South Africa's transition from an Apartheid state to a democracy in 1994 brought far-reaching changes in almost every sphere. Government's spending priorities leaned heavily towards education, housing and health - particularly for those regarded as the previously disadvantaged, while budgets for other endeavours, including the country's national parks, were slashed.
One creative way to make up for the shortfall was to lease out a number of 10,000-hectare portions of the Kruger National Park to private safari companies for periods of 20 years. Although this outraged some of the ultra-conservative Kruger Park old-timers who considered tourists a nuisance, the new leases were subject to strict management and conservation guidelines.
For the first time, the private safari sector was allowed to build and operate lodges within the celebrated park. Another key component of the leases was that the successful bidders had to bring local communities into their businesses. And so, also for the first time, the neighbouring communities surrounding the Kruger Park gained a stake in the tourism system.
The easing of rules has generated an enormous amount of extra revenue for the park and has ensured that it is far more viable than it was in the past.By David Fleminger