Eric’s 50-year dream cast in biodiverse countryside
FIFTY years ago, Eric Mackenzie’s friends scoffed when he decided on a unique form of property development – to sell shares to the public in a nature reserve, where they could build a home.
“Eric was an entrepreneur, and he put a lot of thought into this,” said his wife, Patricia (Pat), adding that an article in the Sunday Tribune of August 3, 1969, by reporter Nancy Gardiner, had set the sales ball rolling.
Mbona Mountain Estate as it was then known, on Karkloof Road, became the first such private estate in South Africa. Now known as Mbona Private Nature Reserve, it recently became the first to be proclaimed within the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. The title deeds are endorsed, making shareholder investments fully protected; and no future development will be allowed without the approval of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
Mackenzie, a Cramond farmer, who grew tea, rice, and timber, was partly crippled in an accident while playing polo, but this had not affected his active mind. He bought the 354 hectare Mbona farm adjoining the 325ha Holbeck farm, which he already owned, with the intention of setting down plantations, but when he found the land had a high water table, it triggered his environmentalist side.
How about dams, stocked with trout, where people could swim or sail?
Nature-loving, conservationminded city dwellers could escape their busy lives amid indigenous forests, beautiful countryside filled with flora and fauna, with long walks, horse-riding, and game.
“It had to be a property that would be well managed from a conservation point of view, and be there for generations to come,” said Pat.
Eric’s sons Drummond and Michael plotted routes for roads across the empty grasslands and hills, and pegged out the sites for several dams.
One hundred shares at R5 000 each were offered. Eric died in 1977, but Pat (now Hutton) kept their shared dream alive. With the assistance of the board and shareholders, Mbona has become a much loved reserve, where the beauty of mist-belt forest and grasslands can be enjoyed by shareholders and their families. Sit on a seat named for Eric, or one on Mbona Hill (named for conservationist Ian Player) and take in the spectacular views which inspired it all half a century ago.