The Greater Mapungubwe Heritage Route celebrates the rich history of the northern part of the Limpopo Province of South Africa over the last 1 000 years.
The Route links numerous cultural and natural heritage sites through a circular route centred around key sites such as the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, the Thulamela Archaeological Site and the cluster of heritage sites around the sacred Lake Fundudzi and royal Dzata Museum.
The Greater Mapungubwe Heritage Route starts at Louis Trichardt (Makhado) and dates back about 1 000 years.
From Louis Trichardt it follows a circular route to the west along the Soutpansberg until Vivo. It ends amongst the largest colony of Cape vultures in South Africa at the Blouberg Nature Reserve.
From Blouberg the route goes north to the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Park and World Heritage Site.
From Mapungubwe it goes east via Musina to the Greater Nwanedi Wildlife Reserve with its two beautiful dams and the Sagole Big Tree – the biggest boabab in South Africa and one of the biggest trees in the world.
The Makuya Nature Reserve is the next stop and is characterised by stunning views over the Kruger National Park (KNP) at places such as World View, the Luvhuvhu Gorge and at the Singo Safari Lodge.
The Route then moves into the KNP to the Thulamela Archaeological Site - one of the primary heritage sites of South Africa, and the link between Great Zimbabwe and the modern Vha Venda nation.
Crooks Corner where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet at the confluence of the Pafuri and Limpopo rivers is the centre for the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and has a fascinating history.
From Crooks Corner the route turns southwest towards the Punda Maria gate of the KNP to enter the heartland of the Land of Legend in the Nzhelele River Valley.
The heart of the Land of Legend is formed by a cluster of heritage sites such as:
- The mysterious and sacred Lake Fundudzi
- Dzata – the royal history of the Vha Venda
- The Holy Forest
- The Sacred Tswime Mountain
- Tshivhase stone terraces
The next stop is Valdezia – the first Shangaan settlement in South Africa; then to the historic mission hospital of Elim, start of the Ribollah artist route and then to the Skirmishes Route, highlighting a number of very significant incidents during the Anglo-Boer War.
1. THE MAPUNGUBWE WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Mapungubwe was declared as national monument on 18 August 1984. Mapungubwe as an archaeological site received prominence in the 1930's with the discovery of golden ornaments and artefacts. Mapungubwe is situated approximately 2,5 km south-east of the confluence of the Shashi- and Limpopo Rivers, on the farm Greefswald. Mapungubwe consists of Bushveld sandstone and is approximately 300 meters long. It has a flatcrown vertical wreathe of some 30 meters high.
The hill itself has an elongated shape, with 80 metre high cliffs surrounding the greater part of its periphery. Access to the top of Mapungubwe is not easy, and there are only seven known ascents, of which only one is reasonably safe to use in both directions.
Gold was found in a graveyard on top of the hill, where 33 burials were discovered – each of which had a variety of golden beads, bangles and other golden decorations entombed with it. No burials with gold had been discovered elsewhere, therefore it has been accpted that an aristocracy was living on top of Mapungubwe Hill. Further archaeological evidence confirms this, and changes that took place socially, politically and culturally started the processes that led to the beginning of the system of divine kingship evident at Great Zimbabwe.
Settlement structure at Mapungubwe places the hill at the centre, with the town spread out around it. There was clearly a demarcated main entrance for visitors to enter, which led them past houses to the foot of the hill where the court was situated between large upright boulders. Excavations have uncovered steps, terrace walls and directional walls, which demarcated this area from the rest of the town. It is generally accepted that the main way up to the top of the hill was through the court, and that there were several guards whose duty it was to limit access to the top of the hill, thus ensuring that the king was not disturbed. We can be certain that the ruler lived up here, as it is not accepted in such a manner that commoners would look down upon his residence. He also had to reside close to the court. Evidence of the existence of the leader is non-existent and of other early villages, this is indicative of the fact that the ruler now has other priorities to which he must attend and can no longer be bothered by ordinary problems. Unless his advisors and councillors could not solve the problems, people wishing to see him would first have to get past all these officials before being granted and audience. Numerous archaeological sites of these old villages are still to be seen along the Soutpansberg, extending deep into the heart of present-day Venda. At about 1250 AD, it appears as if the town of Mapungubwe was abandoned for reasons still unknown.
The importance of Mapungubwe lies in the first manifestation in Southern Africa of a class-based society as opposed to a rank-based one prevalent earlier, and this led ultimately to the rise of the Great Zimbabwe Empire.
2. THULAMELA ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
This early Iron Age site, dating 1250 - 1670, is the oldest reconstructed structure in Africa and is the best-preserved post-Zimbabwe period site of its kind. The old stone ruins at Thulamela are thought to be of the same culture and civilisation as the Munomutapa in Zimbabwe. This site completes the last phase of the well-known Zimbabwean culture period and is of major importance in the reconstruction of the history of Southern Africa. Thulamela consists of re-built stonewalls of a village community that existed in or about 1450 AD. It is located on a hill west of the Phafuri picnic-site in the KNP and overlooks the Luvuvhu River and the Limpopo River valley.
The Thulamela people left Zimbabwe after the collapse of Great Zimbabwe and headed south across the Limpopo River establishing a number of chieftaincies of roughly equal status along the Limpopo Valley. Unlike Mapungubwe, which is too long ago, Thulamela can be directly linked to the Venda of today. Excavations at the site revealed the grave of a king. Once archaeological information had been collected, his bones were respectfully reburied during a ceremony that showed the Makahane people acknowledging their ancestors.
The walls of Thulamela have been largely re-built and, to date, represents the oldest restored buildings in South Africa. Excavations have revealed gold bracelets and beads, ivory amulets, clay pots from the Khami era, glass and shell beads, harpoons, spearheads and ceramic spindle whorls. Of particular importance was the discovery of the grave of a lady of high estate. She was found lying on her side in the ‘Losha’ position, showing respect, with her hands on the left side of her face, and with a gold bracelet around her arm. She was named ‘Queen Losha’ by the excavation team.
The layout of the capital reflects the pattern of Ritual Seclusion of the Sacred Leader started at Mapungubwe, and carried on through Great Zimbabwe. There is a stillness and an aura of mystery that surrounds these ancient walls, surrounded by some huge old baobab trees.
Other sites within the Thulamela Node include the Limpopo river basin, an area that, most probably, boasts the longest continuous human occupation in the southern sub-continent stretching over more than 1.5 million years. Wherever one walks on the Limpopo floodplains, one treads on Stone Age tools. The tools also occur along most of the streambeds and extend over a distance of more than 150 kms into Mozambique. Large concentrations of Early Stone Age tools occur in the Phafuri area and this area is also rich in Middle and Later Stone Age sites.
3. LAKE FUNDUDZI
Lake Fundudzi is located in the Soutpansberg in the upper catchment of the Mutale River inside Thate Vhondo forest. Measuring about five kilometers by three kilometers when full, this lake is unique in Africa as it was created by an ancient landslide blocking the course of the Mutale River. The lake and its resident crocodiles as well as the nearby forest of Thathe Vondo, are regarded as sacred by the Vhatatsindi, the People of the Pool, who are part of the Venda people.
According to Venda legend, the lake was created when a passing leper was refused food and shelter. He cursed the kraal which disappeared below the waters of the newly formed lake and the Venda claim that in the early morning it is possible to hear the sound of drums and the cries and bellowing of the drowned people and cattle.
Legend also believes that Lake Fundudzi is protected by a python god living in the mountain. The Venda pay homage to this god by annually performing a puberty dance, characterised by the sinuous swaying and writhing of a conga line, in which adolescent girls of the tribe take part. The fullness of the lake and its colour are said to reflect the temper of the ancestors, and the possibility of rain. Plans are underway to declare it a national Heritage site.
4. DZATA HERITAGE SITE. (VHEMBE DISTRICT)
Situated between Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou. The remains of the old capital of the chiefs of the Venda people dating back to 1400 AD.
Dzata is located in the eastern section of the Soutpansberg mountain range in Vhembe District, in the north-eastern part of Limpopo Province. It lies adjacent to the Nzhelele Valley, some 40 kilometres to the west of Thohoyandou near the offices of the Mphephu Tribal Authority. The southern section of the reserve lies on the southern foothill of the mountain, immediately north of the village of Ha-Mandiwana. It stretches up and over the mountain into the raised valley lying to the west of Tshiendeulu Village. The western boundary is at the peak, given as Ha-Mandiwana, while the eastern boundary runs between the mountains, indicated as Tshamilora and Gumbila.
Among the original places where the first Dzata settlers came from was Tshiendeulu. Khosi Netshiendeulu was one of the earlier leaders. The son of chief Dimbanyika, who was called Dyambeu, built the chief’s village at Nzhelele. After his father, Dimbanyika, passed away at Tshiendeulu, he moved to Nzhelele where he built his settlement. These people moved from Tshiendeulu to Nhzelele in about 1723. They settled and lived at Dzata until about 1760. The groups that were around that area at the time, like all the Bantu-speaking communities, had migrated from northern and central parts of Africa. The communities, which settled in the Dzata and surrounding areas, are the ancestors of the present Venda people.
One of the most revered leaders, who was a descendent from Dzata, was Khosi Makhado. Khosi Makhado was regarded by the colonial forces as “the troublesome Venda chief” because of his power and their inability to defeat him. Makhado was powerful as he settled in the mountainous stronghold which made it difficult, if not impossible, for his enemies to dislodge him. His position was also strengthened by a string of alliances he forged with other strong Black chiefs like Sekhukhune and Malebogo.
After establishing the ZAR government following the 1852 Sand River Convention, the Boers set themselves a task to subjugate Black chiefdoms. This task proved difficult when they arrived in the north, coming face to face with Makhado.
The Voortrekkers established their settlement next to the Venda chiefdom, naming it Schoemansdal, and this set out a scene for direct confrontation. By 1867, the Boers had assembled a formidable force under the command of Paul Kruger. A fierce war ensued in which the Boers eventually retreated, abandoning Schoemansdal. The Boers retreated to Marabastad in the vicinity of the present-day Polokwane. To the Venda, this was a significant victory against the Boers.
According to available sources, Makhado was born between 1830 and 1840, and was the son of Khosi Mphephu Ramabulana and his wife Lemani. He worked as a labourer on White owned farms and also, importantly, as a tracker for elephant hunters. He was such a good assistant and gun carrier that the hunters taught him to use a gun and he became a good shot. He also earned their trust to such extent that they gave him and his men guns to hunt on their own. Many of these guns were never returned, and were later used against their attacking enemies, particularly the Boers.
When Ramabulana died in 1864, Makhado’s brother, Davhana, was supposed to take over the reigns. However, Makhado succeeded to take over power where upon his brother fled. During his reign, troubles with the ZAR government surfaced when he refused census among his people, while he also refused to pay ZAR taxes. The Boers, regarded this as defiance of their authority and they waged war against Makhado, which led to their retreat in 1867.
Khosi Makhado died on 11 September 1895, allegedly from poisoning which happened during a brandy-drinking session at John Cooksly’s shop. After the death of Makhado, the Boers were able to return to the north four years later, to establish another small town not far from the abandoned Schoemansdal, naming it Louis Trichardt, after another pioneering Voortrekker leader.
- North west corner 22º 50' 45" S; 30º 07' 15" E
- North east corner 22º 50' 15" S; 30º 10' 08" E
- South east corner 22º 51' 30" S; 30º 10' 45" E
- South west corner 22º 52' 07" S; 30º 08' 23" E
5. TSHIENDEULU (Nzhelele)
Archaeological site dated back to the Iron Age period. Tshiendeulu consists of old ruins, which was the original settlement of the Shi-Venda Royalty before the migration to Dzata. It is located on the plateau overlooking Dzata.
6. MALEBOGO-BOER WAR BATTLEFIELDS. (CAPRICORN DISTRICT)
This vast site is about 60km from the small town of Senwabarwana. The site covers a huge area because of the nature of the war between the Bahananwa and the Boers, in which the Boers established tents all over the area in preparation of the assault. The vast site covers the farms Leipzig 264, Buffelshoek 261, Beauly 280, The Grange 257, Wiltstein 256 and Veredig.
Kgoši Malebogo was involved in a struggle against the White encroachment on his land towards the end of the 19th century. The Boers, who had established the republic, the ZAR in the north, were determined to subjugate all Black chiefdoms. The then Commissioner for Native Affairs in Zoutpansberg (Nothern) Division, Swart Barend Voster, who was based in Kalkbank, set the stage for the war by insisting that the Bahananwa should meet the ZAR’s demands. The then ZAR president, Paul Kruger, instructed Commandant-General Piet Joubert, to lead the Boer forces to attack the Bahananwa.
Piet Joubert assembled a strong force of the commandos from Rustenburg, Marico, Zoutpansberg as well as the allies of Black chiefdoms such as the Matebele of Langa and the Bakone of Matlala and attacked the Bahanawa. Malebogo put up a very strong resistance, but with such strong force and heavy weaponry against him, he finally surrendered on 31 July 1894. Kgoši Malebogo was taken to Pretoria as prisoner. During his imprisonment, the Bahananwa was ruled by his mother Mmaseketa, Maemeletša and Sephuti. Kgoši Malebogo was released in 1900 during the Anglo-Boer War and he continued to rule his people until his death in 1939.
Kgoši Malebogo’s remarkable contribution to the history of South Africa is perhaps his resistance against colonial forces. After the Boers regained the independence of the ZAR (Transvaal) from the British in 1881, they intended to subjugate all the Black communities in the Transvaal, including the Bahananwa. The refusal of the Bahananwa to submit under the ZAR government and to pay taxes led to the Bahananwa-Boer War of 1894.
The history of the Bahananwa forms an integral part of our national heritage and should be identified, developed and preserved for future generations. In addition to the rich history of the Bahananwa, the adjacent Blouberg areas are richly endowed with cultural and natural resources. The rock art paintings, which are found in the Makgabeng and Blouberg Mountains, indicate that the Khoisan people were the earliest inhabitants of the area.
7. VALDEZIA MISSION STATION (Valdezia)
Valdezia is the first Shangaan settlement in South Africa, it is located 25km east of Louis Trichardt and 10km north east of Elim Hospital. Shangaans occupied and colonised the area in the early 1800s. Shangaans are Nguni people, who came from Nongoma in Northern KwaZulu Natal. Their original leader was King Zwide of the Nxumalo clan in northern KwaZulu Natal.
When King Zwide went into war with the Zulus, led by Shaka Zulu, he was defeated. After the defeat, the Nxumalo clan disintegrated and the once powerful military commander of the Zwide forces, Soshangane refused to submit to the authority of the Zulu. Fearing Shaka's brutal leadership, Soshangane left Nongoma with his followers to establish a new Kingdom elsewhere.
He named the new Kingdom Gazankulu in honour of one of the Zwide Kings, King Gaza, his grandfather. Life was not peaceful in the new Kingdom and Gazankulu came under attack by the Portuguese settlers in Lourenco Marques, now Maputo. This led to the second migration of the descendents of Soshangane and the Shangaans moved into the Transvaal. Valdezia became their first settlement in the Transvaal.
While in Valdezia, the Shangaans were joined by a Portuguese settler named Joao Albasini, though his full names were Dos Santos Joao Albasini. Albasini spoke fluent Tsonga/Shangaan and the Shangaans felt at home with Dos Santos Joa Albasini.
Dos Santos Joao Albasini was later to become their tribal leader and up until today, Shangaans gather annually at Albasini Dam to pay their last respect to the man they considered their leader. The Shangaan Settlement at Valdezia was not all peaceful and when the Boers arrived competition for land begin. Whites established farms next to Valdezia, The Farm Klipfontein where Valdezia currently is, co-existed peacefully with a Shangaan settlement nearby.
In 1875, two Swiss theology students, Ernst Creux and Henri Bertroud purchased the farm Klipfontein from Mr. Scot J. Watt in order to build a Mission station and settle Shangaans there. They named the station Valdezia, in honour of their native homeland in Switzerland, Vaud. Alexis Thomas, a missionary and artisan, cared for the entire Mission Station area included Old Valdezia School, Elim Mission Church, Elim Hospital, Lemana College, Elim Mill, the dam and other historical structures. This is the first town where the first Shangaan were converted to Christianity, also in 1875.