The Place of the Rising Sun
The history of the province
It is difficult to conceive of an area of greater historical, scenic and wildlife diversity anywhere in the world, and a journey to South Africa would not be complete without a visit to this province. Indeed, in the South African context, Mpumalanga is already rated as one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.
Attractions range from game viewing and bird watching, to scenic drives across the valleys and peaks of the vast Drakensberg escarpment. Historical sites and villages, old wagon routes and monuments mark events and characters who passed before in search of adventure and wealth.
Anecdotes abound The story of Jock of the Bushveld, a Staffordshire bull terrier whose hunting exploits during his life in the lowveld were immortalised in the story of the same name, by the famous pioneer Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. The story, popular with all age groups, characterises much of the lifestyle of the early days in the lowveld.
The cultural heritage of the province is both varied and exciting. From the Ndebele beadwork and house painting in the north west to the crafts of the lowveld, a unique insight is offered into the history, lives and passions of the people.
Those who seek the mystique and diversity of the African bushveld, the natural drama of both the scenery and the wildlife, or simply to relax in the variety of environments offered by the province, will be welcomed by all the people of Mpumalanga,the land and the people time chart.
In the mountains above Barberton scientists have found traces of "Stromatolites", the remnants of blue-green algae formed 3500 million years ago when oxygen was added to the earth's atmosphere in significant quantities to create the first evolutionary step towards life forms.
Throughout the Mpumalanga hills and mountains exist hundreds of examples of San (bushman) art. This art serves as a window looking into the lives of the San hunters and gatherers who inhabited the area centuries before the arrival of the Nguni people from the north.
The region abounded with all types of game, plants, birds and insects. The rivers ran full, providing for the needs of these early inhabitants. Later came the first of the Nguni people who arrived with herds of cattle, and mined red ochre in the hills south of Malelane. Early smelters, which pre-date the main Nguni influx, have been excavated, indicating that the use of iron and copper was well advanced during these years. Similarly, early pottery fragments and sculptural artifacts unearthed in the hills on the Long Tom Pass, notably the "Lydenburg heads" have been described as a major art find.
Around 1400 AD the second Nguni migration arrived from the north with their vast herds of cattle. These people had advanced the art of iron smelting, and built stone-walled houses for their settlements.
The creation of the Swazi nation as we know it today commenced at the time of King Ngwane. The area, which was then demarcated by tribal boundaries, was referred to as KaNgwane, a name that still stands. Clans forged friendships with other clans through marriage and for safety of numbers, while frequent raids against neighbouring clans served to replenish cattle herds and to extend tribal lands.
The movements of tribal chiefs through the region had a profound effect on
the formation and bonding of nations. Most notable was the influence of Zulu
king Shaka, whose empire stretched southwards from the Swaziland border to the
Tugela River. Shoshangane, who escaped from Zululand and settled in
the Gaza Province of Mozambique, was the founder of the Shangane people, while
Mzilikazi, after being forced to flee Zululand to escape the wrath of
Shaka, travelled through the region on his way north to establish an empire in
southern Zimbabwe. His passage was marked by death and destruction as he
sought to subjugate the Ndebele people.
For centuries, Mpumalanga was populated by warrior clans who roamed the hills and plains in search of grazing for their cattle and safety for their people. Theirs was a life of war and survival as the centres of power moved from one clan to another. The oral tradition passed down in the folklore of the people is today an important record of the lives and tribal history of the inhabitants.
The Land and the People
The Early Inhabitants
Red ochre mines at Dumaneni, 6km south of Malelane, and at Lion Cavern, a site in the Ngwenya mountains, are some of the oldest mining sites in the world which attest to the early presence of man in Mpumalanga, some 46 000 years ago. The red ochre - ludvumane in siSwati, which means 'four times the sound of thunder' - emphasises the importance of this mineral to early African civilisations. Ochre was used by chiefs and diviners, who covered their bodies with a mixture of this deep red mineral and animal fats in order to endow themselves with power.
Later, San (Bushmen) used ochre both to decorate their bodies and in the manufacture of pigments. Examples of San (Bushman) rock art can be found throughout the province, marking the passage of these hunter-gatherers. Early indications of the presence of the species Australopithecus and Homo erectus take us back to the dawn of time, placing Mpumalanga in the cradle of the emergence of civilisation in Africa.
The Ndebele people of north west Mpumalanga now live in the area around Dennilton where, after a century of struggle, they were granted land on which to re-establish their people, who had been scattered throughout South Africa by war and restrictive legislation. The history of these people has been one of hardship and turmoil as successive waves of foreigners invaded their historic homeland.
The Ndebele are a Nguni people. During the third and fourth centuries they
migrated to the Zebedelia and Pretoria areas in a series of migrations,
and it was in this region that they established their tribal lands during the
Today a bronze sculpture of the Ndebele leader Nyabela stands outside the Mapoch Caves, to remind the descendants of this brave and proud people of their turbulent past.
The Swazi people can trace their origins to a region in Kenya on the slopes of Mount Kenya, some 140km north of Nairobi. They arrived in Southern Africa under their chief, Dlamini, and settled initially near Maputo. The tribe then moved southwards to the Pongola River and later still into present day Swaziland where it developed its Swazi identity under King Sobhuza I (1815-1836) and later his son, King Mswati II. The latter was credited with uniting the many clans into one nation. Mswati II also set out to enlarge his empire by attacking his northern neighbours to as far north as Venda and the Limpopo River.
King Mswati was a cruel and determined leader, whose army was greatly feared. However, in one engagement, his army attacked the Pulana clan in the valleys of the Blyde River Canyon. The Pulana succeeded in defeating the Swazis by hurling rocks down on them from the cliffs above. The survivors of this battle, fearing reprisals if they returned to their king, settled to the north of Swaziland in small pockets, where the same families live to this day.
Manukosi Shoshangane Nxumalo, a fighting general in Zwide's Ndwandwe army, was defeated by Shaka's army in Zululand and driven north of the Inkomati River, where he established a new kingdom in the Gaza Province of Mozambique. Over the years his empire grew through alliances with local chiefs and through war, until it extended to as far north as the Zambezi River.
When Shoshangane died in 1856 he was succeeded by one of his two sons, Mawewe.
The new king, in turn, fell victim to inter-family fighting and was
deposed by his brother Mzila. Years of fighting throughout the region then
weakened the Shangane empire, and in the absence of strong leadership the clans
scattered through a wide area of Mpumalanga, the Northern Province and
Today the Shangane nation is once again well defined stretching from south of Bushbuckridge into the Northern Province, and eastwards into Mozambique.
The Pedi, who occupy the land across the northern border of Mpumalanga in the Northern Province, have had a strong influence on the history and development of the Mpumalanga through the years.
Many of their leaders have contributed meaningfully to the development of the
province, and are set to continue to do so in the new South Africa. the
europeans and asians
Mpumalanga today is made up of a truly diverse mix of nations, the product of a pioneering history that attracted armies, adventurers and travellers from all corners of the world. They came to farm the land, to prospect for minerals, to hunt big game, or as businessmen to trade and prosper from the many economic opportunities that arose as the region developed. Others arrived from Europe to lay the railway from Maputo to Pretoria.
Today the names of the descendants of these pioneers are often remembered in the names of towns mountains and rivers across the province.
High up on an outcrop of granite overlooking the Sabie River, 25 000 years ago, a San hunter stands poised, taking in every movement on the plain below. This is Africa. The great sky and the silence so characteristic of Mpumalanga, great herds of game moving cautiously towards the river as the sun dips on to the western escarpment. Little has changed, and today we can savour the same thrill of the wild, albeit in more secure and comfortable circumstances.
Mpumalanga is now a modern and progressive region in South Africa, where the old and the new combine to create a truly exceptional atmosphere for tourism. Modern hotels and guest houses, private game reserves and lodges all provide for the needs of the visitor, while conference facilities, sporting activities, historic tours and game viewing are available through an excellent transport network of road, rail and air.
North West Mpumalanga
The north western bushveld region of Mpumalanga is an area of great beauty. Typical of Africa, it is the home of the Ndebele people. The region is also a meeting place of other groups, including the Tswana to the west and the Pedi to the north.
The art and culture of the Ndebele is as unique as it is distinctive, and a visit to this region would not be complete without a stop at its various villages and art centres. The typical style of art, both beadwork and house paintings, possesses a freshness of colour and interpretation which has been developed within the communities and which reflects the ever changing social environment.
The tourism region of Vuka-Tsoga (meaning "wake up - arise") has the advantage of being situated just one hour from Pretoria and an hour and a half from Johannesburg, accessed easily via major routes, and is an ideal destination for day trips and weekends. Further north west a vast stretch of bushveld is the site of a number of nature reserves; here the visitor will find peace and tranquillity among the animals and birds of this richly diverse region.
Southern grass and wetlands
The two tourism regions of south eastern Mpumalanga and the southern grass and wetlands take in the towns of Piet Retief, Amsterdam, Wakkerstroom and Volksrust, across the southern most sector of Mpumalanga against the KwaZulu-Natal border. The sites of the three principal battles of the first Anglo Boer War of 1881 are located at and near Majuba outside Volksrust.
This is an area of exceptional beauty and interest to the tourist; an area of rolling hills and deep valleys with a temperate climate. Wakkerstroom is one of the prime birding sites in Southern Africa, where 29 bird species are either endemic or near endemic to the region. The region is also a centre for hikers, hang gliders, mountain bikers and anglers.
Tourist accommodation is well provided by a number of country hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast establishments.
Highveld and the Loskop Valley
The highveld region of Mpumalanga covers a wide area of high altitude grassland from the Gauteng border on the western boundary to the edge of the eastern escarpment. The area is the principal power generating centre for a large part of South Africa. The highveld is also a major agricultural and maize growing area, producing exceptionally high yields consistently.
Numerous coal mines supply the power stations, which in turn attract major industry such as Sasol's oil-from-coal plant at Secunda, steel mills at Witbank and a stainless steel plant at Middelburg; other peripheral industries also form part of this industrial network. The region thus represents one of the country's largest centres for industrial development, manufacture and employment.
Tourists who are interested in industrial photography are able to capture interesting scenic panoramic shots of huge power generating plants set in open country, often in mist shrouded conditions. A number of excellent bird watching sites have been identified on the highveld vleis, which are presently being developed as tourist attractions. The area also takes in the Loskop Valley irrigated farmlands, Loskop Dam and the town of Groblersdal to the north.
This region lies in the south western sector of Mpumalanga against both the Free State and Gauteng borders, and takes in the towns of Standerton, Bethal, Secunda, Leandra and Delmas.
The area features open grassland, vleis and low hills, and is a major
agricultural production centre. In late summer the veld comes alive with the
blooming of the cosmos flowers which have spread to every corner of the region.
This is an area of gently rolling country and an excellent scenic route to
destinations further eastward.
Northern Grass and Wetlands
This region, set on the central highveld of Mpumalanga, takes in the towns of
Ermelo, Chrissiesmeer, Lothair, Carolina and Breyten. The area, which is
primarily of farming and forestry importance, is fast developing as an important
Vleis and dams provide excellent fishing and bird watching opportunities, and numerous hiking trails have been laid out; the area has also become very popular with mountain bikers. A number of archaeological sites are presently being excavated, and will be opened to tourism in the near future.
Southern Lowveld and Middleveld
The Southern Lowveld and Middleveld which lies between the southern boundary
of the Kruger National Park and the Swaziland border, is part of the area now
termed the Maputo-Nelspruit corridor. To the west the region incorporates the
village of Badplaas on the Mpumalanga middleveld.
The history of the southern lowveld and middleveld is mirrored in the hills and valleys of the region, where Bushman rock engravings, archaeological ruins, wagon trails and early gold diggings are accessible to the tourist for exploration and enjoyment. In addition, a network of roadside fruit stalls has sprung up in the region, giving tourists a constant supply of fresh local produce.
Numerous pursuits across the wide spectrum of adventure tourism are enjoyed
in this region, making this a truly unique tourism and holiday destination. The
Kruger National Park is close by, with unmatched wildlife and bird viewing.
Hotels, guests houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments cater for the needs
of tourists, whose choice of alternative routes to the lowveld via Badplaas and
Barberton take them through beautiful mountain scenery on quiet country roads.
This is one of the prime tourism areas of Mpumalanga, stretching from the Northern Province border southward following the line of the Drakensberg escarpment to the Swaziland border in the south. Some of the most dramatic scenery in South Africa can be found in the area, through which numerous mountain routes pass. On the higher reaches of the escarpment are the trout fishing villages of Belfast, Dullstroom, Lydenburg, Machadodorp and Waterval Boven. Lower down, on the eastern slopes are the historical mining villages of Pilgrim's Rest and Ohrigstad and the forestry towns of Sabie and Graskop. Eastward to the lowveld edge lie Hazyview and White River.
The provincial capital of Nelspruit is located on the lower reaches of the escarpment, and is the primary gateway to the lowveld and the Kruger National Park. No visit to Mpumalanga would be complete without a stopover in the escarpment region, which offers tourists a wide range of activities and accommodation.
The lowveld region of Mpumalanga offers the tourist a unique African experience. Wildlife reserves - private, provincial and national - have been created to conserve a large part of the eastern extremes of the province against the Mozambique border.
These parks, including the Kruger National Park, which have been developed over many years, cover an enormous area and boast an almost pristine natural environment. All the game species of the lowveld, particularly the larger mammals, as well as numerous bird species can be viewed and photographed in natural surroundings.
Accommodation to suit all requirements is available both inside and outside the parks' boundaries. The areas not covered by parks is primarily agricultural; it is here that many of the tropical fruits and vegetables are grown.
Source: Mpumalanga - The Place Where The Sun Rises - A Tourist Guide