Magaliesburg

One of the most remarkable early European visitors to the Magaliesberg region was the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat. He was born on 21 December 1795 in Ormiston, Scotland. His parents were not wealthy, and at the age of 13, he was apprenticed to a gardener. It was hard, physical labour, which no doubt developed in Moffat a toughness which stood him in good stead later in life. In the evenings Moffat attended classes, during which he not only learnt Latin, but was also given instruction in blacksmithing and playing the violin.

The history of the Ndebele people, also referred to as the Matabele, began with the rise of Mzilikazi (born about 1790) as a leader of one of branches of the Khumalo clan under the Zulu king, Shaka (Rasmussen 1978, p. 10). In 1822, Shaka sent Mzilikazi, with an impi, on a cattle-raiding expedition against the Sotho chief, Ranisi (Sominisi). This expedition was successful, and large numbers of cattle were seized.

Drawing primarily on careful analysis of oral traditions, scholars are in general agreement that most Tswana communities are offshoots of the Bahurutshe, who moved southwards through what is today Botswana and established themselves along the Madikwe (Marico) River, probably in about 1500 AD (see Carruthers 2014, p. 213). The Bakwena were one of the most prominent offshoots from the Bahurutshe.

In Episode 1 of this series (click here to read), mention was made of the agro-pastoralists (farmers who grew crops and kept livestock) who moved into the Magaliesberg region in about 225 AD. Scholars have categorised them as people of the "early iron age", as they possessed and made use of the technology needed for smelting and forging iron in order to make tools and weapons.

It is unknown when exactly human beings first arrived in the Magaliesberg, but stone tools from the area date back hundreds of thousands of years. There are, however, three important archaeological sites in the Magaliesberg where radio-carbon dating has revealed fascinating evidence of the way early occupants lived at least 6 000 years ago. These sites are Kruger Cave, west of Olifantspoort (excavated by Prof Revil Mason - see main image), and Jubilee Shelter and Cave James, east of Silkaatsnek (excavated by Prof Lyn Wadley).

In August 2020, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at Swartruggens on the 120th anniversary of the siege of the Elands River Post. It commemorates the remarkable resilience of a small garrison of Australians and Rhodesians during the South African War. General Jan Smuts, who took part on the Boer side, described it thus:

As you approach Hartbeespoort Dam on the R511, the road rises steeply over Saartjie’s Nek to reveal a spectacular view of the dam with the cliffs of the Magaliesberg behind. On a koppie to the right, a massive granite cross commemorates General Hendrik Schoeman and overlooks the grand panorama that he envisioned but never lived to see.
 
The memorial
 

The Battle of Diamond Hill took place on the 11 and 12 June 1900. Sir Ian Hamilton, one of the generals who took part in the battle, described it as the turning point in the South African War, so in this Memoir we look at what happened and why it was so important.

 

Magalies Memoirs focus on incidents in the Magaliesberg region and perhaps not everyone knows that it was here, in the heart of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve, that gold was first discovered in the Transvaal, decades before diggers rushed to Barberton or George Harrison stumbled on the Witwatersrand Main Reef. “Discovered”, of course, needs to be qualified. We know from artifacts found at places like Mapungubwe and Thulamela that gold has been mined, treasured and traded for more than a thousand years – probably much longer.

On the southern bank of Hartbeespoort Dam lies the archaeological site of one of the oldest farming and herding settlements in South Africa. It comprised several small interlinked homesteads and was first excavated by the pioneering Wits University archaeologist Revil Mason in the 1970s.

At the time of writing, the coronavirus Covid-19 is still disrupting life in South Africa. In this article we recall an earlier pandemic, the so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu that devastated the world of our great-grandparents a century ago. It had a major impact in South Africa and disrupted the building of Hartbeespoort Dam.

The Magaliesberg has a distinguished but little-known history in astronomy. Fifty years ago, three world class observatories were located in the region. Many prominent astronomers came here to observe the southern skies and their observations had far-reaching consequences; the estimated age of the universe was doubled, moon landings were controlled, and South Africa became a leader in astronomical science.
 

This month it was my pleasure to visit Sappersrus. The occasion was a gathering of the tourism association of the Hartbeestpoort Dam/Magaliesberg area to meet and learn about Sappersrus and its history and attend a small memorial ceremony. We enjoyed excellent hospitality and a lunch in the well-designed lapa close to the water. I was asked to deliver a short talk on the Battle of the Somme, Delville Wood and memorialization. Our hosts were Irene Small and Ashley Williams, who run the Sappers facility and Foundation.

Subscribe to Magaliesburg