Where lions roam across the frontiers

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The Independent Online

The words "cross-border" do not hold pleasant memories for southern Africa. In the anti-colonial wars and South Africa's apartheid struggle, they referred to furtive and brutal military sorties across state boundaries.

The words "cross-border" do not hold pleasant memories for southern Africa. In the anti-colonial wars and South Africa's apartheid struggle, they referred to furtive and brutal military sorties across state boundaries.

Now "cross-border" is gaining a new meaning, one of innovation and hope. The term preferred is "transfrontier", because it better conveys the vision of opening southern Africa's wildlife parks across adjacent nations.

For southern Africa, "peace parks" have come to symbolise the region's hopes and dreams of turning round its fortunes. People talk of "bringing down the fences and letting the animals lead the way towards solidarity and friendship among southern Africa's nations".

Last month the first transfrontier park, the Kgalagadi Park bridging the border between South Africa and Botswana, was inaugurated, by coincidence, at about the same time as Europe's Prespa Park straddling the mountain borders of Albania, Greece and Macedonia.

The Kgalagadi Park is a semi-desert of far horizons where herds of antelope roam, and lion, leopard and cheetah prowl. Large parts are almost untouched by man, especially on the Botswana side where Gemsbok National Park contributed 11,000 square miles to the 14,675sq mile park.

The governments of South Africa, Mozambique and the kingdom of Swaziland have agreed to consolidate across their borders the lush Lebombo Peace Park stretching east from the Swaziland mountains to include a large and beautiful portion of the Indian Ocean coast.

Other schemes in the pipeline include the proposed Dongola-Limpopo Valley Peace Park, which willtie together the corners of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

But the prize target is the proposed amalgamation of parks in southern Africa's eastern Lowveld - the vast lowland stretching north-east of the Drakensberg range towards the Indian Ocean coast.

The 38,600sq mile park will connect South Africa's world-renowned Kruger National Park with Mozambique's Gaza and Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou parks and include adjoining privately owned and communal land.

The scope and variety of its fauna and flora is so breathtaking that it is believed to have the potential to become the world's biggest single tourism draw.

Sir Richard Branson, boss of Virgin Atlantic, is said to have told the Peace Park Foundation chairman, Anton Rupert, that demand would be sufficient to fill two airliners a day, five days a week, from Manchester straight to the Lowveld.

Such a boom could boost income for the 14 states of the South African Development Community from last year's $21.5bn (£14.5bn) to $52bn by 2010, and bring 1.6 million jobs. With 30 per cent unemployment even in comparatively developed South Africa, it is a consideration that weighs heavily.

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