Water shortage in Acornhoek Part 2: The Mariepskop Excursion

By December JG Ndhlovu

 From the 19th – 21st  February 2020 I was invited as a guest speaker to speak to the Moletele Youth about the importance of the Moholoholo/Mariepskop Mountain, its cultural significance and the biodiversity within this mountain.

The main objective of this activity was to help the youths understand different land use from the citrus and mango farming that their CPA is currently majoring in. The Moletele Youth Project is a youth division of the Moletele Communal Property Association (MCPA). Moletele CPA got 10 000 hectares of land from the government as part of the land restitution program. They have a total of 55 farms under their land claim and are still claiming for more land. The farms are situated in the Hoedspruit area of Limpopo bordering the Kruger National Park.

 Excursion to Moholoholo/Mariepskop Mountain.

It was a good feeling to see the Klaserie River (Motla le lesedi) flowing fairly this time around, unlike in 2016 when it was at its lowest levels ever. I think it is because of the heavy rain downpour of the previous week. Streamflow reduction of this Klaserie River is caused by the large scale industrial timber plantations further up the mountain.

Klaserie River (Motla le Lesedi) much better flow than in 2016

The waterflow downstream in the Klaserie River is affected by the industrial timber plantations (ITP”s) that are planted in the Mariepskop mountain range. In 2000/01 there was a cabinet decision that was taken to strategically clear the eucalyptus plantations in order to free up water for communities in the outskirts of the Sand River catchments.

All the youth from the Moletele Youth Project were ascending Moholoholo/Mariepskop for the first time. It was my fifth or sixth time to summit this beautiful mountain. From the bottom up to and above the Mariepskop office the land is mostly used for timber plantations like eucalyptus and some pine trees. The youths were grouped into three different groups to observe biodiversity, the geography and the third group would, during the process of orientation by an employee of Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) who I only remember his name as Sipho, to observe cultural aspects of this mountain. As one proceeds towards the summit, the vegetation is natural and still intact. The summit, which is about 1900 metres above sea level, probably amongst the highest points in South Africa. The vegetation on the summit is mainly fynbos, just like in the Northern Cape.

The beauty of Moholoholo/Mariepskop

Natural rondavels from one of the view points of the Mariepskop Mountain

From the top we could clearly see the world famous tourist attraction scenery like the Three Rondavels, Blyde Dam and the Blyde Canyon which is the third largest canyon in the world.

Biodiversity

The upper part of the Mariepskop Mountain is highly diverse and could be referred to what scientists call “critical biodiversity area”. It is known that Mariepskop contains well over 2,000 plant species, greater than the whole of Kruger Park and far exceeding Table Mountain’s plant diversity. There are over 1,400 floral species (Mariepskop the Summit by Slowvelder, August 2010). There are herbs, bulbs and plants that are only found in this mountain and nowhere else. So by changing the land use we are losing all that rare species that are highly medicinal. 

Geography

Moholoholo Mountain is found in Mpumalanga Province, Bushbuckridge and it is where the Drakensberg Moutain range starts. It starts from Moholoholo and goes all the way through Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN), where it is known as Ukhahlamba, to the Kingdom of Lesotho. The highest point on the summit is 1900 metres above sea level.

Cultural

Moholoholo or Mogologolo means “the great, great one” as it was called by the locals because its sacredness. There are many sacred sites within this mountain. Sacred natural sites or spiritual pools (place) are critical places (landscapes and landforms) within the ecosystems such as forests, mountains, rivers and the source of water. These places are ecologically, culturally and spiritually important and exist as a network embedded within a territory. Sacred sites are specific places within a territory that have special functions relating to culture and spiritual wellbeing. Sacred natural sites are places where the ancestors’ spirits of the community reside and they are akin to temples and churches where rituals and sacrifices are performed by the elders. (Adam Hussein, Sacred Site Foundation of Southern Africa, 2012).

From 1864 – 1865 there was a tribal war that took place in Mariepskop and the Pulanas under the command of Chief Maripe Mashile (after whom the mountain is named) rolled down boulders to crush the ascending Swazis that took place in this mountain.  The Pulana’s defeated the Swazis by rolling big rock down to crush them to death.  The name of the mountain is derived from the Bantu chief Maripi who, with his tribe, found sanctuary from raiding Swazi warriors on this high mountain known by the local people as Moholoholo, “the great one.” The flat summit formed a natural fortress of great strength which they were able to defend by rolling boulders down the cliffs. Although the Swazis attacked the fortress on numerous occasions, they did so without success. The bones of their dead are still to be seen as mementoes of a tough siege and bitter defence.” (Bulpin, 1965).

Land use

Despite all the significance memoirs attached to Moholoholo to the people of both Bushbuckridge and Swaziland, nothing much is happening related to these historical events. The height of the mountain has attracted a lot of network users to build their towers. Sadly it seems like the mountain is not used for any cultural purpose and it massive biodiversity is also under used. To the contrary we observed that the land is used by:

  1. State

The plantations in Moholoholo belong to the government. Eucalyptus are known for causing water downstream flow reduction because they use over 100 litres of water per tree per day.

  1. Military

The South African National Defiance Force (SANDF) has their radar up there and a few still stay there taking care of the radar system.

  1. Telkom

Telkom South Africa (SA) have their towers there for their telecommunications business.

  1. Sentech

Sentech also have their own towers for their telecommunications business.

  1. Radio active

We also saw Radio Active technicians up there fiddling with their towers.

 There are possibly many more IT companies that have their towers up there.

It is unthinkable that there are no commemoration, anniversary celebrations or rituals that are performed in honour of the heroes and to remember those fallen during the 1864-1865 tribal between the Swazis and the Pulanas. This important mountain is definitely under used by the people that were forcefully removed from around 1929 when the first removal took place.

 

 

 

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