The Archaetnos Passion 2

Crooks Corner Archaeological Project

After the completion of the Steinaecker’s Horse Project, Archaetnos started a new research project on the Pafuri and Crooks Corner area in the Kruger National Park. During 2021 a survey of possible sites in the area were undertaken. The next phase of the project runs between 2022 and 2024 during which the shop of Alex Thompson at Maluleke will be excavated.

  • History of Pafuri and Crooks Corner:

The Shingwedzi Nature Reserve was proclaimed in 1903. The most northern section thereof, today part of the Kruger National Park, is called the Pafuri area. The name is a corruption of the name of a chief who resided in the area. The Levhuvhu River was also incorrectly named the Pafuri River on certain maps.

At its furthest north-eastern corner, it included a triangular piece of land between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. It borders both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Because of the exclusion of other areas in the vicinity, e.g., the Makuleke reserve, this piece of land became a desolated area. As a result, it soon became utilised by fortune seekers, poachers, smugglers and people fleeing from the law. The area thus received a questionable reputation including the name Crooks Corner.

Coupled with the fact that the area between the Letaba and Limpopo Rivers in the nature reserve was only accessible by ox wagon or horseback, it became almost impossible to police. Thus, it was easy for the scoundrels to continue their illegal activities.

The area was also known as one where mine workers from Mozambique and Zimbabwe were recruited to work in the gold mines of the Witwatersrand. Even this at first was an illegal activity as it was not allowed to recruit people from north of the 22nd degree latitude line. This only became legal when, after the Second World War (1939-1945) the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA) obtained the concession to recruit mineworkers. They also improved the road.

It is known that the area was visited by Captain Frederick Elton in 1870. This was when he passed the place today known as Crooks Corner while travelling with a flat bottom boat on the Limpopo River, between the Shashe River and Portugese East Africa.

The main route to Crooks Corner was known as the old hunters road or Ivory Trail and ran between Crooks Corner and the station at Soekmekaar. This trail was merely a rugged track passing Makuleke’s village, Bobomeni, Baobab Hill, Klopperfontein (Shinkhuwa), Dimbye ra Shikokololo (Punda Maria) Shirindi, Fonsecas, Little Letaba and Lebjelebore, ending at Soekmekaar on the Selati railway line. Klopperfontein got its name from a hunter, Hans Klopper. He used to camp at this fountain.

Crooks Corner had many historical characters linked to its rich history. The best known person was Stephanus Cecil Rutgert Barnard, who was an elephant hunter between 1910 and 1929 in the area. He was heavily involved in the illegal ivory trade, made his camp close to the border beacon and moved this around to ensure he literally stays on the ‘right side of the law’, depending on which police force (of the three mentioned countries) arrived to arrest him. He also worked as recruiting officer for the mines. He preferred the name Cecil, but the local people named him Bvekenya (meaning ‘the one who swaggers when he walks’).

He was however caught by the British South African Police from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) once, early in 1918, despite the fact that he was not on their side of the border. He was fined and returned to Crooks Corner. Here he found the WNLA building a post as they now had the alone mandate to recruit labour. He joined them until 1923 when he returned to his illegal hunting activities.

Another well-known character was Thomas Dorlain (Buck) Buchanan, a Canadian who fought on the British side during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). In 1912 he became the store manager of the shop at Makuleke, built by Alex Thompson and William Pye and stayed there until 1919. He married Xalati Tsale Mbokweni, one of the local inhabitants and stayed here until 1920. Another Canadian, Bill Milligan, was appointed as storekeeper hereafter. The shop was later sold to Mortimer Walton (Morty) Ash.

Thompson and Pye built the mentioned shop in 1910 which became the general gathering place in the days of Crooks Corner. It was nothing more than a corrugated-iron shack, but apparently there was also three rondavels.

Thompson, who was the owner, sold it to the firm Borchers and Angelbach. W Borchers then sold it to Ash. Borchers also hunted elephants and was also outlawed by both Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Mozambique. Together with Barnard and Fred Roux they poached until the late 1920’s. Roux was captured, but the other two not. This was mainly due to their effective warning system, making use of black spies and using drums as signs of warning. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Borchers sold the store to Sam Majika. Majika traded here until the mid of 1950 after which John Fernandez demolished the building and used the material to erect two stores, one at Gwalala and one at Pafuri. When the area became part of the Kruger National Park in 1969, these shops were removed.

An Australian named Jack Forde bought the shop from Thompson. He left the area (and probably sold the shop to Borchers) but returned later and made trouble as far as he went.

William Pye was an Irishman who also fought against the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War. He also became a recruiting agent at Crooks Corner. He served as ‘doctor’ and undertaker in the area. The people who died under his care are buried at his camp, along the Limpopo River, close to the current Manqeva outpost and Dakamila Pan. Together with Barnard, Roux, Ledeboer (see below) and Diegal (see below) they founded a recruiting syndicate. Their opposition was Theo Williams, a Greek with the name Considine, a Swede named Colson, a Welshman named John Dart and a Hungarian named Wieder.

Considine died of malaria and was buried at Pye’s camp. One story goes that he had buried gold in his hut, but everyone who has searched for it has done so in vain. A prospector named Lumley now took over Considine’s camp. The hut was later occupied by a man named Mdoseni. Williams also was a Welshman. After his business partners left him, he worked alone until he left the area in 1917. Charlie Diegal was a German, who apparently loved drinking. After being attacked by a buffalo, the Portuguese captured him. According to Bulpin he died in jail in Luanda, but according to Pienaar he escaped to German South West Africa (Namibia).

Leonard Henry Ledeboer was also working in the Crooks Corner area. He also fought on British side during the Anglo-Boer War. After the war he became recruiting officer at Crooks Corner, working with Barnard. In 1921 he was appointed as ranger in the park. The appointment of Johannes Jacobus (Kat) Coetser as first ranger of Punda Maria in 1919 was the start of bringing to end the illegal hunting in the area.

In 1918 a man called Hendrik Hartman came to the area. He and Barnard decided to start a sheep farm in the Soutpansberg, but Hartman died tragically before this venture could be undertaken. He is also buried in the cemetery at Pye’s camp. Pye, who died of the Great Flu epidemic in 1918, was also buried here.

An interesting character of Crooks Corner was Bill Lusk, alias Texas Jack. He used to be a member of a ‘Wild West Circus’ and therefore a particularly good rifleman. He came to the area as prospector and apparently did find alluvial gold in the Shingwedzi River, at Ribye-ra-Khubyane, today known as Red Rocks. Crooks Corner also had nobility, namely the Swedish Baron Cedarström, who seems to be a very notorious character. He fought on the side of the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War. He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Paardeberg and sent to St. Helena as prisoner-of-war.

Other figures include the three brothers, Herklaas, Theunis and Jan de Beer[7] who worked for Barnard until 1914. Another Irishman, Pat Fay, was a retired policeman who became a weapons smuggler at Crooks Corner. Other characters in Crooks Corner mentioned in literature, are the Snyders brothers, Frikkie Roux[ and Charlie Green.

In 1929 Barnard left the area. Hereafter, the ranger at Punda Maria, R Hewitt Ivy, started controlling the fight against poaching activities, resulting in all the old characters of the area deciding to leave. Ivy was nicknamed Gungunyane[9] and was assisted by Joe Albasini (Juwawa) grandson of the legendary Joao Albasini, and who was appointed as Native Commissioner at Sibasa.

Ivy was mainly responsible for the removal of all local black people from the Makuleke area in 1935. They were allowed back in 1937. However, in 1969 they were permanently removed. In 1972 the area became part of the Kruger National Park. It was later returned to the Makuleke and an agreement was reached regarding the land remaining part of the park to ensure the preservation thereof.

Remains of the shop of Alex Thompson

Information plaque at the shop of Thompson.

Remains of possibly a store room at the shop of Alex Thompson