Original Research

Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province, South Africa: Uniting economic development with ecological design – A history, 1960s to 1984

Jane Carruthers
Koedoe | Vol 53, No 1 | a1028 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v53i1.1028 | © 2011 Jane Carruthers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 October 2010 | Published: 30 June 2011

About the author(s)

Jane Carruthers, Department of History, University of South Africa, South Africa


In the late 1970s, a ground-breaking project began in the Pilanesberg district in what is now the North West Province of South Africa to create a wildlife conservation and eco-tourism venture from degraded marginal farmland in an aesthetically attractive extinct volcanic crater. The establishment of this national park was innovative in a number of respects, including a partnership between landscape and ecological designers, local community development and participation, regional tourist satisfaction, trophy hunting, environmental education, ecological restoration, and wildlife conservation and management. This paper briefly explored the park’s early history, explaining its landscape, its early peopling and historical land use. The narrative then concentrated on the first five years of the park’s existence, from its inception in 1977, under the aegis of Agricor, Bophuthatswana’s rural development agency, to 1984, when responsibility for the park was given over to Bophuthatswana National Parks, a parastatal agency, and a new era began.

The article contended that 1984 is an appropriate date on which to conclude the early history of the Pilanesberg National Park (PNP) because it was then that the experimental phase of the park ended: its infrastructure was sufficiently developed to offer a satisfactory visitor experience, the management plan was revised, its bureaucratic structures were consolidated and an attitude survey amongst the local community was undertaken. Embedding the originating period of the PNP in its historical, political and socio-economic context, the paper foregrounded those elements in the park’s beginnings that were new in the southern African protected area arena. Thus, elements that relate to socio-politics, landscape and ecological design and restoration, and early relations with neighbouring communities were emphasised. This paper has been written by an historian and is therefore conceptual and historical, conforming in language and structure to the humanities style (environmental history). It relies on published and unpublished literature and oral information and the critical evaluation of these sources.

Conservation implications: The pioneering example of the PNP as a protected area is relevant to the field of conservation science because, as human population densities increase, as the tourism sector develops, as marginal farmland becomes available for new uses, and as it becomes important to include neighbouring communities in conservation activities, a study of this park’s early history and socio-political and economic context may be of assistance in the development of similar projects elsewhere in South Africa and beyond.


Bophuthatswana; ecological restoration; landscape design; Pilanesberg National Park; wildlife introductions


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Crossref Citations

1. We Can Deal with the Extra Feet, but Not the Extra Speed: the Importance of Providing a Memorable Experience in a Crowded National Park
Marco Scholtz, Petrus van der Merwe
Tourism Planning & Development  vol: 20  issue: 6  first page: 1104  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/21568316.2020.1850516