TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
The farm, now known as Kurisa Moya, with its bowl of forest and huge granite dome, forming "Schnellskop" has always been recognized as an important and spiritually powerful area to the siPedi people living in the area. It has been used by local Sangomas (Shamans) to consult with their ancestors and to collect medicinal plants. There are some standing stones which are believed to be rock-gongs, used by Shamans to call on the ancestors for assistance and a graveyard for the Mavathlela family.
For decades, forests have been central to the development of the area running from Polokwane (Pietersburg) down the Magoebaskloof Pass to the lowveld. The BaLobedu tribe moved into the foothills of the Woodbush mountain range in the 17th century, establishing the matriarchal kingdom of Modjadji, the Rain Queen. The 350 hectare Cycad Forest Reserve boasts the world's largest concentration of the Modjadji Cycad, Encephalartos transvenosus as well as some of the largest specimens.
Modern recorded history starts around the 1870's - 1880's when a group of intrepid woodcutters moved to the area to harvest the indigenous hardwood trees of the forests which was sent down to meet the needs of the growing city of Johannesburg. A small, tough, but thriving community grew around this industry and before 1900 there were more than 40 families living in a community known as Houtbosdorp.
According to local ecologist, Cathy Dzerefos, “Felling of indigenous trees in the Woodbush forest to supply the Witwatersrand and Polokwane was started by five deserters from the Thirteenth Light Infantry after the Sekhukhune campaign of 1879. Arthur Eastwood, the first Government Forestry Officer arrived in 1903 with the task of halting indiscriminate felling. Indigenous timber was used to construct wagons, carts, buildings, furniture and mine supports.”
As the Government revised its policy on felling the giant Yellowwoods and other indigenous trees, the remaining stretches of unclaimed forest were surveyed and protected by the first Forestry Officer, Arthur Eastwood. His daughter, Awdry (Googoo) Thompson recalls the move in her autobiography Between Woodbush and Wolkberg: “Our living conditions in the early days at Woodbush were primitive to say the least. At first we camped, a small bell tent providing the only shelter we had against the elements…In February, the rains came and Mother and I were compelled to move in with the Hirschmanns at Houtbosdorp. Their house, a long building, still stands today behind their old shop.”
One of the five deserters from the Thirteenth Light Infantry was Jock Schnell, who was allocated a piece of land called Sterkloop farm. Kurisa Moya is the central part of the original Sterkloop farm which was bought by Sir Lionel Phillips (The Chairman of the Chamber of Mines) in approximately 1913. He started farming turnips and lucerne for his polo ponies and cattle feed to supply a dairy herd on his other farm (Broederstroom) nearby. Many trees on the farm were planted by Lady Florence Phillips who was an avid gardener including the oak lane on Kurisa Moya’s original entrance road. Phillips wrote, “My energetic wife lived up there for many months and planted miles of oak avenues along the roads.”
The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war changed the face of the country in a few short years but the most dramatic episode was when Pietersburg was occupied by the British forces for the first time in April 1901. General Beyers withdrew his commando to Houtboschberg, leaving part of his troops under Daan de Villiers while he went for reinforcements in Louis Trichardt. De Villiers mounted the Long Tom cannon on a prominent hill overlooking the roads to Smitsdrift and Houtbosdorp. When the British came in hot pursuit and the cannon failed to stop their advance, the Long Tom was packed with dynamite and blown to pieces, leaving only a twisted heap of metal for the British troops who occupied the towns and set up heliograph stations on top of the Iron Crown and Schnellskop.
The farm manager, Mr Maurice O'Donovan, bought the farm from Sir Phillips in the late 1920's, building the farm-house in a central position on the property. Mrs Dorothy O'Donovan landscaped the beautiful gardens, with terraces stretching for kilometres above and below the house. Duck ponds, ornamental bamboo and the orchards can still be found near the farmhouse today.
Author, John Buchan, visited and fell in love with the area and vowed that, “Hereabouts, when my ship comes home, I shall have my country house... My house will be long and low with broad wings, built of good stone, whitewashed with a thatched roof... cool and fresh with stone floors and big fireplaces, good pictures and books, with wildfowl on the lake and trout in the streams.” He could have been describing Kurisa Moya’s farmhouse, which was originally built under thatch.
The farm, then called Glendower, was mainly used for cattle and cash crops, like maize, vegetables and cattle feed as well as the harvesting of indigenous timber and cattle farming. Saw pits can still be seen in the forest where hardwood trees were felled and sawed into planks.
The population began to expand when the South African government offered free land to white settlers in this area (on condition that they do commando duty when trouble arose with local tribes). Many farmers and woodcutters settled in the Koedoes Valley; the Houtboschberge (Woodbush mountains) as well as near Modjadjiskloof and around Haenertsburg where gold was discovered in the 1880’s. A census held in 1890, showed the differences. Of the 186 white inhabitants of Haenertsburg and surrounds, only 16 were women and the rest were men prospecting for gold. Houtbosdorp’s white woodcutter community of 1031 people showed a more family-orientated mix of men, women and children.
There was a one-man school at Houtbosdorp on the farm Kratzenburg and one at the Berlin Mission Station at Mpome run by Reverend Knothe. The church at modern day Masia Lama is still central to this largely Lutheran Community near Houtbosdorp.
Local historian, Professor Louis Changuion notes: “The great expectations had been disappointing, and where the community and the village had for a while been dependant on gold, it would be wood that most of them would look to for the future. This time it would not be indigenous wood from the Woodbush forests, but exotic timber that has been planted and processed here.” In fact when General Piet Joubert, after whom Pietersburg was named, was deciding on the best location of a capital city for the then Northern Transvaal, Houtbosdorp was a hot contender. Nowadays all that’s left of the town is the original General Dealer, which was then the place to meet, fill up on supplies and collect precious letters from across the oceans.
Houtbosdorp is just over the mountain from Moria, Zion City which was formed in 1924 by Egenas Lekganyane and which attracts many of its 15 million congregants every Easter.
Nearby Magoebaskloof is named for Chief Mampokhu Makgoba, leader of the BaTlou tribe. Over a thousand Swazi impis and 800 burghers had been sent by Abel Erasmus and had had eventually tracked him high into his mountaintop domain above Tzaneen in the north of the country. He and his 500 fighting men were discovered hiding in the dense kloof and, vastly outnumbered, Makgoba was killed. His head was chopped off and brought back as proof that he had finally been defeated.
Up until then, the Boer colonisers had been outmaneuvered by the chief’s superior knowledge of the rugged terrain. Makgoba had been a thorn in their side as they pushed further north into the fertile reaches of the country because he refused to pay taxes or give up his ancestral land. General Piet Joubert lost patience and instructed Abel Erasmus’ Lydenburg commando along with the skilled Swazi trackers to find him and finish him off. The General later wrote in a report to Paul Kruger that it was a pity that such a brave man should have died in that manner.
Since that day in 1895, Chief Makgoba has continued to exert his influence from the grave. Immediately after his death, his noble head was displayed for all to see and eventually ended up in a Pretoria museum. But some years ago, the head mysteriously disappeared and was rumoured to have ended up in Europe – it has not yet been recovered. The mountainous area was named Magoebaskloof in tribute to his tribe and a bronze bust of Makgoba was placed at the Magoebaskloof Hotel, looking down into the valley where he met his end. This bronze head also went missing a short while later, only to be found again after some years at a roadside stall on the Abel Erasmus Mountain Pass. The irony is almost too much to be believed. Makgoba’s bust is once again back at the hotel which bears his name but rumours still abound regarding the whereabouts of his real head.
Today, Makgoba’s kingdom is better known for the spectacular scenery to be glimpsed through towering pines clinging to the sheer mountainside as you take the roller-coaster ride down the hairpin bends of the Magoebaskloof Pass into the lowveld. Even here Chief Makgoba had an influence because the workers clearing the terrain for the road refused to chop down a specific stand of trees because Makgoba was said to have been buried there. The route was detoured around the site, adding yet another bend to the road. The precipitous pass winding through the kloof regularly detours trucks with heavy loads into the undergrowth as it did in the 1890’s when the Zeederburg Coaches travelled the frightening descent from Haenertsburg to Leydsdorp with a team of mules, horses and even zebras.
The property now know as Kurisa Moya was bought by Mr Hauter, an ex-army officer, after the Second World War. Mr Hauter was originally a German citizen living in Tanzania who returned to Germany to fight in the Second World War, where he commanded an Indian Battalion fighting against the British. After the war, he returned to Africa and bought the farm now known as Kurisa Moya.
He was a successful farmer and developed much of the infrastructure on the farm; building roads, dams, irrigation systems and farm-lands. His best crops were carnations and granadillas. Farming was tough in the area as water was always scarce and the lack of level land made farming marginal.
Mr Hauter retired to Pietersburg / Polokwane and sold the farm in the 1970's to Mr Day, who started a saw mill to harvest some of the timber planted in the past. He also planted more pine and gum on the farm.
The farm then passed on to Mr Anderson who had the farm for about 20 years. He developed the plantations on the farm, but was an absentee landlord and his family mostly stayed at the farm during the holidays and weekends, living as they did, in Pretoria. The present owners bought the farm from Mr Anderson in November 1999 and established the Nature Lodge on the farm. The rest, as they say, is history.