The History
of the Magaliesberg

Early Life

The Magaliesberg probably has the most intriguing and longest session of the history of mankind than anywhere else on earth. The caves at Sterkfonetin, 25 km south of the mountains, provided archeologists with the most significant finds of early humans. Here is was that they discovered “Mrs.Ples”, 2.3 million years old. Another 4 million year old skeleton, Little Foot, deep within the caves, and has still to be excavated.

Many people have lived in the region over hundreds of thousands of years, leaving evidence of different lifestyles, cultures and technologies from primitive societies through to the Late Iron Age and beyond. The tribes of the descendants of the earliest proto-hominids had free reign in this tranquil valley, fished the clear streams and hunted the vast herds of animals that roamed the plains with tools made initially from stone and later forged from iron. While wild animals or early death from injury or disease may have threatened his life, people lived in harmony with nature, which flourished in abundance in the greater Magaliesburg area over the previous two million years of human development.

1800s Tswana Ancestors

.Modern Twana people talk about how their ancestors migrated here through Zambia and Botswana and settled in groups all over the highveld. A group of Kwena people moved into the Magaliesberg and the Kwena chief at the time, Modimosana, divided his chiefdom among his four sons, who called their groups Kwena Magopa, Kwena Maake, Kwena Matlahaku and Kwena Mmatau. The Kwena Mmatau, who were particularly successful and became the dominant group. By 1800 they had constructed stone walled villages all along the southern slopes straddling the mountain passes that early ivory traders used on their way to the Cape. These traders and other travelers called the mountains Cashan after Kgwashwane, the powerful chief of the Kwena Mmatau and it remained that name until about 1840

Zulu Invasion.

Around 1822, Shaka, famous leader of the Zulu nation, sent his favourite captain, Mzilikazi to subdue the Sotho tribes in the area. After conquering the Sotho tribes, Mzilikazi decided to break away from Shaka and the Zulu tribe and create his own clan (khumalo, or elephant clan). Fearing an attack from Shaka, he fled and settled in these regions. Mzilikazi’s impis left behind them a trail of destruction while consolidating the Matabele nation. Neighbouring tribes were living in trees in fear of their lives.

Early colonial explorers

In the early nineteenth century explorers like Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, and William Cornwallis Harris travelled in this part of Africa and made contact with some of the tribes that occupied the area. Some of these early explorers were scientists, others traders, missionaries or hunters, but no matter what their interests were they all found great rewards in the region.

Boer trekkers.

After a number of Boer trek parties had been slaughtered by Mzilikazi’s impis, the Boers, led by Hendrik Potgieter and Gert Maritz, warded off a series of attacks by the Matabeles and drove them north across the Limpopo River where Mzilikazi later established his kingdom of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. The Boers settled in the valleys of the Magaliesberg and turned it into some of the most productive farmland in South Africa.

Wars of the White Tribes

On 1 st October 1899, war broke out between the two ‘white tribes, the British and the Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State. Within a year many lives were lost in the fighting in the Magaliesberg valleys, at Kommando Nek, Nooitgedacht and in many of the deep gorges and high ridges along the mountain side. All over the area remnants of these clashes can be seen. Many forts and blockhouses were built at strategic points in the mountains and some can still be seen today, the most prominent being the fort overlooking Kommando Nek and the Hartebeespoort Dam built in early 1901.

The second Anglo-Boer war brought its own pressures to this area. The Boers who were very familiar with the mountains, used secret pathways to cross the mountains and launch guerrilla attacks on the British soldiers. Occupation of the Magaliesberg was of great importance to the Boer and English forces, especially routes between Pretoria and Rustenburg that crossed the Magaliesberg mountains through, Silkaatsnek and Kommandonek. Great battles were fought and lives were lost at Buffelspoort, Nooitgedacht, and Olifantsnek. The mountains were a severe testing of military skills and the Magaliesberg war was dominated by Boer leaders like De la Rey, De Wet, Beyers, Smuts and Kemp, who were experts in guerrilla leadership.

Although many of the farms lay in ruins after the second Anglo-Boer war, the natural beauty of the Magaliesberg remained unscarred and breathtaking as it is today.

Late 1800s - The Gold Rush

The Witwatersrand gold reef was formed over hundreds of thousands of years, with its most northern reaches being discovered at Blaaubank, a few kilometers from the present day village of Magaliesburg. This is where the first strike of the Witwatersrand system was made and in 1874 the Blaauwbank area was pegged out for formal gold mining activities. Here the first mining company near what is today Johannesburg was formed, and named the “Nil Desperandum Co-operative Quartz Company;” The importance of this mine attracted miners to the present day Johannesburg Reef area and the discovery of rich, valuable veins of gold, creating the largest settlement of man in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Today you can view the early beginnings of gold mining activity at the ‘still operational’ Blaauwbank Gold Mine and Museum within minutes drive of Magaliesburg village.

Extensive coverage of the history of Magaliesburg can be found in Vincent Carruther’s excellent book on the region.