The history of Kruger’s Road network
Up until the proclamation of the Park in 1926, the Selati railway line, ox wagons, buggy carts, pack donkeys and horses represented the only forms of transport. There were no vehicles or roads. The first tourist services introduced since 1923 by the SAR, was also exclusively limited to rail transport. As from 1927 on, the building – actually de-bushing – of roads was started in all sincerity. Naturally, the first roads were connecting routes between established rangers posts. The
first road to be developed, were therefore those from White River to Pretoriuskop, from Pretoriuskop via Doispane to Skukuza, from Skukuza to Satara and Crocodile Bridge, from Crocodile Bridge via Gomondwane to Lower Sabie (which was built in the midtwenties by game ranger CR de la Porte for his own convenience, after he acquired the first motor vehicle in the Park – a model-T Ford), from Satara to Olifants Gorge (Gorge), to Letaba via Olifants River camp (Balule) and to Acornhoek, from Acornhoek to Nwanetsi, from Letaba to Gravelotte (built by WNLA), from Louis Trichardt (Makhado today) to Punda Maria and the Limpopo River (Pafuri) (built by WNLA) and from Skukuza via Salitje to Tshokwane. In 1928, construction of the road between Skukuza to
Lower Sabie was started, only to be completed in 1931. With this rapid road construction programme, a total of 386 miles (617km) of tourist roads was completed by the end of 1929. During the period 1927 to 1929, three pontoons were brought into operation, over the Crocodile River (at Crocodile Bridge), Sabie River (at Skukuza) and the Olifants River (at Balule). A so-called ‘Corduroy’ causeway was built over the Sand River at a place called “Jafuta”. In 1930, a second pontoon was introduced over the Crocodile River, at Malelane.
The road construction programme continued uninterrupted until mid thirties, and by 1934, approximately 800 miles (1200km) of roads had been completed. This included important connecting roads, such as the road between Letaba and Shingwedzi (1933) and between Malelane and Crocodile Bridge (1933). In 1932 a new causeway was built over the Sand River to replace the old one and a causeway was also built over the Letaba River. Although a number of new tourist roads were built between 1935 and 1946, the main focus was concentrated around maintenance and improvement of existing road network. This was made possible as a result of acquisition of a large number of road building machinery in 1938, namely two graders, two bulldozers and a tractor with trailer! Quite a lot of attention was paid to replace the pontoons, which never operated successfully, with causeways. In 1936 a causeway was completed over the Sabie River at Skukuza as well as one over the Olifants River at Balule in 1937. Contruction was nearly completed on the one over the Crocodile River at Malelane. In 1938 a causeway was constructed over the Shingwedzi River, and with the completion of the causeway over the Crocodile River at Crocodile Bridge in 1945, this brought about the end of the last pontoon the Park.
The road network as it appeared in 1946, was in itself a extraordinary achievement, if the dire state of the Board finances, the shortage of equipment and manpower and the fact that the Lowveld was relatively inaccessible for vehicle traffic, is taken into account. The thinly spread game rangers were largely responsible for the building or roads as well as rest camps, and the equipment available to them were two Chevrolet trucks, which were purchased in 1929, and a single bulldozer as from 1933! It is therefore not surprising that Board from the beginning tried all means to acquire assistance. Already in 1927, the SAR and Minister of Land was approached for financial support and the Transvaal Provincial Administration was requested to assist with the road building programme. In 1928, the Transvaal Publicity Conference lodged a strong plea that the TPA would expedite the works programme for the admission routes and causeways. It was also requested that it be adopted that the roads to the Park be used as access routes for the development of the rest of the Lowveld.
Various attempts were made in the early thirties to convince the SAR to open railway bridges to road transport. The attempts proved to be unsuccessful.
In 1935 a comprehensive development program for the Park was compiled, in anticipation of a donation that the Government was expected to make to the Board. In the plan provision was also made for dual track tar roads. The donation of R60 000 that was made, was too small to meet all the needs, and the Board approached the TPA and the Board for National Roads for assistance. When is became known in 1935 that the then Department of Defence (SA Army) required a road parallel to the eastern boundary, it was suggested that they be approached to build a tar road from Punda Maria to Crocodile Bridge.
The effort to have the roads tarred, all failed, and in 1937, the secretary of the executive committee received instruction to enquire with the University of Pretoria about a tar emulsion that could be applied in Pretoriuskop rest camp to counter the dust problem. When the chairperson of the Board, Judge de Wet, came to hear of these developments, he vehemently reacted to it and strongly objected to these so called improvements. “Are we going to keep Pretoriuskop as a rest camp or convert it to a glorified resort?” he enquired. It was not just in rest camps where dust was a problem, and councillor Papenfus argued that the dust that gathers on the plants next to the roads, could be detrimental for the game. He was therefore strongly in favour that a loan be made so that the roads can be tarred. In September 1937 councillor Papenfus’ pleas were heeded , and it was decided to proceed with the laying of tar strips on the roads between Pretoriuskop, Doispane and Skukuza and between Skukuza and Lower Sabie. This decision was not brought to fruition. Stevenson-Hamilton remained opposed to the tarring of roads until his retirement. He expressed concern that improved roads would lead to increased speeding incidents, and that more wildlife would be killed on the roads. He felt so strongly about this that he even alleged that “….. the death toll of animals would increase beyond all bounds…”. He was not against tarred roads in rest camps. Until the end of 1946, nothing came of any improvement to roads. Besides, there were few of the existing roads that were properly graveled. The tarring of road surfaces in the Kruger Park had to wait until August 1965 when the tarring of the Naphe Road between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza was commenced. Today there are more than 1,700 kilometers of tarred roads in the Park and more than 4 200 kilometers of management roads.
For the purposes of factual integrity the above history is an extract taken from Pienaar, U de V (Dr), “Neem uit die Verlede”, Published by South African National Parks (then National Parks Board) in 1990. Section “Development of Tourism” of Chapter 17 (by Dr SCJ Joubert) “The history on the development of the Sabie and Shingwedzi Reserves and the Kruger National Park,1898 to 1946.”Translated and edited by Joep Stevens: GM Tourism Services