Mokopane, known until recently as Potgietersrus, is approximately two hours’ drive from Gauteng, and is an ideal stopover for travellers on their way to Botswana, Zimbabwe or the northern part of the Kruger National Park. It is a joy to travel through this typical bushveld area where the acacia trees and aloes seem to stand at attention for passing motorists.
The Voortrekker leader Hendrik Potgieter established a town here in 1852, naming it Vredenburg (“Town of Peace”), to commemorate the reconciliation between himself and another Voortrekker leader, Marthinus Pretorius. The area was abandoned for a while due to the repeated outbreaks of malaria. In 1858, the name of the town was changed to Pietpotgietersrus to honour Piet Potgieter, another Voortrekker leader. In 1890, the town was re-established as Potgietersrust, in 1935 it became a municipality and in 1939 the final “t” was dropped from its name.
Recently the name of the town has been changed to Mokopane in honour of the Ndebele chief Mokopane.
Mokopane is famous for its chrome deposits, among the richest in Africa, platinum, diamonds and granite, as well as for its agricultural products such as wheat, tobacco, cotton, beef, maize, peanuts and citrus.
Adventure And Sport
4×4 Trails: Discover the scenic beauty of the area on the Thabaphaswa and Doorndraai Dam 4×4 trails.
Doorndraai Dam Nature Reserve: The reserve has facilities for hiking, angling, camping and bird-watching. The 30-km, two-day hiking trail has overnight facilities, but it is essential to book well in advance. The best time to visit is in the cooler season, from April to October. However, visitors are warned that the presence of bilharzia has been confirmed in this dam, so the water is neither safe to swim in nor to drink.
Golf: Accept the challenge of the 18-hole golf course while enjoying the view of the spectacular Waterberg Mountains, typical bushveld surroundings and many indigenous acacia trees.
Hunting: Hunting facilities are available on several private farms in the area.
Thabapaswa Mountain-bike Trails: Thabapaswa Trails have two extremely good cycling trails that cover some 40 km over hilly terrain. The trails circle Groenkom Farm that has some unusual rock formations. Bikers even have a chance of seeing small game. Although the first trail has some water points, cyclists should carry an ample supply of water with them. The second trail outside the farm is easier and provides magnificent views. There are two base camps with basic necessities on the farm. Bookings can be made through Jacana Country Homes and Trails.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Makapansgat Caves and Limeworks: Makapansgat Cave lies some 20 km north of Mokopane on Makapansgat Farm. This world-famous archaeological site has provided the most comprehensive record of hominid occupation ever. There are several sites in the Makapansgat Valley. The oldest site is the Limeworks which has been dated at from 3,32 million to 1,6 million years ago and has produced the fossilised remains of a 3,3 million-year-old ape-man (Australopithecus africanus) as well as the fossilised remains of some animals. The Limeworks not only show signs of Stone Age inhabitation but are also important because they reflect the lifestyle and culture of the first gold diggers in the area. In 1854 Chief Makapane and his people hid in these caves after they had attacked and killed a party of Voortrekkers at Moorddrift. The Voortrekkers, led by Piet Potgieter, laid siege to the caves and some 1 500 of the chief’s people died of starvation during the siege. When the Voortrekkers eventually stormed the caves, they found only death and decay. Only a few of Makapane’s people managed to survive the siege. After this tragic episode, the caves were understandably avoided.
The local community, particularly the residents of the Royal Kraal of Chief Kekana, still attach much significance to the site. At the entrance to the cave is the place where the local community communed with their ancestors and offered them snuff, beer and mealie (maize) meal.
As the University of the Witwatersrand is still researching the site, visits are strictly by prior arrangement and only in the company of a guide. Visits can be arranged through the Arend Dieperink Museum. Groups of 10 to 15 can be accommodated.
Other caves: Other sites in the area, such as the Cave of Hearths (earliest evidence of man’s use of fire), the Hyena Cave and the Buffalo Cave, have yielded a rich cache of fossilised remains of both animal and plant species. Nineteenth-century European relics were also found here. Buffalo Cave is the site at which the remains of a now extinct buffalo, Bos makapania, were found. The entrance to Ficus Cave is covered by the fig tree Ficus ingens. This cave contains an underground lake and is home to a large bat colony. Many nineteenth-century European and Iron Age artefacts have been found at this site. The nearby Iron Age site has yielded remains from the Early Iron Age to Late Iron Age communities. Peppercorn’s Cave contains Iron Age relics, as well as an underground lake and a bat colony. Rainbow Cave also shows signs of the early use of fire and contains Middle Stone Age artefacts.
Art And Crafts
Johan Koch Art Gallery: The gallery houses a fine collection of the works of the well-known wildlife painter, John Koch. It is well worthwhile visiting this gallery and seeing the wildlife of our country through the eyes of this talented artist.
Mabothe River Camp: The camp is located in the Waterberg Mountains and offers a variety of art courses.
Midway Ceramics: Midway Ceramics lies 20 km north of Mokopane, between Polokwane and Mokopane and is open to the public on weekdays. The pots are handmade with clay from the local quarry and visitors are allowed to watch the talented local potters at work. If you are staying in the area for a while, why not order a pot made to your own design?
Sue’s Homenet Village: The village sells art, crafts and refreshments in a lovely old restored homestead. The Kierieklapper Arts Festival is held here every August.
Entertainment And Shopping
Tobacco Co-op: Mokopane has the second largest tobacco company in the country. Tours can be arranged by prior appointment.
Fauna And Flora
Ana Trees: Avid botanists will be surprised to find Ana trees north of the Waterberg Mountains. David Livingstone, the famous missionary explorer, is said to have camped regularly among these trees.
Mokopane Nature Reserve and Game-breeding Centre: The reserve, situated on the northern outskirts of the town, is a protected 800-ha expanse of grassy plain, partly bush-covered “koppies” (hills) and a dam. Established by the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, the breeding centre specialises in the breeding of rare species from Southern Africa, and other parts of the world. The reserve is home to a variety of game and offers guided tours and game drives. The picnic site is at the entrance to the reserve and there is a municipal camping and caravan site just outside it, across the highway.
Percy Fyfe Nature Reserve: This 2 500-ha reserve is 35km north-east of town and is home to a wide variety of animals. Certain protected species of antelope, such as sable antelope, roan antelope and tsessebe, as well as Cape Buffalo from the Addo Elephant Park, are bred within the reserve. The reserve is divided into three sections and has three separate areas or camps: Roan Camp, Tsessebe Camp and Sable Camp. At the request of the donor of the land, Percy Fyfe, part of the reserve was developed as a camping area for youth organisations. Other visitors are welcome at the caravan site but need to make prior arrangements. Day visitors are also welcome. Roan Camp is open to vehicles only and Tsessebe Camp is open to both hikers and cyclists. There is also a one-day hiking trail.
History And Architecture
Arend Dieperink Museum: The museum is in a former “klipskool” (stone school) and houses an impressive selection of Sotho and Voortrekker artefacts. Among the Voortrekker artefacts and memorabilia are letters written by a former Boer President and a Bible that belonged to the Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter. However, the museum focuses not only on the history of the town, but also has exhibits on the archaeological diggings in the area, as well as dinosaur fossils. The museum also has a replica of a typical “bosveldhuis”, the type of dwelling in which the early white farmers lived. Mampoer (a traditional Afrikaner alcoholic beverage distilled from fruit) and fresh bread (baked in the Voortrekker way) are available on request.
Moorddrift Monument: The monument, 11 km south of town, was erected in memory of the Voortrekkers who died at the hand of Makapan’s warriors in 1854.
Voortrekker sites: The Voortrekker heritage is still strongly in evidence in this area and many historical sites in the town relate to the Voortrekker era, including wagon-wheel tracks, historical monuments and graves, such as Piet Potgieter’s grave in the municipal cemetery.
Potgietersrus Platinum Mine and Klipspringer Diamond Mine: The local Tourism Association arranges tours to these mines.