The Lala People
The first iron age communities settled along the coast and in the lower-lying river valleys of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi from 300 AD onward. Iron smelting was conducted on a wide-spread scale in the river valleys.
The earliest migrants were believed to have arrived in KwaZulu-Natal sometime during the 15th Century and it was believed that these pioneers, known as the Lala people were from the west coast of Africa.
Nguni Clan Setlers
Towards the beginning of the 17th century, a new group of settlers, the abaNguni began migrating southwards. Among these Nguni clans were the Zulu people.
They settled in a valley some 25 miles west of the present Imfolozi section, and south of the White Mfolozi River.
Further north another wave of immigrants settled the land between the Black Mfolozi and the present-day, Swaziland border.
King Shaka and the British Colonial Government
At the beginning of the 18th Century, for 60 years, the area between the two Mfolozi rivers from their junction to the Mpila range of hills was inhabited by Nguni people from the Mthethwa clan.
This clan was ruled by King Dingiswayo until he was killed in 1818.
Between 1818 and 1829 King Shaka ruled over the greater part of what is now the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
It is reported that Shaka destroyed almost every living thing south of the White Mfolozi in his simulated flight to the Tugela River. His tactic was to leave this large area devoid of any source of food for the Ndwandwe army.
The area between the two rivers was again virtually uninhabited by 1882, as a result of the Zulu War of 1879, and the division of Zululand by the British Colonial Government.
Hluhluwe and Imfolozi, originally known as the Zulu king’s royal hunting ground, were proclaimed as game reserves in 1895.
Hunting, Cattle Farming and Epidemics
The early 19th Century saw the first contact between Nguni people and white hunters/traders whose numbers increased under the rule of King Mpande.
Among these men were a large number of hunters such as Baldwin, Drummond, Leslie, Selous and the scientific collector, Delagorgue. They relied on hunting for a living and were first to provide fully comprehensive lists of the species of game animals found in the area.
In the latter part of the century the Ndwandwe clan occupied the western area of Imfolozi, though these people were subjected to raids and harassment by the Mandlakazi clan which eventually resulted in their leaving the area.
Three years later the newly proclaimed reserves were victim to a rinderpest epidemic, which spread throughout Zululand. Iit is estimated that 80% of the cattle succumbed.
In 1907 the Hlabisa Game reserve (constituting the Corridor and the land eastward to Lake St Lucia) was deproclaimed, because of pressure from farmers as nagana (a sleeping sickness spread by the Tsetse fly) increased.
Imfolozi Game Reserve was increased by the addition of land to the south of the White Mfolozi River, bounded by the iNvamanzi stream and the Sangoyana range of hills. A game Conservator for Zululand, Vaughan-Kirby, was appointed and based at Nongoma.
In 1916 special areas were proclaimed as buffer zones surrounding the Game Reserves.
The shooting areas where game was destroyed to control the nagana disease, entirely surrounded the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, and included the area formally known as the Corridor and the whole area to the West and South of the Imfolozi Games Reserve.
In 1919 severe drought conditions brought game into contact with cattle belonging to ex-servicemen farmers in Ntamabanana settlement and an outbreak of nagana once again occurred.
A campaign was organised to clear the Ntamabanana farms of game, which lasted until 1954. The campaign had devastating and long lasting effects on Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, as the interests of conservationists were in direct conflict with those wanting to open Zululand to cattle ranching.
In 1929, Captain H.B, Potter was appointed as a Game Conservator, resident in Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Buffer zones were created around the reserves, and the destruction of 26162 head of game in these areas commenced. During the ensuing years Imfolozi was deproclaimed twice in 1920 and in 1932.
During 1943 the Union Government continued the nagana campaign with a game eradication campaign which included Imfolozi Game Reserve. No rhino were to be shot and the animals were confined to a sanctuary area demarcated by a bush cleared zone in the West. No shooting was permitted in Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The affect of this campaign was to scatter game populations throughout Zululand, resulting in the worst outbreak of nagana to date . The Union Government also arranged for the removal of the Mandlakazi Clan (for veterinary reasons) who occupied the Corridor area.
From 1939 the Zululand reserves became the responsibility of the Zululand Game Reserves and Parks Advisory Board established under the chairmanship of W.M. Power MEC until the formation of the Natal Parks Game and Fish Prevention Board in 1947.
In 1952 veterinary authorities relinquished control and W.H. Foster was appointed to run Imfolozi Game Reserve. According to Foster, wildebeest and zebra had been eliminated entirely from Imfolozi Game Reserve, and impala and other large herbivores remained in small numbers.
Undoubtedly one of the major success stories of the KwaZulu Nature Conservation Services has been ‘Operation Rhino’.
In 1962 the decision was made to remove a number of white rhino from Imfolozi Game Reserve which was then the last remaining habitat of the species. There were two reasons for this. Firstly it was realised that any major catastrophe in such a limited area could easily result in the extinction of the species or conversely there was fear of overpopulation, for the species was bound to become too numerous for the area to support it. In the first 10 years of this programme, more than 100 rhino were caught and sent to Game reserves, Parks and Zoos throughout the world.
In 1962 the former Crown Land to the West and South of Imfolozi Game Reserve were added to the Reserve, and by 1964, fence construction was well underway (Steele, 1979). This further consolidation of land included the proclaimation of the Corridor Game – Reserve in 1989 and later the re-naming of the three Reserves as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (HiP).