In my previous posting, (Limpopo Province – A Heritage Under Siege), I promised to cover the true facts concerning this significant occurrence in the history of the Limpopo Province – South Africa. My initial motivation for writing about this event is based on the old saying, --- “you can take the Savage out of the bush but you cannot take the bush out of the Savage.” The year 2010 is fast approaching, but yet the impulse to perform Ritual Murders and other barbaric acts still remain an integral part of the African culture. This is evident in the horrific nature of violent crimes committed by these Savages.
Before you label me as a racist...
Let me make one thing quite clear. I have sufficient intellect to understand that colour of a person’s skin has nothing to do with being a Savage. The modern Oxford dictionary describes a Savage as ‘fierce’ - ‘cruel’ – ‘wild’ – ‘primitive’ – ‘a member of a primitive tribe’ – ‘a cruel or barbarous person’. If I happen to refer to a specific person in this article as being “savage” ---- don’t label me as a racist simply because that person happens to have a black skin!
Makapaanspoort Murders – Short Version
Near the end of September 1854, twenty-eight people, which included men, woman and children, were slaughtered by savages, in three different locations, in a manner that points directly to typical ritual-type killings. Most of the victims were brutally tortured before they died. For example, -- one of the men, Hermanus Potgieter, was first clubbed unconscious. His body was penned down on a nearby rock bed, and while he was still alive and fully conscious the savages proceeded to skin him in a similar fashion one would skin a wild animal. He eventually died while the savages were ripping the internal organs out of his body. The incident was witnessed by a coloured man (Bushman), called Oersog, --- the sole survivor of the incident.
The barbaric crimes (ritual murders) committed back then, was complicated by the fact that the crimes were committed in three different locations. Also, --- the killings were premeditated by two different tribal chiefs namely, Mankopane, captain of the Ndebele tribe, and Mokopane, captain of the ba ga Kekane, -- a breakaway branch of the Kekana tribe. The names of these respective savages carry numerous variations; --- for example, the Ndebele form of Mankopane was Nonkupane.
The locations and brief descriptions of the murders
Nylrivierdrif near the present-day town of Mokopane (Potgietersrus). The area later became known as Moorddrif.
In September 1854 two families travelling in two separate wagons from Soutpansberg arrived at Nylrivierdrif where they decided to camp out and rest. According to several sources their destination was either Pretoria, Magaliesberg or Swartruggens. C Pienaar, who visited the murder scene, reported that some of the children’s heads were smashed to a pulp against the wagon wheels and that the bodies of all the men and woman were slashed to pieces. A total of four adults and six children were murdered. According to the local natives in the area the body organs of the victims were removed and taken to Mokopane who needed them for rain-making medicine. The murders thus took on a ritual form.
On the farm called Pruizen (also known as Pruissen) situated 8.2km south-east (R518 Route) from the present-day town of Mokopane (Potgietersrus). This was near the dwelling place (kraal) of Mokopane – (not to be confused with the other savage known, among others, as Mankopane).
The murders of Markus Albertus Venter and his son indicates that they were subjected to horrendous torture. Concerning the exact nature of these murders, Comander General M W Pretorius writes as follows: “by een den kralen Werd gevonden uitsmolkte vet van de ver Moorde waar hun handen op spitten ingebakken zijn waar ook aan een Boom opgehangen zijn Schaamdelen van twee personen die afgesneden en aan elkander gehegt zyn..........verder word daar gesien den pennen door het lichaam aangebonde en in het grond gehecht.” English - "At one of the kraals were found body fat of the murdered where their hands were roasted on a spit and also the genitalia of two persons, cut off and tied together hanging from a tree ... further was seen still in the ground pegs to which the bodies were tied."
These murders occurred more-or-less at the same time as the murders at Nylrivierdrif.
At a place called Mapela (also known as Fothane Hill), situated approximately 70km north-west of the present-day town of Mokopane (Potgietersrus) ---- near the dwelling place (kraal) of the Langa tribe of Mankopane - (not to be confused with the other savage, known, among others, as Mokopane).
Between 14 – 16 people were murdered at this scene. The murder of Hermanus Potgieter was particularly savage and also of a ritualistic nature. The thesis by J J De Waal quotes about 20 different sources and witnesses concerning these murders. Scroll down to view a more detailed description of these murders under the heading, “How did Hermanus Potgieter get himself killed?”
The cave at Makapansgat – A customary hideout for savages
During the entire lifetime of the troublemaker and warrior, Mokopane, his tribe was in continual warfare with the Sebitiela tribe. This tribe was not strong enough to defeat Mokopane and they often called for assistance from the baPedi, who launched at least three failed attacks on Mokopane. Every time Mokopane and his tribe were attacked they would flee to a large cave in a rock ledge on one side of a ravine. The cave is located some distance off the R101, 19 km northeast of Potgietersrus (Mokopane). According to measurements made by the Boers back then, the cave was about 2000 feet long, and 500 – 700 feet broad. Defensive walls, house-like structures, live-stock pens, pathways and fences were built within this enormous cave. Significant amounts of food and water were also stored in advance.
The other savage called “Mankopane”, who was in cahoots with Mokopane when the Makapaanspoort murders occurred, was also a regular troublemaker. During the early stages of his reign he conquered the Singwane tribe. He also attacked the copper miners at Messina. This happened shortly before the 1854 Makapaanspoort murders.
The Boers retaliate...
It took a few weeks for the Boer Commander, Piet Potgieter, (the son of the murdered Voortrekker leader Hendrik Potgieter) to organize a commando to pursue the savages. By the time 480 men (Black and White, BTW) were mobilized, the savages were already fleeing, like scared rats, to their favourite hideout at Makapansgat. The commando force, which included Kgatla and Shangane-Tsonga men, arrived at the cave on the 25th of October 1854, --- almost one month after the murders.
One must understand that in those days the Boers main objectives were not to catch the savages and recover their stolen ox, wagons, and other possessions. No, --- they wanted to wipe the bastards off planet earth; --- a feat they never accomplished, simply because .....
IT WAS NOT IN THEIR HUMAN NATURE TO KILL INNOCENT WOMAN AND CHILDREN!
The siege at the cave lasted for 58 days from 25 October to 21 December. In that time Piet Potgieter was shot dead while he was busy exploring one of the entrances of the cave. The then 19-year old Paul Kruger (who later became the State President of the Republic) retrieved the body of Piet Potgieter under cover of darkness. Kruger, who was fluent in the Ndebele tongue, also managed to persuade 170 warriors to surrender. (Kruger’s feat of bravery is memorialized in a panel at the foot of his statue in Pretoria.)
More than 2000 tribal members died in the cave as a result of hunger and thirst. The Boers believed that Mokopane also died, but according to tribal members who survived the siege, Mokopane managed to escape. The death of so many members of his tribe rested heavily on Mokopane’s shoulders and shortly afterwards he committed suicide by drinking poison.
Makapan Valley World Heritage Site (24° 12" S, 29° 12" E)
The historical cave together with other nearby caves has became a valuable source for archeological and environmental studies. The area was proclaimed a national memorial as early as 1938 and since then it has been systematically researched.
Archaeologists working the caves have uncovered a wealth of evidence from the limestone layers that date this location as one of the oldest in South Africa. The Makapan Valley has now been declared a World Heritage Site to protect this important archaeological evidence.
Tour guides in the Limpopo Province have been trained like parrots to reiterate the same old phrase, which usually starts off something like this: “By 1854, the Kekana had fallen victim to several Trekboer raids, excessive demands and various acts of cruelty under the leadership of Hermanus Potgieter, bla bla bla...”
What are the modern-day perceptions regarding this incident?
My personal experience is that many people, from various races and cultures, don’t really care much about past historical events in this country. They blindly follow the democratic process hoping that it will eventually bring peace and prosperity for all, not realizing that they are being systematically brainwashed on multiple levels of their intellect. Firstly, as stated previously on this blog, democracy in Africa is a farce! It will never create peace for ALL the people for the simply reason that the process is built on deception, falsehoods and cunning propaganda that fits the agenda of the ‘elite’ rulers of the country.
The 1854 incidents at Makapaanspoort is but one example of how history has been distorted to fit a specific agenda, in the false guise of keeping the peace! Any fool knows that if you repeat a lie long enough it will eventually become the accepted truth!
Back in 1854 the murders were so shocking that missionaries, philanthropists, and historians of the day, as well as some of the press in the Cape, decided that it would be best to conceal the true nature of the barbaric acts. (For the sake of keeping the peace – what else?) At the same time, one of the murdered men namely, Hermanus Philippus Potgieter, the brother of the Voortrekker leader Andries Hendrik Potgieter, was blamed as a contributory factor in the tragedy.
Roger Webster, who gives a rather simplistic view of the historical facts in his bedside book – “The Illustrated at the Fireside - Pg 56”, gives some insight into how it came about that the British press of that time managed to frame Hermanus Potgieter as a rogue and a villain. At that time the Volksraad of the Transvaal had passed a law prohibiting barter with the local people, under a penalty of £37.10. The object of the law ---- now listen carefully, ---- was to keep the peace! The fact that someone was going to make lots of money was beside the point!
Today the general perception among the public is that the murdered Hermanus Potgieter was a scoundrel who had no regard for the law. The Boers who attacked the poor souls hiding in the cave at Makapansgat were all villains. Piet Potgieter, who was shot dead when he tried to peer into the cave entrance, was a reckless fool. Mokopane, was made out to be the real hero in the saga, -- just like ol’ modern-day Nelson Mandela! Despite the controversy over the exact name of this savage the town of Potgietersrus was renamed Mokopane. There is so much space in this country for development that it boggles my mind to think why they have not built a new town yet and called it whatever they wanted! No – it’s much easier to steal the Whiteman’s legacy and rename an exiting town!
How did Hermanus Potgieter get himself killed?
The quick answer to this question is that his friendly relationship with a savage got him killed! It had nothing to do with the fact that he had no papers in his possession which allowed him to hunt or barter with the locals. The locals couldn’t read anyway so a piece of paper (permit) meant nothing!
It’s no secret that Hermanus Potgieter was often invited by Mankopane to hunt elephant in his area. Paul Kruger later mentioned that Hermanus and Mankopane were such big friends that Mankopane had cattle belonging to Hermanus which he took care of. Several witness reports confirm that Hermanus sent Mankopane a pack of clothing. Mankopane accepted the gift and in return he sent Hermanus a huge elephant tusk. Hermanus and his men decided to park their wagons some distance from the headman’s kraal. (It was not considered polite to camp out to close to the headman’s place of residence.) The elephant tusk was very heavy and the natives decided to place the tusk on the ground some distance from the wagons. They pretended that the tusk was too heavy to carry all the way and gestured to Hermanus to come closer to view the huge tusk. Hermanus was not aware that the natives were actually warriors under the command of Chief Lamola. The warriors had short clubs (knopkieries) and assegais hidden under their cloaks (karosse). When Hermanus bent down to look at the tusk he was attacked and knocked unconscious with the clubs. One of his sons were also murdered on the spot and 12 other men were murdered at the wagons. The only person who survived the ordeal was a small coloured man, called Oersog. Paul Kruger talks about him as “een klein Boesmanjongen wie die moordslag oorleef het”. --- One small young Bushman who survived the murder onslaught.
Was the killing a ritual act?
A horrifying fate awaited Hermanus. His body was penned down on a nearby rock bed, and while he was still alive and fully conscious the savages proceeded to skin him in a similar fashion one would skin a wild animal. He eventually died while the savages were ripping the internal organs out of his body.
There is no doubt that Hermanus was the victim of a ritual killing. Although his strong physical characteristics were much admired by the tribal chiefs, he was also considered a threat. The heart and sex organs were valuable commodities in the various ritual acts of the savage. They also believed that if a person with a strong fiery spirit was killed then that same spirit would enter the tribal chief who ordered the killing.
Where do I get my facts from?
While writing this article I searched high and low for a thesis written by a Blackman. I found none, hence the reason I based most of my facts on the 1978 thesis of J J De Waal and also the more recent PhD thesis by Amanda Esterhuysen, dated 16 February 2007. It was not the aim of Amanda Esterhuysen’s thesis to provide yet another reading of the historical documents, but rather to present a different narrative based on the cultural remains left in the cave after the siege of 1854. It is for this reason that I relied more on the thesis of J J De Waal to establish the true facts, mainly because his thesis was not based exclusively on the archaeological evidence of old bones. With this said, I might as well express my dissatisfaction in the manner the thesis of Amanda Esterhuysen is presented. The political demands of the present-day government obviously played a big role, and this is probably why her thesis is sympathetically inclined towards the Kekana Royal Household who granted her permission to excavate the site. When a PhD thesis states, “The grizzly remains of young and old people, and the desiccated bodies of a child and a young woman speak of untold suffering and provide a glimpse of the horror within the cave .....” – I immediately smell a rat! If the department of Archaeology and Environmental Studies have to dig up the old graves of the Makapaanspoort victims they will also find dismembered bodies and other horrors!
The thesis of J J De Waal
The first dedicated study of the relationship between the early trekboers, chief Mugombane and the Langa chief Mankopane was carried out by J J De Waal in 1978. His thesis carries the titel, “Die verhouding tussen die Blankes en die hoofmanne Mokopane en Mankopane in die omgewing van Potgietersrus (1836 – 1869).” English translation --- The relationship between Whites and the Tribal Chiefs Mokopane and Mankopane in the vicinity of Potgietersrus (1836 – 1869).
De Waal’s thesis provides an exhaustive investigation of archival documents and written histories.
Other Sources Consulted:
I have used up almost 1000MB of data while downloading countless articles concerning this subject. Accurate and factual data concerning the three 1854 murder scenes in Makapaanspoort appears to be scarce on the web. With Internet search facilities available for everyone’s use, I feel it is pointless to reference all my sources. However, I would like to thank Richard Searle who compiled a document dated, 2004/08/09, and made it available for download. Richard references several sources but also relied mainly on the thesis by J J De Waal. His document is written in Afrikaans and can be downloaded here. The thesis by Amanda Esterhuysen (in English) can be viewed here.
SEVEN out of 10 people in South Africa and Mozambique believe that human flesh makes muthi more effective. (Daily Sun Newspaper, dated 2009/03/09 - Page 8)
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