LAND (Part 1)

LAND (Part 1)

The issue of land predominates our thinking these days. In a short series under the name, we will explore some aspects of land and what gives it worth. I do not expect every reader to agree with me. Nor do I imagine that every reader will take from my opinion anything other than their own version of what remains the elusive truth of what really took place as a global phenomenon, namely, colonialism.

I was given a book by my Uncle Piet who presently lies in Gauteng quietly awaiting a long and kindly sleep to embrace him. In a sense, this blog is a tribute to this old man who has sunk more mine shafts and mined more gold ore than any other I know, but who also has managed to live a remarkable life. In addition to his wife and family, he too loved my wife and I.

To whet the appetite and get you thinking, I extract from the book by TV Bulpin, Lost Trails of the Transvaal, which was published in South Africa in October, 1956. I was just 19 months old then and a resident of then, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. When Uncle Piet gave it to me, I couldn’t wait to read its secrets. I learned that the lost trails are those ancient highways created probably initially by animals searching for water or seasonal grazing but later, expanded by pioneers and settlers of every kind, in search of grazing, or hunting, or something new underground, or the ever-elusive sea. Trade had become a force and supply lines needed to be shortened for the commercial gain of easy access to larger quantities and secure supply lines. Of course, there too were military operations that relied on the expansion of the trails for military execution.

Hope you enjoy the series and that it gives you a richer sense of what values property today…….

TV Bulpin writes in his Foreward:

The infinite patience and artistry of that old craftsman, Nature, has wrought upon the face of earth some wondrous themes and changes. With the resistless erosion of the elements as the principal tool, all manner of strange shapes have been ingeniously contrived. Deserts and mountains and oceans have been made and then, through some whim, the whole lot changed; the plateaux into seas; the seas into desert; and some longstanding geological systems of a magnitude staggering to mankind simply vanished away with a facility of a mis-spelt word being changed in a schoolchild’s lessons book.

That segment of the complex face of Africa lying between the Vaal and Limpopo rivers, and called the Transvaal, has known in full measure the sublime cycle of restless creation. Of the whole continent of Africa, in fact, there is no section possessing a greater variety of scenic marble; a more complex geological history; or a richer endowment bequeathed to it from the mineral treasure chest of providence.

With such a bait to lure man on, in a natural setting so magnificent, it would be surprising, indeed, if anything less had resulted than a human history of immense variety, restless movements, and all the varied passions which the presence of incalculable wealth can be expected to arouse.

To the Transvaal, in fact, has come a remarkable collection of human beings, attracted there from the ends of the earth in hope of finding their hearts desire of freedom or fortune in the wilderness.

…..and Bulpin continues into Chapter one:

Just who precisely were the first men to ever wonder across the face of the Transvaal remains unknown. The succession of prehistoric men whose remnants distract the scientists pass like phantom figures, brutal and bestial, through a nightmare that lasted for untold millions of years. Taung man, Rhodesian man, Boskop man; all had their epochs. None left anything lasting of themselves behind save a few bones to be accidentally found in the places which have given their kind of names. From creatures more animal than man, they changed to creatures more man than animal. And then, at last, some 15000 years ago, the people loosely known as the Bushmen, came to displace and absorb the last of the really elementary humans, the so-called, Boskop men.

These Bushmen migrants from the north must have found the Transvaal on the threshold of the present topographical shape. Enormous changes had warped and modelled the landscape through ages of time. It had been left eroded into two principal regions differing widely in their attitude and associated climate and varieties of flora and animal life.

The lowest region, averaging some 2500 feet above the level of the sea, was a place of dense Acacia bush in its southern reaches and changing in the north across the Tropic of Capricorn to that wilderness of Mopani trees which stretches off for 2000 miles across the heart of central Africa. Africa must have been very new. Its face was covered with an explosive rash of volcanoes and their furnace glow must have made the nights a phantom sight.

The second region of the Transvaal, the northern end of the high lying central South African plateau which projects over the Vaal river, is totally different from the Bushveld. Rising up to 7651 feet in its highest point (the Steenkampsberg), it is in an open wind-swept prairie with little to break its spacious sweep save an occasional rocky ridge or hillock, or one of the shallow, hard dried out lakelets known as pans.  These pans, especially those around the principal Transvaal specimen of its kind, the 6 mile long Lake Chrissie, have a curious geological history. Some of them seem to be relics of ancient river drainage systems, long since disrupted by changes in the landscape.

It is underground, indeed, that the principal features of the Highveld are found. The most phenomenal of all these features is without doubt the elevated ridge which forms the northern watershed of the highveld. This ridge, the famed Witwatersrand, or ridge of white waters, consists of the surface crust of a sandwich of reefs 25000 feet wide and of unplumbed depth. In the midst of this sandwich, like a layer of jam, is the 2000 feet wide main reef which, for 70 years, has supplied the bulk of the world’s gold.

It was over this varied land that the simple Bushmen wandered. With no clue at all of the marvels beneath their feet they hunted the game and lived unchecked by anything save the rivalries and squabbles of their own contrivance. About 1000 years after Christ, the first Bantu started to drift in from the north. Offshoots of the Karanga people of Rhodesia began to arrive in the shape of minor clans and groups of individuals shaken off from the main body by some domestic row or disagreement between factions. These groups of people carried with them into the Transvaal some of that peculiar knowledge of building with stone and working with metal which has made their parent tribal group so famous in Africa. Subsequent migrations and conquests have largely disrupted these early settlers and, in any case, they were never particularly numerous; but behind them they have left memories and mysteries that can never die.

Then in the early 1900’s, a European hermit of the wilderness, Bernard Francis Lotrie, known as “The Wild Lotrie”, took up his residence in a shack by the banks of the Limpopo close to the forbidden hill, The Hill of the Jackal. This Lotrie was a curious soul. Born in Grahamstown in 1825, the son a French botanist sent to South Africa by Napoleon, he was a man of some education.

Bulpin then continues to relate stories of all the ancient tribes who occupied the Transvaal (obviously, now Gauteng), their life routines, their disagreements and their places of worship. Suffice to say, for generations these people lived on their mountain, and then, with later invasions of alien people to the district, they dispersed and merged with their neighbours on the plain. Many of the place names the old Sotho settlers gave to the land still exist. In past years the Magaliesberg was known to the first English hunters and traders as the Cashan Mountains, from the name of the chief Khasane of the Taung section of the tribe who lived there. Later, when the Voortrekkers arrived, they found the chief Mohale or Magali of the 6aPo tribe resting there; and hence came the new name for the Magaliesberg.

I will not be drawn into the debate of who was there or where first. Frankly, the Bushmen [San, Khoisan] seem to be the first as, in fact, was the finding of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 in the Cape. Another historical fact is that the Europeans, by their very name, were always second and the debate of where they found empty spaces or settled tribes is unknown in the detail required to make it significant. It is simply too factious for me to enter into; nor is it relevant to this series.

But this much I will venture, if we could find a way to allow the past to only influence our good in a spirit of mutual belonging, mutual respect, and mutual co-operation, then this beautiful, tortured country of ours could be great among the nations.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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