In the early nineteenth century the hunter-explorers into the interior of Southern Africa found an unimaginable wealth and abundance of game. Legendary adventures Roualeyn Gordon-Cumming, William Cornwallis Harris, William Cotton Oswell and Frederick Courteney Selous hunted extensively along the Limpopo.
Gordon-Cumming gives detailed accounts of his pursuits (1846) in the Limpopo valley between its tributaries of the Lotsane and ‘Suking’ rivers, what is today Mmabolela. “I found sea-cows more and more abundant; every pool had its herd : the margin of the river on each side was trampled down by elephants, rhinoceroses, buffaloes, &c.” (A Hunters Life in South Africa 1850)
In 1871, Thomas Baines, on his way back from visiting Lobengula and the Tati Goldfields, crossed the Limpopo on Mmabolela, and camped near the “Raaswater” where the Limpopo tumbles over granite rocks polished smooth by the passage of water over thousands of years.
“I went down to sketch the waterfall, the music of which they had heard all night. It was only 6-8 ft high, but rather picturesque, the river being fringed with date palms and thorn trees, and the granite rocks which formed the barrier across the river, worn …… into great potholes by stones that are borne by floods” Thomas Baines 31st October 1871
By the late 1800s the interior of Southern Africa was being settled by Boer farmers and permanent farms were established along the Limpopo. Interestingly, the majority farms on the South African side of the Limpopo between Swartwater and Zanzibar are narrow strips named after Southern African rivers and are known as “pondt plase” as they were originally sold for a pound .
Life was tough at the turn of the century and the manager’s prime tasks was to rid the property of marauding lions and leopards, not without human cost. In 1917, two Verviers brothers were killed on consecutive days by the same lion and are buried together in a single grave at the Verviers family grave yard on Weederdooper. The account of this story can be read in Louis Leipoldt’s “The Bushveld Doctor”.
Pietman Verviers Jnr (left) and his father "Oupa" Pietman Snr (right) and Hansie van Rensburg, a friend of Pietman Jnr. They are standing in front of the "waenhuis - slagkamer" with 2 lions killed in the area. Thought to be circa 1925.
The Verviers family graveyard is located on the Farm Weederdooper not far off the dusty gravel road. It is neglected. The cement shrouds are crumbling and a termite mound has engulfed one of the graves. The sun-bleached shells of the large bushveld snail, Achatina immaculata, adornments of death, lie scattered in the sand. The white marble headstones stand proud in the red, scorched earth and you cannot but be moved by the sense of place, the bygone adventure, the lonely desolation, the suffered hardship, the unwavering belief that these pioneers lived, and died for.
The Weederdooper graveyard, the resting place of the Verviers family most of whom were killed by lions.
In 1920’s newspaper magnate AV Lindbergh consolidated two large properties, Weerdedooper and Du Plessis, and the adjoining two pondt plase, Umzumbi and Tuli, into Mmabolela Estates, so named after the young maiden, Mabalel who was taken by a crocodile in the hippo pool. This story has been immortalised by the famous Afrikaans poet and naturalist Eugéne Marais in his poem “Mabalel”. A few years later, AVL also purchased the adjacent property in the Tuli Block on the Bechuanaland (Botswana) side of the river in order to protect both banks of the Limpopo.
AV Lindbergh with his family on the Mabalel Rock: Mickey, Gladys, Joan, AVL, Pietman Viviers(back) & John
The Lindbergh family has always maintained that the Mabalel Hippo Pool was also the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s “great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo “ and his Just-so-Story “Where the Elephant got his Trunk”. While it is uncertain that Kipling ever visited here, he did work briefly with AVL on the “The Friend” newspaper in Bloemfontein in 1899, and escaped many English winters in Muizenberg where AVL lived.
Throughout his life AVL practised a strict wildlife conservation policy (in 1935 a manager was fired for poaching 2 impala) and he would regularly visit Mmabolela with his family in the winter months to enjoy the bushveld and to hunt on the Botswana property. Weederdooper and Tuli were set aside as wildlife areas and Du Plessis and Umzumbi were used for cattle. In the 1960s, irrigable lands were established for cash crop production such as tobacco, potatoes and cotton. However, in 1980 with the formalising of the border between South Africa and Botswana, the Botswana side was sold and the entire reserve on the South African side of the river was given over to wildlife ranching.
In 1980 Roy and Charlotte Young purchases the Botswana property and have continued with wildlife ranching to this day. In essence, there is a transboundary conservancy totalling some 17000 ha. In 2006, 1100 ha of the Farm Jakhlasfontein, adjoining the southern boundary of Weederdooper, was added to Mmabolela to increase the South African side of the conservancy to 6500 ha.