A report on the Mahlangu family land claim (case no LCC48/2010) over the farm Roodekop 350 JSSummary

Archaetnos cc was requested by Matloga Attorneys to investigate information relating to the Mahlangu family land claim (Case no LCC48/2010). The claim was lodged in terms of the provision of the Restitution of Lands Rights Act (Act 22 of 1994). The current land owners however are disputing the land claim.

The claim is lodged on the remainder and portion 1 of the farm De Roodekop 350 JS an area which is known as Ngemani to the claimants. This is situated between Stoffberg and Middelburg in the Mpumalanga Province.

The Terms of Reference for the study were as follows:

 To conduct historical and archaeological research on the claims of the Mahlangu family.

 To investigate the existence of any kind of ruins, graves or historical structures on the claimed land and who they might have belonged to, and to determine if the ruins might be predating the 1900’s or not and if so whether those ruins might be for the people of the Mahlangu Family.

 To obtain oral evidence in as far as areas within the claimed land, where ruins and historical structures can still be identified and where they might have been destroyed.

 To research the extent of the history of the Mahlangu Family.

 To interrogate the report of the claimants’ expert aerial photographer Mr. Garth Chandler as and when it becomes available.

 To investigate and comment on the validity of the dispute by the current owners or occupants of such farms, taking into account the provisions of the Restitution of Lands Rights Act, of 1994 read with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

 To draft a report, based on the above mentioned.


The investigation of archaeological sites and graves was limited to those indicated by the claimants. It is also that sites linked to the white farmers and inhabitants of the area may also exist.

Archival information and those obtained in the Deeds Office are sometimes not complete as a result of the bad state of preservation of these records. An important aspect relating to any kind of historical research is the difference between scientific proof, based on written historical sources, and oral historical sources. The credibility and validity of the first mentioned is accepted due to the fact that it is housed in government archives where only original documents are stored. The credibility and validity of last mentioned is a much more complex issue. These need to be tested against other oral accounts, physical evidence and the afore mentioned written documents through a process of authenticity and credibility.

Different methods were combined in doing the study. A survey of literature was undertaken in order to obtain historical information regarding the Mahlangu family. Information from the old farm registers in the Deeds Office in Pretoria as well as documents from the National Archives in Pretoria was studied in order to obtain additional information. Archaeological sites (including graves and ruins) were visited with representatives of the claimants, accompanied by farm owners, in order to assess these. Additional information obtained from the people was also taken into consideration. Information obtained via representatives of the Mahlangu Family was utilized to obtain insight relating to the land claim.

Claimants’ view

The claim was lodged by Mr. German Samuel Mahlangu, on behalf of his family. In the claim form he indicates that his father was evicted in the 1950’s. Both his father and he himself was born on the farm. He also indicates that the grave of his grandfather are on the land claimed.

Information from the Research Report of the Land Claims Commission

The claimants stated that they were the original owners of the farm De Roodekop 350 JS. This was in 1800 and they were exercising subsistence farming.

On 13 December 1870 the farm was transferred by the Government to Stephanus Elias Botha. Even though there were black people on the farm, it was subdivided in 1913 and transferred to white people. The claimants were then removed from the farm. They did not receive any compensation either through compensatory land or financial means.

Report of the expert aerial photographer

The following was deduced from this:

1955 – A number of areas with evidence of human habitation and pathways connecting these are present

1964 – This information confirms that of 1955

1969 – A large number of areas with traditional homesteads are indicated on the 1:50 000 map

Ethnographic-historical information

It is impossible to find ethnographical information on single families. Therefore one has to look at the information about the group, but one needs to realize that this only gives a broad background which most likely will not provide detailed evidence.

The claimant confirmed that he belongs to the group known as the Ndzundza Ndebele. At the beginning of the 19th century the Ndzundza Ndebele stayed in an area in the Steenkamps Mountains between the Steelpoort and Dwars River. This is more than 100 km to the north of the current town of Middelburg in Mpumalanga.

In 1845, an area of land around the town of Ohrigstad, which seems to include the modern day Middelburg, were given to the Voortrekkers by the Pedi leader Sekwati. A later agreement of 1846 also included the land around the modern day town of Middelburg. The agreement refers to the selling of land to the Voortrekkers by the Swazi. During this time the Ndzundza Ndebele’s resided in the region of the current town of Roossenekal. This is about a 50 km to the north of land being claimed.

Chief Mabhogo complained to the government and in 1860 they were given four farms to reside on being Vlakfontein, Vlugtkraal, Jakkalsvlij and Legerplaats. Mabhogo were not satisfied with this and in 1863 declared war against the Boer republic. This did not resolve the matter. Between 1863 and 1876 many of the Ndzundza Ndebele started residing on desolated white owned farms.

After this time the Ndzundza disputed the land ownership of white farmers on the following farms: Pietersburg, Hermansdal, Hebron, Johannesburg, Uysedoorns, Elandshoek, Houtenbek, Onverwacht, Klipbankspruit, Zwartkoppies, Lagersdrift, Kaffirkraal, Uitkyk, Grootkop, Sans Suici, Chieftains Plain, Walhala, Paardekloof and Bankfontein. The farm at stake here, De Roodekop, is not listed.

During the 1880’s the so-called Mapoch wars broke out between the Ndzundza Ndebele and the Boers. The loss of the war meant that the Ndzundza Ndebele lost their independence. As a result their land was divided into small farms and was given to the burgers that fought during the war. For the next five years an indenture system was enforced on the Ndzundza people whereby they worked on white owned farms.

Between 1877 and 1899 black people in the old Transvaal Republic were allowed to purchase land, but it was held in trust for then by missionaries, native commissioners etc. As a result of the above mentioned the Ndzundza were never allocated a so-called reservation. By 1899 these reserves were set out for black people. None of these were to in the area under scrutiny (Bergh 1999: 40, 227). Only in 1923 they again bought a tribal farm, the farm Weltevreden. This eventually became the core of KwaNdebele.

The promulgation of Act 27 of 1913 clearly indicated areas for black people. These were all to the north of Roossenekal. The promulgation of Act 18 of 1936 moved this area more to the south, but still did not include any area to the south of Roossenekal.

Historical research

The farm De Roodekop was first given by title deed to a white owner in 1870, being Stephanus Elias Botha. It changed hands and were subdivided over a short period of time and by 1912 there were six portions, belonging to the following people: Barend Jacobus Erasmus, Philippus Rudolf Botha, Christiaan Hendrik Johannes Boshoff, Johannes Paulus Grobler, Ockert Tobias van Niekerk and Johannes Hermanus Grobler. In 1913 these portions were officially given numbers. This is done by virtue of a new deed. The date for this was dated 29/3/1913:

Archaeological research

One site associated with the claimants was indicated by the claimants and therefore investigated. The site consists of a large rectangular livestock enclosure, built from stone. As the structure is rectangular in shape, it indicates that it was most likely built after 1900, as only then rectangular buildings were being built by black people, under influence of white people.

Next to the enclosure a number of seventeen graves were identified. These are all packed with stones. Four of these seem quite old and three fairly recent. The metal sign on two of the latter indicates that these are the graves of Thandi Betty Mahlangu (1993-2012) and May Seun Matshika (2002-2011). On one of the old graves the following wording is visible – Unamgali ukoko wala lago 1950-51 – Unamgali our grandmother who died in 1950-51. None of the other graves have any identifiable information.

The claimant, German Samuel Mahlangu who was born in 1940/5 indicated that the last mentioned is his grandmother. She was buried here while he was young and still stayed here.


Evidence seems to support that the Mahlangu family did reside at the site identified. In fact, this is even confirmed by the current land owner. This however only goes for the remainder of the farm.

The claimant, Mr. German Samuel Mahlangu, indicated that his father was evicted in the 1950’s. This information seems to be correct. It is clear from the evidence that black people dis reside here and the grave of his grandmother, who died in 1950/1 is still to be found here.

It is not possible to determine at what date they started residing on the farm or in the area where the farm is situated today. However, the lack of traditional Iron Age type dwellings indicates that this could not have been during the 19th century. This is corroborated by the ethnographic evidence indicating that the Ndzundza Ndebele, of which the claimant forms part, stayed in the Steenkamps Mountains between the Steelpoort and Dwars River during the 1800’s, an area much further to the north of the claimed land. During the Difaquane (1823-1837) they fled to an area around the current town of Heidelberg, Gauteng, much further to the south and moved back after these years of turmoil. When white people started moving into the area where the land has been claimed, it seems that the Ndzundza Ndebele’s resided in the region of the current town of Roossenekal, which is about a 50 km to the north of land being claimed.

· The farm De Roodekop is never mentioned as one of the farms given to the Ndzundza or one of the farms they laid claim on. In fact all these farms are to the north of the one being claimed. No other indigenous community is indicated as having stayed to the south of the confluence of the Selons and Olifants Rivers during the 1860’s and 1870’s.

The defeat of the Ndzundza in the 1880’s also meant that they lost their independence and as a result thereof also their land. For the next five years an indenture system was enforced on the Ndzundza people whereby they worked on white owned farms. This occurred before the promulgation of the discriminatory legislation in 1913, but again the farms mentioned are much further to the north than the one claimed.

It therefore is clear that the Ndzundza Ndebele never owned land in the area under investigation. It is however possible that individual families stayed on white owned farms, but then not as owners, but as indentures or workers, and that with the permission of the white farmers.

The information from the 1955 aerial photographs may include the homesteads of the Mahlangu family. Unfortunately without more precise information it is not possible to confirm or deny this as the portions are not indicated. It can however be confirmed that the structures identified during the archaeological visit conforms to a traditional type of settlement and can date anything between more or less ca. 1900 and 1960. These are found on the remainder of the farm.

It also is true that there are graves and other structures on the farm which may have belonged to the Mahlangu family. These were also identified during the archaeological investigation and are not attested to by the current land owner. These also are on the remainder of the farm.

The first documented owner of the farm was Stephanus Elias Botha in whose name it was registered on 13 December 1870. It is not possible to determine whether he is the same person as Mr. Fanie Botha, indicated by the claimants.

It seems very unlikely that Mr. Botha requested accommodation from the Mahlangu family as the history of the Ndzundza Ndebele, of which they are a part and that of the first white farmers in the area, indicates that the Ndzundza people stayed much further to the north of the contested land.

It is not possible to determine whether black people resided on the farm in 1913. However, the evidence suggests that it is quite likely. However, no subdivision of land occurred on this farm during 1913 and therefore it cannot be brought as an argument in terms of the 1913 Act.

Although the Mahlangu family does seem to have been evicted from the farm, it could not have been Mr. Botha who evicted them in 1950 as the owners of the applicable portions were Jacobus Nicolaaas Boshoff and Tobias Johannes Vermaak.

Since the exception of documentary proof via title deed of the ownership of land (in this case in 1870), the farm De Roodekop and its subdivisions has always been owned by white people.

It seems strange that two portions of the farm, not adjacent to each other (portion 1 and the remainder) are being claimed.

The final conclusion therefore is that the Mahlangu family did stay on the remainder of the farm, not as owners but as either tenants or workers. This was most likely during the 20th century until 1950 when they were evicted.

Report by

Dr. A.C. van Vollenhoven (L.AKAD.SA.)