Mandlenkosi Township Tourist RouteThe Xhosa dimension to tourism in the Central Karoo

The Xhosa have been woven into the fabric of the Great Karoo since the late 1700s. Research has revealed that small groups settled at various times in the Nuweveld region from 1795. “We are collecting as much historic and background information as possible for the Kwa-Mandlenkosi Township Tourist Route to give visitors an insight into a little known part of the Karoo’s history,” says Siphiwe Piti, chairman of the Central Karoo District Municipality’s Tourism Committee and a founder member of the Route Forum. “Little seems to have been written about the first Xhosas to venture into the Great Karoo. We have, however, discovered that several groups lived along the Gamka River from 1795 to 1799. The movement of small groups into Karoo during the late 18th century appears to have been caused by a century of frontier wars in the Eastern Cape as well as the aftermath of The Mfecane or Great Cattle Killing in 1856.”

Unrest along the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony dates back to 1705. Constant clashes between Xhosa clans and settlers over land, water and grazing eventually exploded into a nine major wars over 100 years from 1777 to 1877. British troops were brought face to face with black warriors they acknowledged as among their “most dangerous foes in Southern Africa” says Chris Ferree in More than just Zulus and Boers on the By Jingo – Colonial History and Wargames Webpage.


The wars, which each sent a trickle of Xhosas into the Great Karoo, were a direct result of the fact that the cultures of both groups centred around stock, water and grazing. Constant cattle rustling, retaliation, severe droughts and torrential rain all at times forced Xhosa groups to seek shelter in the vast and arid Great Karoo. Many early explorers encountered these groups near fledgling Karoo towns. Thompson, for instance, mentions a “location” near present-day Victoria West, while others describe the central area as “a temporary and dynamic zone where conflict is endemic.” -The paucity of material can he blamed on the fluid situation in the hinterland in those years, coupled to the smallness of the Xhosa groups in the central area,” says Elizabeth Anderson in her MA thesis, A History of the Xhosa of the Northern Cape 1795 – 1879.

One of the earliest Xhosa men who moved into the Karoo and led Colonial forces on many a chase was Nzwane, a brother of the frontier leader, Ndlambe. Nzwane, an experienced ivory trader who at times lived in the Gamka River area near the Nuweveld Mountains, was known by several names, such as Nozi or Zonie. Eventually he became known as Danster, and it is possible that Dansterfontein, now part of the Karoo National Park, was his regular haunt. Danster in time became a formidable leader. Many commandos were raised against him. He was once arrested and deported , but escaped to return and continue his reign of terror in the hinterland.

When Danster first arrived, in the Colony he found it difficult to support himself so he took a variety of jobs with Karoo farmers. While in the service of Roggeveld veldwachtmeester Floris Visser, a man with whom he had frequent and angry clashes, Danster learned to speak Dutch, writes Elizabeth Anderson. Peter Kallaway, in his article Danster and the Xhosa of the Gariep also traces some of this man’s escapades in the central area.


Kallaway writes that Danster, a powerful man, freely roamed the Karoo, moving as far south as Cape Town while acquiring guns and cattle on the way. By the time he moved into the Gamka River area, Danster had gathered “a large swarm of followers.” Some remained behind when he left for the Gariep (Orange River) area. In 1799 another Xhosa, known as Thole. led a group into the Nuweveld area and for a short while lived on the banks of the Gamka River. south of present-day Beaufort West and north of Leeu Gamka. Thole and his followers eventually moved north to join Danster and other tribes gathering at the Gariep. The Orange River. with its many little islands and wooded banks. provided refuge for runaway slaves, dissidents, deserters, criminals, arms and liquor smugglers and outlaws. By 1800 Danster had gathered a large force there and was trying to control the ivory and cattle trade routes.

By 1806. cattle traders Hendrik and Jacob Organde settled with their followers in the Nuweveld area “at the source of the Gamka River.” When Danster swung back through the Karoo on a recruiting drive after his following at the Orange River had diminished, he managed to charm Hendrik into accompanying him to the Gariep. Shortly after arriving. Hendrik and 30 of his men were killed in a skirmish. Two years later, in 1808, Field Cornet De Beer, who was responsible for the Nuweveld area, reported 400 Xhosas in the Gamka area. He assembled a commando “to move than off”. Most proceeded to the Orange River, but “some stayed in the Gamka and Nuweveld areas despite the increasing pressure from farmers and government officials.- writes Peter Kallaway. These people formed the core of black inhabitants to attach themselves to the fledgling village of Beaufort West 10 years later.

Early in 1811, tensions that led to the outbreak of the Fourth Frontier War in the Eastern Cape began to build, causing yet another Xhosa movement into the hinterland. Elizabeth Anderson mentions a considerable number being given permission to move through the Colony in February. 1811, to settle along the Orange River. “Angry Nuweveld farmers. fearing their cattle would be stolen, demanded a commando be raised against them,” she says. The commando apparently did assemble, and the group moved peacefully through the Nuweveld area with farmers carefully watching grazing and water supplies to ensure that the passing herdsmen did not use too much of either.

When Beaufort West was established at the request of Lord Charles Somerset in 1818, Black people in the immediate vicinity moved closer to the fledgling town and set up dwellings in and around it. “Black and Coloured people, who were mostly decended from the Griekwas and Khoi Khoi, lived in among the White community in Bird and New streets and in the ‘Bodorp’ for almost 60 years before a township was established,” says Wynand Viviers in Hooyvlakte, the Story of Beaufort West from 1818 to 1968.


Xhosa groups streamed into the Karoo after The Great Cattle Killing of 1856. Continual warfare, stock losses and social upheaval, coupled to their herds being decimated by a lung disease gradually weakened the Xhosa and caused them to turn to religion for guidance. They were captivated by the prophecies of a 14-year-old girl, from the Gxarha River area north of the Kei River. Nongquwuse called on the nation to kill their cattle and burn their crops. If they did this, she said, their ancestors would rise, drive the British into the sea and return all their sacrificed cattle. The Xhosa were under such social and political pressure that they heeded her plea. Crops were destroyed and 400 000 head of cattle were killed. As a result 40 000 people died of starvation. The Xhosa wandered into the Karoo in search of work. Sophie Grey, wife of Bishop Robert Grey of Cape Town described these Xhosa as little more than emaciated skeletons staggering into villages. Many of these men helped build some of the beautiful stone kraals that became a feature of the Karoo.


In 1879, Beaufort West’s town engineer. Avon Bruce-Brand, a former bodyguard of Queen Victoria and the man responsible for building of the Springfontein Dam north of the town 10 years earlier, was asked to identify a suitable area for a Black location. He chose the southern side of the village and the western bank of the Gamka River. In little over a century this area was to become Kwa-Mandlenkosi township.

Bruce-Brand tabled a proposal for the location at a council meeting on December 1, 1879. This was accepted on January 16, 1880, and he was instructed to divide the area into stands. People who could afford to pay a municipal tax of 2/6d a month were allowed to build their own houses on these stands. Jonas Masimona was appointed supervisor of this first location on December 14. I880. A “kaia”. or small dwelling of raw stone. was erected for him and he was given a salary of Ë13/10/- a month. Jonas held this position until August 21. 1883. when he was succeeded by F Potgieter.

By April. 1900, 466 adults and 514 children lived in the township. which for many years was home to both Black and Coloured people. Rustdene, Newtown and other Coloured townships eventually grew out of this one. Expansion started gradually after 1925 when the government proclaimed the old location a Bantu area. Most residents at the time were Coloured. Expansion into Rustdene began in 1942 with the erection of 385 houses and continued well into the 1960s. The Black township, which mushroomed along the banks of the Gamka. was for years referred to as “The Location.” It had a colourful collection of mud. stone. iron and hesian-covered huts. Because the hessian huts looked as if they were covered with sacking the area became known as “Sakkiesbaai.”


Over the years many representations were made to the local authorities about the improvement of conditions in the township. Eventually the community felt its demands were being heard and they then changed the name from “The Location” to “Sidesaviwa”, which means “at last we have been heard.” The township retained this name until clouds of conflict throughout South Africa gave rise to The Comrades, or freedom fighters. Then a youth leader, the 24-year-old Mandlenkosi “Tsaka” Kratchi, a promising young boxer, was shot and killed in a police raid on January 22. 1985. His death so shook the community that they opted to change the township’s name to Kwa-Mandlenkosi (the place of Mandlenkosi) to honour his memory. In time. the main road and high school were also named in memory of this young comrade.

Mandlenkosi, fondly called “Tsaka” by his friends, was again honoured in September. 2001, when two trees were planted to commemorate him during Arbor Week. One is at the African Methodist Epsicopal (AME) Church. from where he was buried. and the other is at his parents’ home.


Twenty trees were donated by the Department of Water Affairs for the environmental upliftment and greening of the township tourist route. Planted at several venues in Jabavu Street during Arbor Week, they line a Heroes Route to honour community leaders, freedom fighters, musicians and sportsmen. Each tree was planted in a private garden where it will he cared for by individuals. schools and churches, who in time will benefit from the shade. In time. a plaque will he placed at each tree as a permanent tribute to the person it honours. Two trees at Mandlenkosi Secondary School honour Reverend Eddie Vass and Zolile Vass. Eddie. chairman of the school’s first Parent Teachers’ Association, played a vital role focussing the ideals of the school, parents and pupils. resulting in a high level of achievement. Zolile, first chairman of the Board of Governors, also had a permanent influence on staff and parents, and his guidance ensured that pupils at the school became top achievers.


The three trees at H M Dlikidla Primary School honour Mrs Ruby Dondolo, Themba Richard Hanabe and – three young soccer stars. Mrs Dondolo, now retired, played a major role in the upliftment of the Xhosa language. When she took up her post as teacher she found the standard of spoken and written Xhosa was extremely poor. Ruby tirelessly worked to help the community develop a pride in their language and heritage. Themba Richard Hanabe, the school’s longest serving principal, was a highly respected, caring and dedicated man who ceaselessly strove to ensure the highest standards of education and achievement. Results achieved during Themba’s term of office bear testimony to his success. The sports achievers were Phozisile Mini, and Songezo Bangazi, top class soccer players selected to represent Western Cape in Texas in the United States last year, and Thuliswa Hugo, the first Beaufort West girl to be awarded regional colours for soccer.

The Apostolic Faith Mission Church and New Apostolic Church honoured their congregations and the achievements of the community by each planting a tree. The community spirit of the people of Kwa-Mandlenkosi was also honoured by Frank Osei-Fosu, the Ghanaian mathematics teacher at Kwa-Mandlenkosi High School when he planted a tree. Frank and his wife will serve Ghanaian food to visitors looking for a different taste of Africa during the opening of the tourist route through the township.

Mrs Nonkululeko Mditshwa honoured the memory of her father, who played an important role in the creation of a community school, by planting a tree, while Vos Bokwe planted another to honour Henry Ntebe, who also worked tirelessly to make the first Bantu Community School a reality. Prince Jali planted a tree at his home to honour Ntemi Hawker, one of South Africa’s top jazz musicians. “His band was acclaimed by major magazines, such as Drum. He always tried to engender a love and appreciation of music in children and tirelessly taught music to all who wished to learn.” says Prince.

Coach Salie was honoured for taking soccer out of the streets and turning it into a viable sport. “This man took the dreamers of the streets in hand and taught them the proper techniques of soccer,” says Siphiwe Piti. “He was also a key administrator and served for many years as president of the Township Soccer Union.” Another sportsman was honoured by Edward Njadu, who planted a tree in honour of body-builder and coach Johnny Ntebe. “He delighted in teaching youngsters the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind,” says Edward.


Reverend “Maxwayibhozo” Madolo, of the local Presbyterian church, was honoured by his daughter who planted a tree in her garden. “My father was a proud and powerful man who set up a community court as well as a counselling and guidance centre for unwed mothers and their parents. He sheltered the under-privileged in his church and supported many poor people outside his own congregation. In the times of trouble and conflict his home and church became a major hideout during police raids and the on-going searches for comrades.”

Trees were planted to honour several Kwa-Mandlenkosi women. Mrs “Mamqwathi” Kilani, Mrs “Tititi” Tamana and Mrs Maggie Dyasi, who all devoted their time to organising and empowering women, were honoured. So was Miss Nomatyala Hangana, the first woman from Beaufort West to serve in the South African Parliament. Elected in 1994, she currently serves as the portfolio chairperson for housing. Nomatyala has been the provincial chairperson of the ANC Womens’ League for the past 10 years.

A tree planted at the Solomon Mahlangu Park honoured three freedom fighters and victims of conflict. They were Amos Claassen, killed in October, 1986, Nono Kellam killed during a student protest the same year, and Msindisi Ndwanyana, killed in December, 1986. The Kwa-Mandlenkosi Route Forum and Department Water Allairs plan to continue this project by planting 100 more trees.