South Africa is divided into nine provinces. Mpumalanga province, “land of the rising sun”, lies on the east, bordering on Mozambique. The tail end of the Drakensberg mountains forms a magnificent escarpment in Mpumalanga, falling away to the lowveld, a flatter terrain that levels out towards the Mozambiquan flood plain. In the eastern-most section of Mpumalanga lies the greater Kruger National Park, renowned for its sheer size (2,3 million hectares), its exceptional wildlife, and its scenic opportunities.

Along the western boundary of the Kruger National Park lies the Sabi Sand Wildtuin within which is to be found the Djuma Game Reserve. The Sabi Sand Wildtuin is a wildlife sanctuary of 65 000 hectare. There are no fences hindering the movement of game between it and the Kruger National Park. The Sabi Sand Wildtuin whose western boundary runs for 50 km, is an association of freehold landowners, many of whom organise photographic safari operations from their properties. The landowners share an environmental management programme, which is overseen by a head game warden and guided by an elected executive committee. Two perennial rivers, the Sand and the Sabi, and good winter grazing ensure excellent game viewing and bio-diversity all the year round.
The wildlife preservation history of the area goes back to the first half of the twentieth century when the white pioneer landowners formed an association, which in 1950 became the Sabi Sand Wildtuin. The land was saved from cattle ranching by utilizing it for hunting concessions in the winter months, the time in which, owing to dry conditions, the mosquito and malarial parasites are dormant. By 1962 most commercial and recreational hunting had come to an end and the new era of photographic safaris had begun.
The area of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin in which we are interested lies just north of Mala Mala Game Reserve and south of Manyeleti Game Reserve, with the Kruger National Park lying on the east. Back in the 1860s the land in question, was named after a Scottish land surveyor, Gowrie.
In researching the history of the northern Sabi Sand Wildtuin I unearthed much interesting information. The original owner of the greater Gowrie farm, an area of about 5000 hectares, was a man called Andrew Arthur. Apparently President Paul Kruger had given him the land in appreciation of information leaked to the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War, which ended in 1902.
By the 1940s and 50s Andrew Arthur’s heirs had started subdividing the land up into pieces, one of which was called Wintersrus, which directly translated from Afrikaans means “Winter’s Rest”. Wintersrus was a smallish farm of about 540 hectares.
There are several reasons why the farm was named Wintersrus. First, it is safer for people to stay in the area for extended periods during winter, because malaria is less of a problem in the dry season. Secondly, the temperatures are a lot milder in the southern-hemisphere winter, around June and July, as compared to the scorching summer heat of December. Another consideration is that this particular farm lies in an area known as sweetveld, a grass type that retains its nutrient value throughout the year, even when the rainless winter months set in. Naturally, with the grazing herbivores staying for good fodder, the predators also stick around. I can understand that it must have been a good winter’s resting place both for people and for predators; despite the easy food there would not, however, have been much rest for the plains game!
Andrew Arthur’s heirs sold the farm to Oubaas de Kock for the grand price of R100 per hectare. In about 1975 Cas Becker, an adjacent landowner, had almost completed buying the farm from Oubaas de Kock when Oubaas de Kock died. His daughter and her doctor husband inherited the land, and Cas Becker tried to finalise his deal with them. They upped the price to R150 per hectare and the deal fell through. Cas Becker then settled for a piece adjacent to Wintersrus, and bordering on the Kruger National Park.
A man called Johannes van der Merwe subsequently bought Wintersrus, but he died shortly after doing so. In the meantime, Piet Moolman and Tilman Ludin, close friends and business partners, were considering buying a game farm further up north, near the Limpopo River. One of the farms they viewed belonged to a man who was a friend of Moyan van der Merwe, the son of the late Johannes van der Merwe. Moyan suggested that Piet and Tilman might be interested in the potential of Wintersrus. Piet and Tilman aspired to a bushveld retreat with the possibility of a bit of hunting for the pot and for making biltong, a salted, dried meat and South African delicacy.
Judging from photographs of the buildings then standing on Wintersrus it is clear architecture was not to be the deal clincher! A concrete braai (barbecue) and scullery area sheltered under a corrugated iron roof held up by a few steel poles. There was a thatched pantry and two multi-roomed buildings which had served as sleeping quarters for the hunters and, later, for the owners’ families.
However, that said, one only has to set foot for a day or two in this part of the world in order to realise its beauty. The landscape is gently undulating woodland savanna, dotted with fairly large trees, mostly acacia, marula and terminalia. Dry drainage lines, which only come down in spate after very heavy rain, meander through thickish, thorny scrub, perfect habitat for leopards and bushbuck, among others. Heading up to higher ground there is a fairly obvious line of silver cluster-leaf trees, or terminalias. Their presence signals the divide between the clay soils of the low-lying parts and the sandy ridges, where the dominant trees are marulas and leadwoods or bushwillows. In some areas among these larger trees one finds huge termite heaps that often contain the living quarters of warthogs, or hyenas, or other interesting creatures.
Another big plus for the farm is that the local habitat is what is known as an ecotone. An ecotone is a zone where two different habitats overlap and one finds species from both habitats co-existing. To the north of Gowrie the mopanie woodland system starts, while to the south there is the woodland savanna system. This means, for example, that the side-striped jackal – more common in savannas - and the black-backed jackal – more prevalent in woodlands - occur in the same area. The large-spotted and small-spotted genets are also both seen on a regular basis. These genets are separate species and do not interbreed, but can co-exist here due to the rich ecosystem. Another special animal seen quite often because of the diversity of habitat and abundance of prey is the African wildcat.

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Our African Way