Red sands of the Kalahari

During the South African rebellion in 1914, about 1200 rebels invaded the town of Kuruman in order to secure supplies. The government troupes had to retreat and even though the town was not formally annexed, a treaty allowing free passage was signed under this Camelthorn tree on 8 November 1914 between General JC Kemp (who surrendered) and Captain JP Frylinck. Photo: Susan de Bruyn

Red sands of the Kalahari

24 May 2021 | Tourism

By Frank Steffen & Chloe Durr

The Kalahari Semi-Desert covers an area of more than 900 000 square kilometres in the three countries Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Its name is derived from the Tswana word Kgala (meaning “great thirst“) or Kgalagadi (a waterless place). It is just as dry as it is mesmerizingly beautiful.

You will be well advised when travelling to Namibia (or leaving) to consider taking the roads leading through the real Kalahari, i.e. visiting the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park , which covers more than 38000 km² in Botswana and South Africa. Approaching that park from the direction of Johannesburg you could drive over Kuruman and from there directly to the park on the R31, or via Upington, from where you would follow the R360. In the latter case you might include a stay at the Augrabies Falls and the same-named park. This is where the Orange River roars down an impressive ravine that is regarded as the world's sixth largest waterfall.

The point, where Upington is found, was originally called //Khara hais by the Nama-folk. The town was founded in 1873, after Reverend Christian Schröder had established a mission station there in 1871. It was named after Sir Thomas Upington, Attorney-General and then Prime Minister of the Cape. While in Upington you might otherwise consider visiting the Orange River Wine Cellars, the largest co-op wine cellars in the country. It is made up of wineries along the Orange River, stretching over from Groblershoop to Blouputs.

The small town of Kuruman is known for its scenic beauty and the Eye of Kuruman. This geological feature brings water from deep underground and allows for an abundance of water in an otherwise barren environment. The missionary Robert Moffat established a missionary presence her in 1821 and this was David Livingstone’s first station as missionary. The town derives its name from Chief Kudumane, who called this place his home.

Aiming towards the Kgalagadi you could effectively explore what is known as the Red Dune Route, a network of accommodation establishments, guest farms and game reserves. The Kgalagadi Trans-frontier National Park itself is a truly unspoilt ecosystem and is one of the largest conservation areas in the world. It is Africa's first-ever trans-border conservation area - officially launched in the year 2000. It is almost equidistant from Cape Town (1 000 km) and Johannesburg (900 km).

The park is closed off to the west (Namibia) but otherwise without borders, allowing for migratory movement of game such as blue wildebeest, springbok, eland and red hartebeest. And this again allows the black-maned Kalahari Lion to prosper naturally and largely without interference from humans. Other predators include cheetah, leopard and the brown- and spotted hyena.

A huge part of the park forms part of what the small group of Khomani San an indigenous people, which were long thought to have vanished. These first people of the Kalahari still stick to their traditional hunter-gatherer existence, which contributed towards the area being declared a world heritage site. It is said that the Khomani San descend directly from ancient inhabitants of Southern Africa around 150 000 years ago - the very people, which are considered to be the ancestors of us humans (Homo sapiens).

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