Story and photos by Louise de Waal
Standing on the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers, looking across to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, I try to conjure up an image of the lawless and fugitives of the early 1900s. The ivory poachers, the labour recruiters or Blackbirders, the gunrunners, or anybody in need of escaping the law. They found the perfect spot at Crooks’ Corner in the far northeast of what is now Kruger National Park.
This small triangular piece of land provided a safe-haven from law enforcement from either three countries, then Transvaal, Southern Rhodesia and Portuguese East Africa. From Crooks’ Corner fugitives could quickly run into one of the bordering states to avoid facing law and order, or they would actually climb on top of the stateless beacon in the middle of the confluence, often absconding the law this way for most of their lives.
Crooks’ Corner is not the only confluence in the area that has a claim to fame. On the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers, archaeological evidence has been unearthed linking the area to the Great Zimbabwe culture. In the mid-1400s, Thulamela was one of the headquarters of a group that moved south at the end of the Great Zimbabwe era. Gold and ivory were traded for glass beads, cloth and glazed ceramics with Arabs on the coast of Mozambique.
In this dry and hot northern end of Kruger, Pafuri is now known for its scenic and ecological diversity with Fever tree forests, floodplain areas lined with palm trees, important Ramsar wetland sites, rich Sandveld, Mopane woodland and ridges with old gnarled baobabs.
Driving through this patchwork of habitats, spotting plenty of zebra, wildebeest, kudu, nyala, impala, warthog, vervet monkeys and baboons, it’s hard to appreciate the many stories that are concealed in its soil and among the ancient baobabs. Its elephants still migrate across the unfenced boundary with neighbouring Mozambique, made possible through the creation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, but its ancient trade routes have long changed their course.