Updated 17 Oct 2016.


The geological origins of the Magaliesberg – a prominent range of mountains stretching from beyond Tshwane in the east to Rustenburg in the west – predate any other landmass on earth.  The area was originally part of the Kaapvaal Craton, the first stable continental land to stabilize about 3 100 million years ago, extending from around present-day Barberton to the southern boundary of the present Free State province and now buried beneath younger geological formations. At the centre of the craton was an inland sea into which layers of sediment accumulated forming quartzite and shale bedrock. About 2 100 million years ago an upwelling of magma, the Bushveld Complex, depressed the centre of the seabed thrusting up the edges into rows of parallel ridges known as the Transvaal Series or Bankenveld. The Magaliesberg is the highest of these ridges. An ice age 345 million years ago planed the jagged peaks of the exposed ridges to a generally even altitude and the softer igneous intrusions were weathered away leaving spectacular deep kloofs and streams that characterize the northern side of the range.
The Bankenveld lies at the interface between the southern highveld grassland plateau and the central African savannah.

The region shares the biodiversity of both of these biomes and consequently enjoys an extraordinarily rich diversity of plant and animal species. It was here that hominid primates, nurtured by such abundance, probably evolved into human beings and from here dispersed and populated the planet. Archaeological evidence shows an almost continuous record human occupation from Early (pre-homo sapiens) Middle and Late Stone Age hunter gatherer cultures. The sequences of stone tools, shelter and rock engravings indicate the development of human society, cognitive awareness and spiritualism.
The natural resources of the region later attracted the Early and Late 'Iron Age' mixed farmers who introduced new technologies such as cattle-husbandry, iron and other metal smelting and the cultivation of crops. The ability to manage and control food supplies, made possible by the fertility of the Magaliesberg,  allowed people to lead a more settled village live with hierarchies of leadership and polities. The ruins of large settlements of cattle-rich communities can be seen throughout the Magaliesberg and adjacent hillsides. Collaborative work by historians, archaeologists and ethnologists has revealed interesting insights early Tswana activity in the region where metal and ivory was traded through a series of middlemen with the Arab markets on the east coast and later with white settlers in the Cape. 

The turmoil of the early 19th century – the Mfecane or Difecane – during which Mzilikazi (among others) conquered many of the local Tswana clans, terminated that era. Simultaneously European interest in the area, stimulated by the wealth of natural resources, brought hunters, traders and missionaries who have left some of the earliest written accounts and botanical and zoological descriptions of the area. Robert Moffat, Andrew Smith and William Cornwallis Harris are among the best known of what became a procession of naturalists and explorers. These first white explorers were accepted by Mzilikazi who gave them a certain degree of freedom to hunt and travel around in his kingdom but the arrival of a wave of Boer Voortrekkers in the late 1830s and early 1840s seeking permanent occupation resulted in immediate conflict. In a series of confrontations Mzilikazi was driven from Magaliesberg to settle, eventually in what is now western Zimbabwe.
The Boers referred to the mountains as the 'Magaliesberg' after Mogale chief of the BaPô and here they appropriated farms and forayed out to the north on hunting trips and occasional punitive commandos to subjugate other African tribes. Like all settlers before them,  the Boers were attracted to the Magaliesberg by its perennial water, fertile soils and wildlife, although the latter was soon depleted in the face of firearms.

In subsequent years equally important events in southern Africa's history were played out in the Magaliesberg: the Transvaal War of 1880-1881, the South African War of 1899-1902 and the Afrikaner Rebellion of 1914. The twentieth century saw the damming of the Crocodile River and other major rivers and in the second half off the century, particularly in recent years, tourism and recreation have become important industries. The geological process that shaped the mountains also created the world's richest deposits of platinum together with chromium, vanadium and other valuable minerals and the economy of the Magaliesberg is now dominated by mining.
There have been a number of initiatives to conserve the history and natural beauty of the Magaliesberg from the threat of over development and exploitation. Initiatives in the 1970s led to a three cornered confrontation beteen land-owners, conservationists and government bureaucrats. The eventual outcome was the proclamation of part of the ridge as a Protected Natural Environment, which affords some legal constraints on development.

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

With special thanks to our sponsors