Limpopo-Lipadi Private Game Reserve, Botswana

You have always lived here – in your imagination.

The Tuli Block in south-east Botswana, home to Limpopo-Lipadi, is Botswana’s secret gem. Although not yet as well-known as the spectacular Okavango Delta, it is surely primed for excellent tourism growth due to its unique landscapes, varied wildlife, Limpopo riverside positioning and proximity to South Africa. It consists mainly of privately owned game farms offering safari tourism. The eastern section has been declared a game reserve, known as the Northern Tuli Game Reserve.

The Tuli Block has a rich and interesting history that explains amongst other things why this unique strip of land exists as game reserve land and why the Botswana government has permitted the land to be owned privately, unlike most of Botswana.

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© Anton Kruger

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© Simon Espley

For tens of thousands of years the area was inhabited exclusively by the Bushman or San who roamed the endless plains, living solely off the land. Glimpses in to their lives can be seen through their rock art and cave paintings, which can still be seen around the Tuli area.

The bushman lifestyle remained unhindered for a long period up until 2000 years ago when they were uprooted by the aggressive ways of the Iron Age settlers, whose arrival dramatically altered the cultural landscape of the region. These traders were skilled iron craftsmen and made pottery specifically for trade and thus established vibrant commercial villages, forcing previous traditional settlers off the land. They created large trading communities between neighbouring tribes and regions – a situation which lasted for many years.

Slowly the climate shifted from being warm and perfect for crop cultivation to a colder dryer era forcing inhabitants to move away. Between 700 AD and 900 AD the region once again became inhabited by a group known as the Zhizo. With the arrival of this group came the emergence of a class structure whereby a man was the head of the household and the amount of cattle he possessed was the primary indicator of wealth.

The region flourished for almost 200 years until political turmoil lead to its demise just as the climate began improving.

This was followed by the arrival of the European settlers, of which the Portuguese were the first, who had a profound effect on the kingdom – they arrived with guns, which inevitably changed the scale of warfare. A civil war in the Khame territory forced the Khame people to move further west into the Limpopo Valley where they soon became well established.

By the late nineteenth century eastern Tuli became central to a number of disputes between two powerful African chiefs, resulting in many confrontations. Although the area was rather inhospitable due to dense bush, rocky outcrops and swamps with dangerous insects and animals, it was still in demand by all.

President Kruger of the Transvaal (South Africa) seized the opportunity to stir up strife between the two chiefs in order to aid the ambitions of the South African farmers (Boere) living in the north of the Limpopo Valley.

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The land was finally awarded to Chief Khama III, who ceded the area to the British South Africa Company (BSAC) (a mining company set up by Cecil John Rhodes). His object was to make the thin strip of rocky terrain a buffer against incursions by the Boere, a strategy that worked despite a few attempted invasions and skirmishes with the Boere.

The strategy was also to keep the cattle owned by locals separate from those owned by Europeans. Rhodes, on the other hand, wanted to build his Cape to Cairo through this land. The relationship between Rhodes and Kruger continually declined due to their history of disagreeing over the use of the land, trade disputes and general mutual distrust.

By the end of the 19th century Kruger had declared war on Britain, which started the bitter Anglo-Boer war. The war eventually ended when the Boere could no longer cope with the British resistance, coupled with ongoing disease, which was killing off horses and men.

Rhodes soon discovered that the terrain across several rivers, gorges and rocky outcrops was totally unsuitable for building a railway so he shifted the line to today’s route, which runs almost parallel but across the flat plains further to the west.

The BSAC built Fort Tuli to protect its land and cattle, but otherwise found little economic use for the Tuli Block. Hopes of finding gold in the area were quickly dashed. So a decade later the company sold off its land to private commercial farmers.

The farmers too soon found that the rugged, rocky terrain, with its rivers prone to flash floods, was unsuitable for anything but sparse livestock farming and hunting. The hunting was conducted more as a sport as opposed to a serious business concern, also due to the ruggedness of the area. People eventually became concerned about the depletion of the wildlife and so came about the birth of a more conservation- minded landowner, with photographic tourism playing an increasingly important role.

The gradual evolution to photographic tourism has been happening ever since. Limpopo-Lipadi is part of the evolution.

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© Dan Sjolseth

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© James Edmiston