The region was known as a sugarcane, tropical fruit and citrus hub but cattle farming added to the prosperity of the region. Farmers could bring in cattle once the threat of predators was removed when the fence around the Kruger National Park was electrified. Later, smaller private game reserves and family-run lodges were established to capitalise on the growing tourism boom to the region.
Sugarcane farming was a growing industry in the fertile region and the Transvaal Suiker Beperk (TSB) sugar mill was constructed to process the sugarcane at its source. This naturally led to mass planting of sugar cane and, for a long time, the sugar mill was the lifeblood of Malelane. It offered local residents much-needed work opportunities and reduced the cost of transport for the sugarcane farmers.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Malelane was enjoying the spoils of increased tourism to the region. The focus of Malelane slowly shifted from being purely an agricultural hub to also servicing the needs of tourists and tourism enterprises. The tarred road was upgraded to a double-carriage highway and named the N4, and a toll booth was constructed to bring in much-needed revenue to ensure the highway would be maintained to international standards.
Government initiatives created what became known as the Maputo Corridor; an easy, first-world passageway to and from the economic hubs of South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa’s friendly neighbor, Swaziland, benefited significantly from this growth and regional prosperity.
Malelane Gate was built and soon became one of the main entrances to The Kruger National Park. This led to a dramatic increase in tourism to the region and an array of lodges started popping up on the tourism map. These lodges range from budget-friendly bed & breakfast establishments to five-star hotels situated on the banks of the Crocodile River, overlooking The Kruger National Park.
Sun International invested heavily in the area, purchasing an old lodge and upgrading it to international standards to target the growing need for accommodation for international and local tourists. A multi-national construction group breathed new life into the old town, constructing an impressive shopping center which is now home to leading retail outlets. More jobs were created and the promise of greater prosperity for the region hung over the town.
Development in the town of Malelane as well as newly-established lodges and tourism industries has led to a boom in the number of people living in and around the town. This in itself is a massive economic boost for Malelane and government initiatives have meant more resources have been allocated to the region for residential, healthcare and education projects.
A privately-run school, Riverview Primary School, was established and, together with the local government schools in the area, brings schoolchildren and parents to the area for sporting events.
Another boom occurred when the National Parks Board declared that no new developments would be constructed within the park, meaning no new camps, lodges and tourism hot-spots. Malelane developers jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on this policy and lodges were built or renovated to meet the growing demand for accommodation for international and local tourists.
The National Parks Board did Malelane another favor by de-regulating the use of open-top game vehicles. This led to an increase in safari tour companies operating in the park and the entrance admissions at both Malelane and Crocodile Gate increased dramatically. More people to the area, more jobs created and a windfall for the economic health of the region.
Finally, Malelane caught the attention of international jet-setters with the development of the prestigious Leopard Creek Golf Club and luxury residential estate that was built on the Crocodile River overlooking the Kruger Park, a few kilometers from the central business district. This premier destination attracts the world’s elite who descend on the area for the annual Sunshine Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Championship and global celebrities who jumped at the opportunity to own a little piece of heaven a stone-throw away from the world-famous park and other private wildlife reserves.