The Central Kalahari Game Reserve was declared a game park in 1961, on the very eve of independence. At that time, there was increasing international publicity about the San. With the prevalent view of their 'idyllic' hunter/gatherer lifestyle came a growing concern that this was threatened, and that they might become 'extinct'. The British Protectorate of Bechuanaland was the focus for this, so the authorities decided to protect the heart of the Kalahari for the San.
At the time, there was no way to set aside one particular area for an ethnic group. Neither the British authorities nor the Tswana, who were being groomed for government, wanted any discrimination amongst its citizens based on race. This would have set a dangerous precedent, with echoes of the tribal 'bantustans' created by the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Back in the 1960s, legislation to proclaim a separate area for a separate ethnic group didn't exist. Nor was any wanted by a new country anxious to avoid ethnic divisions. Hence the heart of the central Kalahari was protected from further development or agricultural encroachment as a 'game park' – even though it was intended as a place of sanctuary for the San. Thus the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was proclaimed.
(Still to this day the Botswana government has a strict policy of not discriminating – positively or negatively – between any of the ethnic groups in the country. 'We're all Tswana' is their wise approach – designed to minimise any ethnic tensions. However, there lies the nub of a problem. If a group like the San are allowed to live and hunt in a 'game reserve', why shouldn't any other Tswana citizen? Many who are concerned for the San argue that they need positive discrimination, whilst others maintain that such moves would be racist.)
In keeping with its origins, the CKGR remained largely closed for around 30 years; visitors needed special approval and permits, which were not lightly granted. During this time its most famous visitors were probably Mark and Delia Owens. They were a couple of young and idealistic animal researchers from America who lived on a tree island in Deception Valley for about seven years (1974–80), and subsequently wrote a best-selling book, Cry of the Kalahari
, based on their experiences.
Then in the late 1980s and early '90s the park started to open up more, first allowing in organised groups with tour operators and later, only in recent years, individual travellers in their own vehicles. However, numbers remain very strictly limited by the number of campsites available; so it still feels very much a wilderness destination.