Madikwe Game Reserve History
The Madikwe Game Reserve is steeped in history and tradition. The famous Mafikeng Road (the main road now running through the reserve) was once used by explorers, hunters, merchants and missionaries during the early 1800s, as part of a trade corridor linking Cape Town and Bulawayo.
Well-known public figures like William Cornwallis Harris, Cecil John Rhodes and David Livingstone travelled through the Madikwe region along this route, both battling and forming strong friendships with the local people who called this place home.
King Mzilikazi, leader and founder of the Matabele tribe, crossed Madikwe during the 1800s in his quest to expand his kingdom. In his autobiography, Livingstone referred to Mzilikazi as the second most impressive leader he had had the fortune of meeting during his time on the African continent.
Renowned South African author Herman Charles Bosman also spent some time living in the area during the 1900s, finding inspiration in its rich character and atmosphere which he reflected in many of his famous short stories.
Over time, cattle and maize farmers moved into the area. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of the soil, their returns were poor and much of the land became dilapidated. Then in the early 1990s, an organization called Settlement Planning Services, or Setplan, conducted a feasibility study in the region which showed that developing it into a game reserve was the most efficient form of land use and the most beneficial to local communities.
In 1991, the government of the time initiated Operation Phoenix – the largest wildlife translocation to ever take place in the world. The demarcated area was fenced off, and by 1997 more than 8 000 animals of 28 species had been released into the reserve.
Other historical events or places of interest within Madikwe:
The Kaditshwene Ruins (Tshwenyane Hills)
This is the largest Iron Age stone-built city in South Africa. In 1820, this city was larger than Cape Town. It was the manufacturing, trading and cultural capital of the Bahurutshe before the 1600s, all the way to 1823.
At Silkatskop / Egabeni
King Mzilikazi’s camp was attacked by Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter in November 1837, forcing Mzilikazi to migrate north through the Madikwe region to Zimbabwe.
Abjaterskop and Dwarsberg Hills
Contain numerous ancient iron and copper mines, and many Iron Age stone-built settlements.
A school built in the 1920s near Abjaterskop, where writer Herman Charles Bosman taught.
Limestone caves which are largely unexplored. Also a battle site of the Anglo-Boer War.
An Iron Age settlement excavated by Revil Mason, near Mosega.
This was the capital city of the Barolong people from the 1820s to the 1830s, and the site of two battles of Difaqane (1823 and 1832). On 6 August 1832, the town was attacked by Mzilikazi’s Ndebele, thus precipitating the Barolong migrations. Writer Sol Plaatje based his novel Mhudi on this event.
Kraaipan is the site of the first engagement of the Anglo-Boer War (12 October 1899). A monument is near the railway crossing there.
A well-known rock engraving site near Khunwana and Kraaipan.
The Cultural History of Madikwe.
Madikwe’s rich cultural history began almost one million years ago and is as much a part of the Reserve as the wildlife and other natural wonders in the area. Historical sites containing irreplaceable artifacts are in abundance and in time will be restored and displayed as part of South Africa’s heritage.
In 1996 archaeologists unearthed many artifacts in the Reserve dating back from the early Stone Age to the late Stone Age (between 1,000,000 and 500 years ago). These artifacts, consisting of various stone tools, confirm that Stone Age man lived and hunted in Madikwe. Many of these artifacts were found close to outcrops of the stone used to create the tools, along the Marico River, close to Tweedepoort Ridge.
The Iron Age covers the past 2,000 years. Early Iron Age people moved from Nigeria/Cameroon area, between 200BC and 100AD, down the east coast of Africa to as far as the Eastern Cape. Sorghum and millet cultivate and livestock farming, pottery making and metal smelting gave these people more control over their daily and longer-term existence. The economic and social advantages of this more stable lifestyle allowed for larger family groups, which cause a southern migration to less densely populated areas.
The Middle Iron Age people started to arrive in the Dwarsberg/Marico River region, after 900 AD. The oldest Iron Age pottery found in the Madikwe Reserve is from the Eiland phase of Kalundu dating back to between 900 AD and 1300 AD:
- One such site is in the Dwarsberg on the eastern side of the Reserve.
- A second site is in the Tweedepoort ridge, a few kilometers east of the Wonderboom Gate.
Their huts were cylindrical, with mud-plastered walls and thatched conical roofs. Cattle enclosures and fences around the settlement are made from thorn tree branches. Sorghum, millet and other crops were grown on the settlement’s perimeter on good soils that could be cultivated with a hoe. Building of the thousands of interlinked circular stone walled structures, which can be seen today, began in about 1600 AD.
From about 1300 AD to 1420 AD the climate was colder and dryer than today because of the effects of the Little Ice Age. During this time Sotho-Tswana people started moving south from East Africa.
Sotho-Tswana pottery, called Moloko, dating between the 15th and 17th centuries has been found on red soil patches at the base of the Tweedepoort Ridge and along the eastern half of the Dwarsberge, all within the Reserve. In Madikwe, the red soil was preferred to the black clay as it could support sorghum and millet agriculture and provide a stable foundation for huts:
- One well-preserved site, next to the Phofu Dam, consisted of cattle byre, sorghum grindstones and several exposed hut floors with portions of molded benches, a characteristic of early Moloko huts.
Some early Sotho-Tswana settlements contained late Stone Age flakes and scrapers, indicating that San people probably worked in the homesteads.
Among the first Sotho-Twana groups to arrive in the area were the Hurutshe people who settled along the Marico River. Their main settlement, Kaditshwene, south of Madikwe, eventually became one of the largest towns in Southern Africa. In 1800 AD, its population was estimated to be around the same as Cape Town’s population at the time. After some time the Hurutshe subdivided and the offshoots moved east towards the Magaliesberg.
The Difaqane was a period of serious unrest in South Africa, which, in Madikwe, forced Sotho-Tswana people to move their homesteads to the tops of the hills and live in large settlements for defensive reasons.
It probably started years earlier when the Portuguese introduced maize into Southern Africa. The Nguni people in KwaZulu found that maize was easier to cultivate than other African grains and hence more food was produced and populations grew. Consequently, more land was sought. In 1821 several Nguni clans moved over the Drakensberg to escape the Zulu expansionism. They attacked and displaced the BaTlokwa in the Caledon area, which then had a ripple effect through to the Magaliesberg and Dwarsberg areas.
It also appeared that around 1810 there was a serious drought that ravaged the country and because maize was not drought resistant as the African grains were, wide-spread famine caused pillaging and annihilation of neighboring clans and even cannibalism.
This was the time of Difaqane, which after several years of turmoil, virtually destroyed the Sotho-Tswana culture in the Magaliesberg and Dwarsberg areas. The Kwena settlement near Olifantsnek and the Hurutshe town of Kaditshwene in the Marico River Valley lay in ruins. The name Marico comes from the Tswana word “Malicoe” which means “drenched with blood” which refers to the battle that destroyed Kaditshwene in 1823.
- Remnants of the stonewalled settlements built on the hilltops can still be found on and around the Inselbergs in the northwest corner of Madikwe Game Reserve. These defensive sites date back to between 1800 and 1840.
Boers settled and farmed in the Marico River Valley, which they had freed from Mzilikazi (a Zulu chief who resettled in the area) rule and consequently the Sotho-Tswana people, who had been enslaved by Mzililkazi, resettled in the area. Some boers took to hunting for meat, skins and ivory, and when the elephants were shot out in the Marico area, moved north to Botswana and Matabeleland.
A hunter’s road was established through the Madikwe Game Reserve to Derdepoort, and two wells at the top of the pass through the Tweedepoort Ridge were probably part of a resting spot for the hunter’s wagon trains. The famous hunter, Frederick Courteney Selous, passed through Madikwe several times between 1875 and 1884 en route to Matabeleland.
In 1854 Andries Pretorius, after negotiations with the British, finally gained independence for the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek, comprising the area north of the Vaal River including Madikwe/Dwaarsberg area. Civil war between the Boer clans flared up during 1856 to 1864. In 1877 the British annexed the area, which was called the Transvaal. The annexation was rejected by the Boers and resulted in the Transvaal war from 1880 to 1881. The Boers hung on to the Transvaal, but in 1899 the South Africa War began, ending in 1902 after many battles, with the British taking control of the entire country.
- In the northeast corner of Madikwe, fortifications date back to this period where the battle took place between the Boers and the combined forces of the British and BaKgatla.
The Boers were caught unawares, but when they returned fire, the British retreated and the BaKgatla were left to fight the battle on their own.
During these years of turmoil, the Catholic Church in Rome established a Zambesi Mission in Matabeleland to cater for the Matabele descendants of Mzilikazi, now led by King Lobengula. Belgian priests of the Society of Jesus, Father Henri Depelchin, the leader, Fr. Charles Croonenberghs and others set out on the long journey from Cape Town on the 16th April 1879. On 23 June they passed through the fertile Zeerust valley following the Mafekeng Road, which traverses the Dwarsberg and the main route northwards to Bulawayo. Five days later, they arrived at the Kalkfontein farm, where Fr, Law nursed back to health a wounded farmer and explorer Thomas Cocklin, who professed to have been the first white man to see the Victoria Falls.
With provisions replenished, the party set out over the Dwarsberg, the future site of the Madikwe Game Reserve, where they encountered, according to Fr. Depelchin’s letters home, clouds of ducks, herons, bustards, blue storks and ibis. They also saw kudu and other antelope, and heard cheetah, hyaena, leopard and jackal. There were no signs of lions, which, in 1836, William Cornwallis Harris had encountered.
After crossing the Dwarsberg they came across a farm which looked like an ideal site for a Mission. The priests continued past Derdepoort, along the Marico River and the Limpopo River and eventually reached Bulawayo on the 7th July 1879, where they established a mission station.
Four years later, after several of the original party had dies of fever, Fr. Depelchin decided that a mission station was needed in a healthier ares, free from malaria, where the priests serving in Bulawayo could rest and recover from fever. The farm Vleischfontein, which had previously been ear-marked as a likely spot, situated on the Tweedepoort plateau on the Mafeking Road measuring 4,000 morgen, was purchased for 800 Pounds; an exorbitant price at the time. Fr. Croonenberghs finalized the legalities of the transaction in Zeerust in October 1884 and building of the Priest’s house began on the chosen site on the 8th December 1885, with the school being built in 1886, followed by the chapel.
The missionaries soon dammed up springs in which barbells were raised for Friday meals. A garden was also established comprising orchards and croplands. The Vleischfontein mission became a well-known landmark for those traveling on the Mafeking Road and many who traveled along the road stopped to savor its hospitality, in effect making it the area’s first inn.
- Remnants of a large Tswana community, mentioned in the Mission’s correspondence, can still be found at the base of Tshwene Tshwene, the highest peak in Madikwe.
It is reportedly the 19th century capital of the BaTlokwa under Chief Gaborone. Upright stones marked the residential zone, and a wide lane led from the gray cattle byres up to the chief’s residence. The chief’s area, or kgosing, was the only residential section that incorporated stone walling.
In June 1894, the mission was handed over to the Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI or Marists) as the Jesuits no longer needed a halfway house due to the building of the Botswana railroad. The Marists, together with the Holy Family Sisters (1914 to 1928) and Dominican Sisters (1928 to 1948) developed the school and built a church, a convent, a grotto and a priest’s house.
- The original missionary priest’s house, a chapel, the grotto, a cemetery and some garden walls remain standing. Northwest Parks and Tourism Board are using the site for staff accommodation and the restored convent as their head office.
So after many years of turmoil and unrest the Madikwe area finally found peace and thereafter, followed years of economic growth in the area.