The Magaliesberg is an area of scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich historical, archaeological and cultural value and abundant biodiversity. These features make it particularly valuable for tourism and recreation as well as a focal point for nation-building – whether our ancestry is Tswana, Nguni, Boer or British, we will find roots here. However, these unique features also make it imperative that any development or use of the Magaliesberg & Buffelspoort Valley region must be circumscribed by sound, sustainable management principles and practices.
The region is close to the Pretoria-Johannesburg conurbation as well as Rustenburg.
The Magaliesberg is one of the oldest landscapes in the world, predating even the African continent. It was formed more than 2 billion years ago when vast quantities of molten magma welled up from the earth’s inner core depressing the centre of an ancient seabed and thrusting the rock edges upwards. Today, those tilted-up edges form a chain of rugged cliffs that stretches 150 kms from Pretoria to Rustenburg. Behind the cliffs, the sloping quartzite of the seabed, scarred and weathered, but still intact, dips northwards and disappears below the bushveld plains that were once sheets of molten lava.
At the perimeter of the bushveld plains, close to their interface with the tilted seabed, are some of the world’s richest deposits of platinum, magnesium, chrome and other valuable minerals.
Two factors combine to give the Magaliesberg an extraordinary rich biodiversity. The first is its position at the interface between the bushveld savanna to the north and the grassland highveld of central South Africa. Each of these two biomes supports distinctive plant and animal communities. And the Magaliesberg enjoys a combination of both.
The second is the wide variety of habitats created by the geological origins. The most spectacular landforms are the deep kloofs cut into the tilted quartzite by rivers of molten lava. They have a warm north-facing aspect while at the same time being shaded by their depth and canopy of trees. Most important, however, are the clear streams that flow through them providing a source of exceptionally high quality water.
Elsewhere on the mountain, the cliffs, slopes and scree are each home to plant and animal communities specially adapted to the particular habitat.
The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is renowned for the fossil evidence of pre-human evolution. Stone tools and rock engravings show that those early hominids and Stone Age hunter-gatherers lived in the Magaliesberg region over a period of about 250 000 years. The etchings of animals they made on the Magaliesberg rocks are art treasures of enormous cultural worth.
About 1700 years ago migrations from the north brought skills in iron-smelting, pottery and animal husbandry into the Magaliesberg. Later they built stone dwellings and large villages, the ruins of which can be seen today. The history of these forebears of the modern Batswana people is now being compiled from oral tradition, archaeology and ethnological records. It reveals successful clan communities living in the area for more than a thousand years, rearing cattle, hunting, mining, and trading through middle-men with the East African coast and later with European settlement in the Cape.
In 1827 the Ndebele chief Mzilikazi invaded the Magaliesberg, subjugating the local Batswana inhabitants. Ten years later, he and his people were driven out of the area by Voortrekker emigrant Boers from the Cape, together with their Tswana and Griqua allies.
After the defeat of Mzilikazi in 1837 the Boers established farms throughout the Magaliesberg and founded the town of Rustenburg in 1851.
During the Transvaal of 1880-1881 British garrisons and pro-British citizens were besieged in Rustenburg and Pretoria.
In the longer and more devastating South African War of 1899 to 1902 the Magaliesberg became a principal theatre of the guerilla phase of the war. Twelve battles were fought in the area. At the Battle of Buffelspoort the Boers had a resounding victory over a British column heading for Rustenburg. In that battle Jan Smuts, later a leading world statesman in two world wars, received his first experience as a fighting general under the overall command of General Koos De la Rey. Ten days later De la Rey was again victorious at the battle of Nooitgedacht, near Hekpoort.
As part of the economic recovery during the 20th century, the Hartbeespoort Dam was built and completed in 1923. Olifantsnek Dam was completed in 1932 and Buffelspoort Dam the following year.
The unique nature of the Magaliesberg became known to the western world in the 19th century. Famous naturalists, missionaries and explorers – Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, Andrew Smith, William Cornwallis Harris, Thomas Baines and many others – ventured into the region to investigate and document its astounding biological wealth. In 1866 the eccentric Carl Mauch began to unravel the geological complexities and mineral riches of the region.
Agriculture, notably citrus, tobacco and cattle, was once the dominant economic activity in the Magaliesberg region and, although it has declined in importance in recent decades, viable commercial farms are still a major land use.
Recreation and tourism has expanded rapidly since the 1990’s. Weekend retreats have become popular and there has been exponential growth in residential and recreational developments, particularly around the Hartebeespoort, Olifantsnek and Buffelspoort dams.
Growth in tourism information centres, tourism associations and operations indicate organic growth in private sector tourism and the Biosphere initiative will help to stimulate this further.
Mining activity along the rim of the Bushveld Igneous System immediately north of the Magaliesberg has brought about substantial increases in industrial and commercial activity and urban expansion in Rustenburg, Mooinooi, Marikana and Madibeng.