The name Marakele means “place of sanctuary” in Tswana, and after driving through the town of Thabazimbi to get here, I’d certainly agree with that moniker. In fact, looking back on my Year in the Wild, I don’t think I’ve seen such a contrast between industrial degradation and pristine nature.
Anglo American’s iron ore mine almost surrounds the town, and entire hillsides have been carved out, while mountains of detritus have been dumped right next to natural bushveld. It’s difficult to believe that there is a beautiful national park just 12 kilometres north-east of the town. But thankfully there is, and I hope Anglo American is contributing lots of their money to the funding and development of Marakele, because they should!
I just don’t know how they think they are going to rehabilitate the damage they have done…and it makes me sad, more than anything else, to see how man can stuff up a natural area. Sure, the mine has created jobs and wealth (for some), but what’s going to happen in a few decades when the mine has closed…what happens then? And what about the damage done to the environment…how is that accounted for? Was this factored into the total cost of the mine, and if so, would it still be protifable on that basis? And what about the effects on the surrounding areas? (I took a photo of the view from the top of the Waterberg one morning…check out the smog in the air…is that from the nearby mine?)
But moving on to more beautiful things. Remarkably, just a few kilometres from the Mordor atmosphere of the mine, you can enjoy one of Africa’s quintessential wildlife experiences.
Despite Fhumulani Mikosi’s slight build and smiling demeanour, he has a special way with earth’s second biggest mammal. He has developed a remarkable understanding of white rhinos, and if you do see one of the bulls, Fhumulani will be able to get within spitting distance of the huge animal.
The rhinos seem to know his voice, so instead of running away, they tend to be calm in his presence. Fhumulani talks to the rhino constantly in a low, measured tone…almost as if to let them know that he’s there, and means no harm. Rhinos have poor eyesight, but their hearing is excellent…clearly they rely on it to judge danger.
I’ve been pretty close to some rhinos in the past…but nothing like this. When Fhumulani and I went out one morning, we found a lone bull who let us walk within ten metres of him. I stayed back a bit to take some photos, but Fhumulani walked even closer…talking softly all the time. The rhino wasn’t perturbed at all – perhaps curious at first, then once Fhumulani had sat down on the ground, the rhino continued grazing as if we weren’t there. Of course, white rhinos are more placid than their grumpier black cousins, so he doesn’t try this with them…
It ranks as one of the most impressive wildlife experiences in the country – reason enough to visit Marakele!
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