Flee at dawn from the sprawling metropolis that spreads from glass skyscrapers in Pretoria to millions of ramshackle tin shacks in Soweto.Drive east into the sunrise, past the tree-lined Joburg suburbs with high adobe walls and electric fences that keep modern living nice and compartmentalized for the lucky ones.Loop along rolling golden hills that could be California except for factories in the background spewing coal into the sky, or steel mines dredging the earth, or paper mills churning out toxic exhaust, or townships choking in thick paraffin clouds.
Get past all that industrialism and find again the primordial bush.It seems elusive in a South Africa struggling with the bloodshed of the past while racing towards the gilded future.Yet in Kruger National Park the wild still clings to survival, awaiting international consumers of prehistory in bite-sized morsels conveniently packaged in football-funded asphalt.
The path to Kruger twists through land where water vapor hangs above rivers like ghostly Mohawks, where the red granite cliffs paint the hills with a thousand faces, where ancient valleys harvest every hue of green.In the Kruger, brush grows thick.Scrub and brambles hide troops of elephants stomping over saplings, or rare rhinos rambling to the next watering hole…
…or giraffes tongue-wrestling spiny acacias and contorting their gangly bodies just to sip a drink.
There the veldt is home to strutting warthogs, cunning jackals, endless birds and herds of grazing impala and kudu and nyala and zebra.Always do the grazers keep one eye open for predators, for the wild teems with packs of hyenas, hides cheetahs in plain sight, and nurtures leopards hunting at dusk (check out one we saw! – link to come when it doesn’t take over 12 hrs to upload a video).Even the big cats seem to prowl with open eyes, wary of the footprint of man.
South Africa seems destined to be sandwiched in change.Certainly, building a stable gateway into Africa will propel the regional economy with a pool of low-cost labor, a growing middle class and increasing global relevance.This economic growth will no doubt supercharge the fight against illiteracy, and political disparity, and pandemics like HIV/AIDS.
But courting development South Africa risks a tragic study in how the wild lands were lost.This is not an African challenge, it is a global challenge.Many nations – particularly developing economies – struggle with balancing the lust for growth with the fear of losing not only precious natural resources, but also a link to what humanity once was, back in the dreamtime.To this end, parks like Kruger are important conservation havens.When our children see Africa, these parks may be all that is left of a land lost in the undertow of progress, and help the next generation learn to live in awe of the wild.