Evictions have been shown to be a mechanism of primitive accumulation in nature conservation. This paper adds an historical analysis to the discussion on primitive accumulation in conservation by exploring the seemingly innocuous mechanism of White belonging to land in South Africa's private nature reserves. Contemporary articulations of White belonging are replete with stories and images of White male “pioneers” from the colonial era who, upon arrival in “empty lands”, were able to create economies out of nothing. Such representations of history on private nature reserve websites and other promotional material invisibilise Black belonging and legitimise private conservation. By illuminating the inconsistencies in the empty lands narrative and the legacies of three championed conservation pioneers from the 19th century, this paper argues that White belonging is a mechanism of primitive accumulation, while Black belonging continues to be expressed in various ways in contemporary South Africa.