The Land of the Venda - 245km


Photo © Struik Publications


SOUTPANSBERG

Rising 700 m above the surrounding plains, the Soutpansberg stretches 130 km from Vivo in the west to near Thohoyandou in the east. Dominating the scenery above Louis Trichardt is the 1 719-m-high Hanglip (‘hanging lip’), a name that is probably a corruption of Hangklip (‘hanging rock’). The Soutpansberg range is said to have been named by the renegade, Coenraad de Buys, who arrived in the area long before the Voortrekkers. With a price of one thousand rix dollars on his head for participating in the Graaff-Reinet rebellion of 1795, De Buys fled to the Eastern Cape and later trekked north with his half-caste wife, children and followers. In 1820, he reached a large salt pan at the base of the Soutpansberg, known in Venda as Letshoyang, or ‘the place of salt’. Deeply affected by the death of his wife, De Buys abandoned his clan, who remained here and established a settlement which became known as Buysdorp. The Soutpansberg and the areas to the north and southwards to the Letaba River are home to the Venda people, a name meaning ‘land’ or ‘world’.

LOUIS TRICHARDT [ALSO KNOWN AS MAKHADO]

Situated at the foot of the Soutpansberg, Louis Trichardt lies in an area rich in culture and history. The Voortrekker leader Louis Trichardt and his party stayed here from May 1836 to August 1837, before Trichardt set off on his ill-fated attempt to find a route to the sea. In October 1898, General Piet Joubert led a commando across the Doorn River in preparation for an attack on the Venda chief, Mphefu. The commando struck camp on the farm Rietvlei, where a portable iron fort was erected. In November, the Venda were subjected to a three-pronged attack in which the royal village was burnt. Mphefu and his subjects were forced to flee across the Limpopo River into Zimbabwe. A town was established the same year on the farms Rietvlei and Bergvliet and named Trichardtsdorp in honour of Louis Trichardt. The name was later changed to Louis Trichardt. The old portable fort (known as Fort Hendrina) can be seen in the town. The Church of the Vow (one of two in the country) was erected after the defeat of the Venda. The Venda people are accomplished decorators and crafters, and there are many art and craft shops to tempt visitors on South African holidays.

SCHOEMANSDAL

...was established in 1836 by the Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter and was originally named Zoutpansbergdorp. After Potgieter’s death in 1852, the town came under the control of Stephanus Schoeman who named it after himself. By 1855, the population of the settlement numbered 200, and Schoemansdal had established itself as the centre of the lucrative ivory trade. To obtain ivory, white hunters supplied the Venda with arms and ammunition, but there was no control over the number of weapons in circulation. Various factors, including the introduction of taxation, strained the initially cordial relations between the Voortrekkers and the Venda. This led to the abandonment of the town in 1867 and the establishment of Pietersburg. After the Voortrekkers left, the village was destroyed by the Venda and left to the elements. The historic town has been carefully reconstructed and is now an open-air museum.

ALBASINI DAM

Albasini Dam, on the Luvuvhu River, was named after the famed Portuguese hunter and trader, João Albasini, who was buried here together with his family. Highly regarded as a hunter, Albasini would employ up to 500 men on his safaris to carry ivory to Lourenço Marques (Maputo). He opened trading routes from Mozambique into the interior and established trading posts in the Lowveld in the 1840s. In 1847, Albasini moved to Ohrigstad, and when that settlement was abandoned in 1850 he moved to Lydenburg. Still later, he lived at Schoemansdal, and in 1858 was appointed Portuguese vice-consul to the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR).

THOHOYANDOU

...was built as the capital of the South African homeland of Venda alongside the former administrative centre, Sibasa. The territory became ‘independent’ in 1979, but was reintegrated into South Africa in 1994. Thohoyandou was named after a legendary 19th-century Venda leader, and the name is said to mean ‘the head of the elephant’.

PHIPHIDI FALLS

Set amid lush forest, the Phiphidi Falls cascade gently down a sloping rock face on the Mutshindudi River. In the forest above the falls is a cemetery where ancestors of the Tshivase royal family are buried. From time to time, offerings are placed on a rock above the falls.

THATHE VONDO FOREST

...is a magnificent tract of indigenous montane forest featuring towering common wild quince, Natal fig, knobwood, lemonwood and real yellowwood trees. Originally known as Nethathe, a name meaning ‘the chaser’ or ‘the owner of the Thathe area’, a Venda poem relates how a human-lion used to chase villagers from the forest while they were collecting wood or herding their cattle. The forest is sacred as it is the burial ground of several chiefs of the Netshisivhe family and a place of ancestral worship. Often shrouded in mist, the tangled vines and old man’s beard draped over the trees lend the forest a mysterious atmosphere when the mist rolls in.

LAKE FUNDUDZI

From the viewpoint high up in the Soutpansberg, visitors on South African holidays can enjoy expansive views of Fundudzi, the Sacred Lake of the Venda. Surrounded by mountains, the lake is about 2 km long, 750 m wide and between 4 and 5 m deep. It was formed when a landslide blocked the course of the Mutale River. Lake Fundudzi has been used as a place of worship since the Venda first settled in the area and is associated with many beliefs. The water of the lake is believed to be the remains of the sea that covered the earth before the Creation, and that water from the Mutale River ‘swims’ over the lake, but does not mix with it. Another belief is that it is forbidden to collect water from the lake for domestic use as the container will burst open.

Stories abound about Venda baskets (mifaro) which have been seen floating across the lake, and it is said that voices, laughter and the music from shikona dances can sometimes be heard coming from the lake. Among the explanations for the origin of the name Fundudzi is that it is derived from the words fundu (‘to bend’) and dziba (‘large pool’), an apparent reference to the custom, among those who visit the lake, of bowing with their backs to the water and looking at the lake through their legs.

DZATA II

...was established as the second capital of the Vhasenzi clan of the Venda under Thohoyandou after Chief Dambanyika died near the first capital when a cave collapsed during a hunting expedition. After reputed attempts to rescue him failed, he asked to be left to die and the mountain was named Tshiendela, meaning ‘grave’. Built during the late 1700s, Dzata II is characterised by a series of curvilinear walls built from flat stone around the chief’s living quarters, comprising the great hut, huts for the chief’s wives, the chief’s kitchen and various seating places for the chief. Dzata II was abandoned by Thohoyandou’s three sons after the mysterious disappearance of their father, and a new settlement was established by Mphefu at Hanglip, just north of Louis Trichardt.

WYLLIE’S POORT

...is a spectacular natural gateway through the Soutpansberg which was used as a passage from the north by Iron Age people. A nearby Early Iron Age site has been dated at about 1 650 years old. The poort was named after Lieutenant CH Wyllie, who surveyed it for a road in 1904.

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