Archive for January, 2011

Conquerer of the Magaliesberg

This sketch of Mzilikazi was made by William Cornwallis Harris in 1835

One of the early settlers in the vicinity of the Magaliesberg who forcefully impressed himself on the history of area was the Matabele warrior chief, Mzilikaze.  Although he was active in the area between what is now Pretoria and Rustenburg for only about 10 years, from 1827 to 1837, he wreaked so much havoc on the local population that many of the Tswana clans which lived in the area, never recovered.

According to the website SA History Online, Mzilikazi was a chief of the relatively small Khumalo clan aligned to Shaka, king of the Zulu and the Mthethwa confederacy in what is now KwaZulu/Natal.  His exploits are described on the website, while his encounters in the Magaliesberg area are noted in Vincent Carruthers’s book, The Magaliesberg, and also, amongst others, in Herman Giliomee and Bernard Mbenga’s New History of South Africa and The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford

Mzilikazi’s conquest was part of what was called the Mfecane in the Nguni languages or Dificane in the Sotho languages. Historians initially ascribed the Mfecane to the growth of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka, but present thinking is that the causes were more complicated than that. Various factors contributed to the phenomenon that actually started in the middle of the 18th century with the expansion and migration of various population groups in Southern Africa.

Mzilikazi’s march into the interior of South Africa started in 1822 when, after Shaka sent him to attack the Sotho chief Ranisi, he decided to keep the spoils of the raid and incorporated the vanquished clans into his own army. He eventually had more Sotho youths than Zulus in his army.  He swept into what was later called the Transvaal and was joined by other Ndebele clans already in the area.

According to SA History Online the Tswana of the interior called all Nguni speakers who came from the coast ‘ma-Tebele’ while the Nguni speakers referred to themselves as ‘Ndbele’.  The name became especially attached to Mzilikazi’s fearful hordes.

When Mzilikazi reached the Magaliesberg in 1827 he set upon the Bakwena, and subjected or decimated all tribes from Rustenburg to Silkaatsnek.  After that he turned on the Po near what is now Wolhuterskop, and caused the Kgatla chief, Pilane, to flee to the hills that today bear his name, Pilaansberg.

Between 1827 and 1832 Mzilikazi built three military strongholds along the Magaliesberg – the largest, Kungwini, at Wonderboom, north of present day Pretoria; Dinaneni just north of present day Hartbeespoort and Hlahlandlela, near Rustenburg.

It was during this time that a strange friendship developed between himself and the Scottish missionary, Dr Robert Moffat, who worked among the Tswana from 1821 to 1870. It was because of this friendship and his admiration for Moffat that Mizilikazi decreed that all traders and hunters should enter his kingdom via the road leading from Moffat’s missionary at Kuruman. That was one of the reasons the Matabele set upon the Voortrekkers entering the Tranvaal from the Freestate years later and caused his warriors to attack Potgieter’s trek at Vegkop in 1836.

On one of Moffat’s visits to Mzilikazi in 1835 his party, including the scientific explorer, Dr Andrew Smith, found most of the Tswana settlements desolate and in ruins as result of the Ndebele conquest and earlier wars. Their trip to Kungwine took them around the northern tip of the Magaliesberg where they came across the tree dwellers between Hartbeespoort and Rustenburg. These were several families of the Bakwena tribe who inhabited a giant tree to escape nocturnal marauders like lions.  According to Moffat he “mounted the aerial abode and …… counted now fewer than and seventeen houses and part of three others unfinished.  On reaching the topmost, about thirty feet from the ground, I entered and sat down.  The only furniture was a hay carpet, a spear, a spoon, and a bowl full of locusts…… I then entered different habitations, which were all distinct on separate branches.  A scaffold is formed of straight sticks, an oblong about seven feet wide.  On that the conical house is formed of straight sticks and neatly covered with grass…… (Quoted by Carruthers in The Magaliesberg from The Matabele Journals of Robbert Moffat).

According to Carruthers an exceptionally large specimen of Ficus ingens was identified in the 1960s as having been Moffat’s tree. This tree, according to SA History Online, can be seen on the farm Bultfontein at Boshoek between Rustenburg and Sun City.

Moffat’s visit to Mzilikazi at Kungwini paved the way for the expedition of Captain

William Cornwallis Harris, the hunter who became famous for his descriptions and sketches of the fauna, flora and cultures of the Magaliesberg. It was Harris who first described for science the sable antelope found in the Magaliesberg region.

On his return trip Harris encountered Voortrekkers who were migrating north and eastwards and whom Mzilikazi regarded as a threat to his Matabele empire.  Several Boer parties were attacked and killed.

In October 1836 Mizilikazi’s impis attacked the families who have consolidated at Vegkop under the leadership of Hendrik Potgieter and Sarel Cilliers. The about 40 fighting men in their wagon laager repeatedly repulsed the attacks of about five thousand Matabele warriors. The Matabele had to retreat but carried off all the trekkers’ cattle.

According to Oliver Ransford in The Great Trek Potgieter was supplied with trek oxen by the chief Moroko of the Rolong and consolidated at Blesberg near Thaba Nchu.  Joined by Gerrit Maritz Potgieter launched a counter attack against Mizilikazi.  According to Ransford the army consisted of 107 burghers, about forty mounted Griquas and about 40 Barolong on foot.

On 16 January 1837 the combined force attacked the Matabele settlement of about 15 kraals at Moshega and totally routed the Matabele.  Mizilikazi, however, was not present and the attackers, after rounding up about six thousand head of cattle returned to Thaba Nchu.  It wasn’t until November 1837 that the trekkers, this time joined by Piet Uys and with a force of 300 mounted men, finally managed to mount another attack on the Matabele to settle the score once and for all. In a battle lasting nine days, they destroyed eGabeni as well as other Matabele camps along the Marico River. Mzilikazi fled across the Limpopo and eventually settled in the Matopo Hills in present day Zimbabwe where he established kwaBulawayo.  Here he resumed his friendship with Moffat.

Mizilikazi died on 9 September 1868 at Ingama in Matabeleland. The only reminder of his dominance of the Magaliesberg in the early nineteenth century is the name of one of the passages across the berg – Silkaatsnek. Of his Magaliesberg strongholds, Kungwini, Dinaneni and Hlahlandlela, nothing is left.



This sketch of Mzilikazi was made by William Cornwallis Harris in 1835



January 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment


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