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This paper was largely written by the General Manager for People and Conservation in South African National Parks (SANParks), with a contribution by an anthropologist studying the post-apartheid transition of Kruger National Park. Our purpose is to engage in an ongoing discussion aimed at equitable best practice and community empowerment in social research and protected areas by bringing together context informed, insider (Masuku Van Damme) and outsider (Meskell) perspectives. It is not intended to offer a conclusive account of people and park dynamics in SANParks. The paper begins with an overview of the establishment of protected areas in South Africa. It then traces conservation philosophies and management principles from 1900 to the present. We then examine the move towards community involvement with conservation areas, outlining the impacts of the World Conservation Strategy and the Brundtland Report. This leads into a discussion of the development of Social Ecology within SANParks, evaluating the successes and failures of consultative efforts with indigenous communities. Lastly, we describe recent moves to include cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge into the programmatics of park management.