People Associated with the Province

Eugene Marais

Afrikaans poet, journalist, naturalist and advocate was the youngest of 13 children. He lived for some time in the Waterberg where he wrote his studied on the baboons and the ants.

Louis Trichardt

Voortrekker Leader and founder of the town of Schoemansdal.

Joao Albasini

At the same time that the pioneers arrived in the Soutpansberg area, Joao Albasini, a Portuguese-born Italian (his father left Italy for religious reasons in 1807), established himself at Delagoa Bay. He traded and hunted inland from Lorenco Marques (Maputo) in the winter and returned to Delagoa Bay in summer to trade his skins and ivory.

Six months after being caught by a raiding party, he was saved by a couple of black traders and again settled north of Maputo where he started afresh. He lived like a medieval lord, gathering all the natives around him that fell into disfavour with their chiefs. Amongst them he acquired the name “Jiwawa’.

In 1845 he made contact with Andries Hendrik Potgieter in Ohrigstad where he was given permission to build a store. In 1850 he entered into a partnership with Casimir Simoens, a Goanese who became a shop-owner at Schoemansdal, and on the 3rd March 1830 he married Gertina Maria Petronella Janse van Rensburg. In 1853 he left for the Soutpansberg, stayed at Schoemansdal until 1857 when he acquired the farm Goedwensch where he settled after building a fort around his house. At this stage he was already the white chief of the Magwamba tribe of the Shangaan people with about 2000 soldiers under his command.

He was appointed as superintendent of the local tribes by the Transvaal government and in 1857 he became the Portuguese Vice consul in the Transvaal and later Justice of the Peace for the area. After his death in 1888 he was buried on his farm next to the Albasini Dam, where his grave can still be visited. Today a number of his relatives still live in the area.

Coenraad de Buys

The first settler to settle in the Soutpansberg area was Coenraad de Buys, who, according to tradition, was an outlaw from the Cape Colony.

He settled in the area in 1821.

After his wife, Elizabeth – a relative of Mzilikazi – died of malaria, he instructed his children to stay in the area while he traveled to Sofala (Beira) in Portuguese East Africa. He never returned. His sons Gabriel, Michael and Doris had amiable relations with the local vhaVenda people and during the power struggle between Ramvhoya and Ramabulana the Buys community supported Ramabulana. As reward Ramabulana let them marry some of his daughters. Once they realised that their father would not return, they separated and some stayed in the region while others settled in other parts of the country.

The Buys community also co-operated with the Afrikaner pioneers by helping them on their hunting trips and scouting expeditions, and by acting as interpreters. In 1864 they settled at the mission station Goedgedagt. In 1888 Paul Kruger allotted the farm Kalkhoven to the Buys community as well as 1 OOOha of surrounding land.

H Rider Haggard

English novelist, political writer and colonial official. He came to South Africa in 1875 and became secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Governor of Natal. Two years later he accompanied Shepstone to Pretoria and participated in the first annexation of the Transvaal. He then became registrar of the High Court and accompanied chief Justice J G Kotze on circuit. He is famous for his writings on South Africa. His novels have become household works: King Solomon’s Mines; Jess, She, Allan Quatermain and Nada the Lily became very popular.

John Buchan

In 1901 Lord Milner offered him a secretarial post in South Africa. When he joined ‘Milner’s Kindergarten’ in a redbrick villa called Sunnyside, in the Johannesburg suburbs, he found that his post was secretarial in name only: like the rest of that youthful, but brilliant company, he became engaged in the important task of reconstruction. His first task was to take over, on behalf of the civilian government, the concentration camps for women and children set up by the army. When Buchan assumed responsibility for the camps, the worst mortality period was over, and conditions in the epidemic-scourged camps were rapidly improved with the aid of officers seconded from the Indian Medical corps, a new system of elementary education also being introduced.

His second task was to organise the resettlement of the dispersed Boer population, who were returning from commandos, concentration camps and overseas prisoner-of-war camps, and to arrange the settlement of immigrants in accordance with Milner’s scheme of mixing British immigrants and Boers in both rural and urban areas. In spite of gloomy forecasts and criticism by reactionary elements in Johannesburg, and in spite of severe drought, 250 000 people were settled on the land within one year of the treaty of Vereeniging. Experts were engaged to improve agricultural techniques, and the scheme, both in conception and execution, was highly commended even by General Louis Botha.

Milner’s influence and Buchan’s contact with the Boers, which purged him of jingoistic prejudice, prepared him for a career, which led eventually to the governorship- of Canada. He envisaged a free association of South African peoples with a common allegiance to the throne – a concept similar to that which ultimately fostered Union.

He is the author of several books on South Africa and many novels of which the best known is Prester John (London, 1910), a swiftly moving romance about a Black rebellion in the Transvaal. Following this he wrote his finest tales, The Thirty Nine Steps (London 1915), Greenmantle (London 1916) and Mr. Standfast (London 1919), which tell the adventures of a South African Richard Hannay, and in which Pieter Pienaar, who exemplifies the Boer hunter Buchan so admired, appears. He lies buried on the road to Georges Valley near Tzaneen.

Harry Klein

CT Asterly Maberly

Natural History Artist. She illustrated “The Ivory Trail” for Bulpin

Breaker Morant

“They must have put the coffins on top of one another for the grave to be so narrow ” I said. “Or buried them in blankets, soon after they were executed” said my companion. We were in Pretoria Cemetery, looking at the grave of “Breaker” Morant and P J Hancock. My companion was Charles More, the South African Government’s expert on the Boer War.

Morant and Hancock? Tens of thousands of Australians have never heard their names. But their execution by firing squad in 1902 raised a cry of fury, which echoed far beyond Australia. Their executions – justified or not – had one far-reaching result. From that day when the volleys from the Cameron Highlanders rang out in Pretoria Jail, no Australians have ever been placed under British discipline where capital punishment is involved.

Morant was an Australian legend in his day. A wild English-born colonial boy, who became known as “The Breaker”, he was as renowned for his verses in “The Bulletin” as he was for his feats as a horseman. His execution along with another Australian officer at the hands of a British army firing squad brought to an end a most astonishing and turbulent career.

My interest in “Breaker” Morant was stirred by the one definitive book on the subject written by Fred Cutlack, a famous Australian war correspondent of World War 1 and later a leader writer on the “Sydney Morning Herald.” The Cutlack book on Morant published by Ure Smith is long out of print and copies are hard to find. I am indebted to the author for much of the background of the remarkable Morant.

“Breaker” Morant’s name was Harry Harbord Morant. He came to Australia in the 1880s and claimed to be related to various members of the British upper classes – in fact he said he was the son of Admiral Sir George Morant, a claim later rejected by the Admiral. But researchers had little doubt that Morant was “well connected”. He used to hint that he came to the colonies as a result of an unpaid gaming debt; such things were of more moment at the turn of the century than they are today.

Morant’s life as a young man in Australia must have been for a man of his tastes, adventurously magnificent. Not that he didn’t run into plenty of trouble with bouncing cheques and quick disappearances from jobs. He traveled much of Queensland trying his hand at a variety of jobs: for a while he was foreman at Esmerelda Station, but soon went to his real love – horses. He could break horses and ride them and few men were his equals in Queensland.

“The Breaker’s” fame spread. He was a shrewd judge of horseflesh and his opinion was often sought. Cutlack’s book reprints several of the letters from Morant to “Banjo” Paterson – letters redolent with his love of horses and the outback.

In the early 90’s Morant started contributing verses to “The Bulletin”. His first appeared on September 5, 1891 and was called ‘A Night Thought” and signed “The Breaker.” This was the forerunner of dozens more contributions to the magazine – and although the sage poetry and literary critics of “The Bulletin,” such as A. G. Stephens, never took him seriously as a poet, his ballads achieved a wide popularity.

“The Breaker” eventually became as well known in Sidney as he was in the country. Residents of the Windsor and Camden districts knew him, was invited to the hunts, the races, and to play polo: at which he excelled.

Morant’s love of the outdoors did not preclude him from indoor activity. He was a charmer with the ladies and his conquests were apparently, frequent. He had the romantic advantage of being able to write the accompaniment of songs, which he himself composed.

The outbreak of the Boer War found Morant in South Australia. He rushed excitedly to the colours, and joined the South African Mounted Rifles. Cutlack and other researchers on Morant believe he saw a glorious career in the war, as a means of re-establishing his reputation in England – and this seems to be very much in character.

By the time “The Breaker” landed in South Africa he was a sergeant. He did not take long to make his mark with the ill-prepared and ill-trained British units in South Africa. His incredible skill with horses: his knowledge of how much a horse can do, what it can carry, how its packs should be arranged to prevent injury in the torrid conditions, soon brought him to high notice, in fact to the notice of General French. After Morant had taken part in the successful cavalry advance to relieve Kimberly, he became a mounted dispatch rider – a galloper, as they were known.

The Anglo Boer War was, in many ways a ‘leisurely affair’. From time to time before the final surrender by the Boers, the British high command thought the war was won when in fact; the Boers were merely getting a second wind. During a comparative lull in 1900, Morant was transferred to the Transvaal Constabulary, as a lieutenant. He applied for, and got, six months’ leave to go to England. This gave him perhaps the most satisfying period of his life. He hunted for three months, he renewed acquaintance with many old friends, he successfully courted a girl – and most significantly as far as the rest of his life was concerned, he met and became the devoted friend of Captain Hunt of the 10th Hussars.

Captain Hunt returned to South Africa to take up arms again, and “Breaker” Morant went soon afterwards, Hunt joined a new outfit, which had been raised as a counter to the Boer commandos – the British Veldt Carbineers. The BVC were, in fact, the first British commandos. They took their lessons from the Boers, they improved on them, and they gave the Boers some of their own medicine – the lightning strike and withdrawal, the outflanking and encirclement, the penetration, the attack by night instead of day. The Carbineers, under the command of an Australian, Major Lenehan, became not only extremely efficient, but feared by the Boers.

The BVC operated mainly in the appalling, rough terrain between Pretoria and Polokwane (Pietersburg). They were tough and ruthless men – some South African, others Cape Dutch, and time-expired dominion volunteers. It must be remembered that not all the residents of South Africa supported the Boers. Many Dutch South Africans were sympathetic to the British, and from this source came a supply of useful spies and agents.

The Boers themselves were widely varied – some, under great generals like de Wet were well disciplined, others were in “irregular” gangs. Many of these were criminals, tough cutthroats who would wear British uniforms to trick the enemy, raise white flags to lure troops within Mauser range and use women to seduce sentries.

For months in 1901 the “irregular” Boers had virtually controlled the 180-mile railway to Polokwane (Pietersburg). They would blow the line as locomotives approached, then pick off the soldiers attempting to make repairs. Morant had a counter to this caper. The BVC in the Zoutspansberg region would fill rail trucks with captured Boers and put the trucks ahead of the locomotives on the line. This stopped the dynamiting.

It was a rugged section of the overall Anglo-Boer conflict fought to rugged rules. One day as a section of the BVC was entering Polokwane (Pietersburg); two Australian soldiers were shot dead by a Dutch schoolmaster lying in long grass. The teacher then sprung to his feet and shouted that he surrendered. He was promptly – and not unexpectedly – bayoneted to death.

As the months passed Morant became the man most feared by the Boer outlaws. He was indefatigable and ingenious. But unfortunately in some sections of the BVC discipline became lax, insubordination increased and reports started to filter through of unexplained killings. Captain Hunt, Morant’s friend and mentor was sent to straighten things up. He imposed punishments ordered the handing over of cattle illegally held by troops, and broke up the illicit stills, which were leading to drunkenness and riotous behaviour. This sudden imposition of discipline on wild men did not meet with approval from the recipients. And it was some of these malcontents, who later gave damaging evidence against the officers in the court martial.

On August 6, word arrived that Captain Hunt had been killed by Boers in an attack on a farmhouse at Duival’s Kloof The effect on Morant, according to eyewitnesses, was “terrible”. And when later he heard that Hunt had been mutilated – neck broken, face stamped on, legs slashed, stripped of clothing – Morant became almost demented with a mixture of grief and a desire for revenge.

It was alleged that, shortly before this Captain Hunt had paraded his officers and sergeants and told them he had orders from Pretoria not to take prisoners. So it is scarcely to be wondered at that when Morant set off in pursuit of Hunt’s killers, he had little thought of prisoners.

Morant’s BVC troop finally caught up with the Boers, but in the confusion of an ill planned attack, most of them escaped. One man, Visser, was taken prisoner and was found to be wearing Captain Hunt’s trousers and greatcoat. His trial was probably a fairly short one. Morant ordered him shot. He then wrote a report of his action and sent it to headquarters.

No action was taken as a result of Morant’s message. What more natural than that he should assume the orders relayed by Captain Hunt -‘no prisoners’ – was correct? At all events, that was obviously Morant’s reaction. Not only did he see the killing of every Boer as a revenge for Hunt’s death and disfigurement, but also regarded it as having official approval.

Soon after this, some of Morant’s men, after an engagement with the Boers, took eight prisoners. Morant ordered them shot. He and Captain P.J. Handcock, the veterinary officer of the BVC, stayed behind to see them buried before taking up the pursuit again. Near this area, Morant and Handcock encountered a German missionary. C H D Hesse, driving in a wagon, drawn by mules. He was warned he was in a forbidden area, and that it was dangerous, as Boers were about. Hesse drove off.

Later they heard, according to Morant, reports that a missionary had been killed. Handcock was sent to investigate and found the body of Hesse, shot through the chest. Within a few days, three more Boers had been captured and shot. By this time headquarters was getting reports of the rough justice, and many senior officers were gravely concerned. Major Lenehan, head of the BVC went to investigate. Morant was about to go off again, in pursuit of a leading Boer outlaw with the unlikely name of Kelly. Lenehan told Morant he wanted Kelly alive, not dead. And Morant duly delivered him alive.

The Breaker then went on leave for a couple of weeks. On his return from leave he was summarily arrested and placed in solitary confinement. The arrest of Morant, Handcock and two other officers Witton and Picton marked the beginning of one of the most mysterious and shameful episodes in the history of the British Army. Mysterious because so much secrecy has always shrouded the proceedings. Repeated requests over the years for the War Office to release the court martial papers got nowhere.

Shameful because the court martial was, to a great extent, rigged. As some of the chroniclers pointed out soon afterwards, it bore more resemblance to the Star Chamber or Spanish Inquisition than to British justice. There is no doubt whatever that justice was not seen to be done, and the court martial was held in a partial atmosphere. Extenuating circumstances put forward at the trial were in the main not considered – or acted on – by the tribunal.

Historians have little doubt that the killing of the missionary Hesse – although the defendants were acquitted of this particular death – was the main contributory cause of the whole court martial. Hesse’s death had caused an outcry in Germany. The German Emperor had demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. And this demand had come down through channels to General Kitchener. There is no doubt that members of the British staff in South Africa would be easily convinced that if a team of Australians were shooting Boer prisoners they would not quibble at shooting a German missionary behaving in a suspicious way.

A court of inquiry sat for four weeks taking evidence and then deliberated for two weeks. All this time the four accused were kept in solitary confinement. They were not informed of their rights, neither with what crimes they were to be charged, and were given no advice on their defence. Finally they were told that the court martial would start on January 15, 1902. They were also told that Major J. F. Thomas, a country solicitor from New, South Wales would defend them.

During a reading of material on the Morant-Handcock court martial, one’s admiration for this quiet solicitor grows. He did his level best against shell-backed, suffocating opposition.

His agony when he was finally informed of the verdicts – almost as a throwaway line – can be imagined.

The most incredible incident in this saga of doom came on January 2, after the court martial had started. A Boer force struck at Polokwane (Pietersburg), having first sent women in to seduce and neutralise the guards. The firing was intense, and the garrison, caught napping, was in a state, which seems to have bordered on panic.

The accused officers were released from their cells and issued with rifles and ammunition.

Morant was put in charge of the blockhouse. He organised all the riflemen he could muster, gave them their instructions. Then he and Handcock took up their positions on the roof where they had a greater field of fire and were able to wreak such carnage on the Boers that finally the assault force withdrew.

Morant and Handcock were then disarmed and returned to their cells. Their incredibly heroic action – in view of the situation in which they were placed carried no weight with their judges. It meant nothing, and in the deliberations of the court martial apparently it did not rate a mention. The court martial was a grim affair. The first charge against Morant was the shooting of Visser, the Boer he had found to be wearing some of Captain Hunt’s clothing.

Did he try Visser? The president of the court martial asked. “Was your court constituted like this? And did you observe the King’s Regulations?”

To which “The Breaker” replied: “was it like this? No, it was not half as handsome. We were out fighting Boers, not -sitting comfortably, behind barbed wire entanglements. We got them and shot them under Rule 303.”

The next case was the shooting of the eight Boers. Evidence was given that Captain Hunt, on an occasion when Morant had brought in prisoners, said, “What the hell do you mean by bringing these men in? We have neither room nor rations for them here”.

Good evidence for Morant and his fellow-accused mounted – witnesses who had seen Boers wearing British uniforms, copies of Australian newspapers stating that Kitchener had issued orders to shoot any Boers wearing British uniform. Major Thomas for the defense did well: but the summing up of the Judge Advocate was not encouraging. Nor was the evidence by Colonel Hamilton, military secretary to Lord Kitchener, who declared that it was “absolutely untrue” that Capt. Hunt had ever received orders not to take prisoners.

The “three Boers” case again involved Morant and Handcock. Again Morant admitted the shootings and pleaded the same justification as in the Visser case. The last charge against Morant and Handcock was of killing Hesse, the German missionary. For this, a new court was constituted; this charge was weak and unsustained from the start. The evidence for both men was good and unshakeable. It was little surprise that the court came in with a not guilty verdict. And Morant and Handcock were elated when two of the court martial members sent them half a dozen bottles of champagne.

On February 20, all the prisoners met in Morant’s quarters in Polokwane (Pietersburg) jail to drink the champagne. The word over the prison grapevine was that all charges were to be dismissed, and naturally there was rejoicing. But not for long, next morning they were all handcuffed, and bundled into a train for Pretoria. Their defense lawyer, Major Thomas, was not even told – he caught a later train. At Pretoria, the prisoners were driven to the grim Pretoria jail, armed men – and mounted police on rear and flank as their escort. They were filled with gloom.

On the morning of February 26, Morant, Handcock, Witton and Picton were told to report to the governor of the jail. Morant came out deathly pale. “Shot tomorrow morning,” he said. Handcock was next. “Same as Morant,” he said. Then Witton – to be told his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Picton – to be cashiered and stripped of his DCM. Morant asked for paper to write to Kitchener – he was told Kitchener was away. Handcock wrote to HQ asking the Australian Government to do something for his children. His letter was returned. Witton sent telegrams to Australian agents in Cape Town – they were suppressed.

When Major Thomas heard the news, he seemed almost to go berserk. He rushed to headquarters and begged for a stay of execution until General Kitchener returned, and an appeal could be sent to the King. He was refused. On the morning of February 27, 18 men of the Cameron Highlanders tramped into Pretoria Jail. Morant was shot first.

He smoked a cigarette, refused a bandage on the eyes, gave his cigarette case to the 0/C of the guard, then said, “‘Shoot straight – you bastards. Don’t make a mess of it.” The night before he had told Witton, “Tell The Bulletin people The Breaker will write no more verse for them. I’m going into laager in the morning”.

Handcock, poor Handcock, the hapless and innocent veterinary officer died as bravely. As Major Thomas described him “a brave, fine, simple man.” In a letter to an Australian friend, Major Thomas wrote: “I feel quite broken up. Poor brave fellows. Nothing will worry them again in this world, and if there be another world God will not think worse of them than we do, surely’. Anyway they rest in peace.”

Witton, sentenced to life, was released as a result of parliamentary pressure in 1904. His recollections       of the case are about the only facts to which a writer can cling, For the British snapped shut the files and the War office claimed it did not possess the transcripts of evidence in the case.

The graves of Morant and Handcock are neat and well tended. Charles More, whose forebears were both Boers and British, and whose life work is a study of the Anglo-Boer War, sees that the grave is never neglected. It is visited, I am glad to say, by dozens of people each year. Handcock and “Breaker” Morant are not forgotten. (“The Breaker” died bravely, by David McNicoll – The Bulletin, June 9 1973).

Cyril Ramaposa

Secretary General, ANC Head, Negotiations Commission, ANC Member, National Executive Committee, ANC Member, National Working Committee Chairman Constitutional Assembly

“There will be liberation, come rain or shine. I am optimistic about the future of South Africa. I think we have a great future ahead. In the ANC, we have a lot of talented leaders.”

Ramaphosa himself is regarded as one of the most important leaders in the ANC. His election to the position of secretary general at the ANC Conference in June 1991 is proof of the faith members have in him.

Widely respected as a skilful and formidable negotiator and strategist, Ramaphosa is best known for the role he played in building the biggest and most powerful trade union in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM),

Ramaphosa was born in Soweto on 17 November 1952, after completing matric; he registered at the University of the North to study law in 1972. While at university Ramaphosa joined the South African Students Organization (SASO), and the Black Peoples’ Convention (BPC).

In 197 4 he was detained and held in solitary confinement for 11 months for his role in the organisation of pro-Frelimo rallies. In 1976 he was detained for a second time, and held for six months. During this time he began to question his role in the BPC, deciding that the “ideology of black consciousness had come full circle, it could take us no further”.

After completing his law studies in 1981, Ramaphosa joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) as a legal advisor. In 1982 CUSA advised Ramaphosa to start a union for mine workers.

The union that was to become ” a thorn in the flesh of mine bosses” had very humble beginnings. There were no funds to run the union and recruiting was difficult, as mine bosses would not allow meetings to take place on mine premises. Ramaphosa, clad in a black leather jacket, would move around the goldfields at weekends, recruiting mine workers.

The NUM was launched in 1982, and Ramaphosa was elected to the position of general secretary, a position he held until he resigned from the union in 1991 (following his election to SG of the ANC).

In one decade, immeasurable improvements were made in the living conditions and working standards of the country’s largest work force. The union grew from a membership of 6000 in 1982 to 300 000 in 1992, giving it control of nearly half of the total black work force in the mining industry.

In 1985 NUM left CUSA and helped in the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). When COSATU joined forces with UDF against the Botha regime, Ramaphosa played a central role, leading him into the arena of the Mass Democratic Movement (MOM). When Mandela was released Ramaphosa was on the National Reception Committee.

Ramaphosa played a crucial role in negotiations with the former South African regime to bring about a peaceful end to apartheid and steer the country towards its first democratic elections in April 1994.

While not a member of the SACP, Ramaphosa is a committed socialist who believes that the dawn of political democracy in South Africa must be accompanied by economic democracy. “Democracy will be meaningless unless it can lead to the transformation of the quality of life of all our people,” he says.

Listening to the cool sounds of jazz musicran, John Coltrane, is a favourite pastime. Ramaphosa also enjoys tennis, trout fishing and watching motor racing. He is an avid reader with a particular interest in biographies.

Patrick Ramaano MbhulaheniMpephu

President of Venda from 1969 to 1994 when the new system took over. He held posts as chief Minister and minister of finaince. He used emergency powwrs to detain many of his oponants. Seen as a loyal supporter of Pretoria.

Jock of the Bushveld

Jock of the Bushveld

Jock of the Bushveld, written by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, is a unique story woven about the life and...



Magoebaskloof takes its name from Makgoba, chief of the Tlou people. Magoebaskloof is one of the...

To Our Newsletter

To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!