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Umkomaas, A Rich History

06 December 2018
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The Umkomaas valley conservancy and the area owned and hunted by Crusader Safaris is steeped in natural history and hunting tradition. 

It is always good to know that not a lot has changed over the years. In the 15 years, Crusader Safaris has hunted the area and the conservancy has been managed for authentic trophy hunting it has only gotten better.

The following is the notes of the early explorers, Cecil John Rhodes, Swedish explorer Wahlberg and the Frenchman Delagorgue.

Almost everyone knows that a region of KwaZulu/Natal is called The Valley of a Thousand Hills. Some of these hills are so steep even the baboons use walking sticks to climb them but, what people may not know, is that when the good Lord finished creating this rugged valley he had a quite a few high hills left over and these he liberally strewed throughout the Umkomaas and neighbouring Nhlamvini Valleys some 50 kilometres further south as the fly crows, as one of my German friends once put it. The Nhlamvini Valley, not as well known as the Umkomaas, is home to the Ixopo River and its name in Zulu can mean either a bullet or a mielie pip, take your pick.

The avid Swedish collector and explorer, Johan August Wahlberg (after whom an eagle and many other birds, insects and reptiles were named), travelled through the Umkomaas Valley with another enthusiastic explorer, Adulphe Delagorgue (after whom a pigeon was named), in the 1840s. They both wrote books about their travels and, from Wahlberg’s journal, it seems that not much has changed since then. He wrote, "28/30 August – Continued the trip and arrived at Umkomaas in the morning. Country beautiful; the hills rounded, and covered with grass at the summits; close thickets in the valleys. We passed several rivers; Kaffir kraals."

Allen Gardner, originally a naval man who became a missionary after his wife died, travelled through this region in the mid 1830s and, in his book, Narrative of a Journey to the Zooloo Country in South Africa, wrote of the Ithlangwain people that he found there that they, "originally lived high up on the right bank of the Tugela whence they were driven, about 15 years since, by the devastating wars of Charka……. they were eventually forced to abandon their country … and obliged … to seek their present asylum, which, after enduring many hardships, several of their people dying from actual starvation, they effected.

They describe themselves as having been formerly a powerful nation, the only remains of which at present consist of 25 villages, ten here, ten more on this side of the Umgeni, and five on the other, all under the control of Foortu, and may probably amount to between 7000 to 8000 souls."Not far from there, the run-down dwelling can be seen that housed the Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, who helped Panda, one of Shaka’s sons, defeat his younger brother, Dingaan.

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Interestingly enough, Wahlberg also wrote about this period in his journal as follows: "4 October. Panda, Dingaan’s brother, the rightful heir to the throne, now in flight from his brother, who wants to kill him, seeks protection with the farmers and lodges with his leading counsellor's next door to me.

The facial characteristics of this latter remarkably diverse and pronounced. The nails are worn very long."

For those who have a historical interest, the Umkomaas valley is steeped in history. Cecil John Rhodes first arrived in Durban on 1 September 1870. He brought three thousand pounds his aunt lent him and used it to invest in diamond diggings in Kimberly. After a brief stay with the Surveyor-General of Natal, Dr. P.C. Sutherland, in Pietermaritzburg, Rhodes joined his brother Herbert on his cotton farm in the Umkomaas valley in Natal.

The C J Rhodes 1870 National Heritage Site is situated in the heart of the Umkomaas valley conservancy where Cecil John Rhodes and his brother Herbert, first farmed cotton in 1870. The first wagon road from Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town is found on our nature reserve. In October 1871 Rhodes left the colony for the diamond fields of Kimberly.

“I never saw such an extra-ordinarily beautiful place in life. There, hundreds of feet below us, stretched out the whole valley with our huts looking like specs, and in the distance there were hills rising one above another, with a splendid blue tint on them”
(Cecil John Rhodes, 1870)

Richmond is a town with an illustrious history, just like the Umkomaas itself. The Original settlers to arrive in Richmond came from Beaulieu, the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch in Richmond. As a result of difficulty in pronunciation, the town was later renamed Richmond.

Ixopo, immortalized in Alan Paton’s “Cry the Beloved Country” is the main centre of the Southern Midlands. Although originally named ‘Stuartstown’, the original onomatopoeic Zulu name has prevailed. When pronounced in Zulu, the ‘click’ letter (letter ‘x’) is reminiscent of the cattle’s hooves moving through the local marshes.

The original Dead Man’s Tree, where funeral notices were posted is still outside the Post Office. The Off Saddle Hotel is reputedly the oldest hostelry in South Africa to have retained its original name.

Ixopo’s countryside is very attractive, ranging in height from 400m to 1800m and therefore, encompasses many different topographies that give Duma Manzi a very distinct and diverse landscape.