Waterberg history


Included here is a collection of books and reports about the Waterberg that specifically touch on aspects of the region’s past. There are probably many other references in this regard that we are not aware of and we’d welcome their inclusion. Richard Wadley is thanked for providing much of the material that has been included below.

Recently added: Waterberg Ways.

Wildflowers of the Waterberg

Richard Wadley (2023): Waterberg Ways

The large migration, mostly of the younger generation, to the cities, from the 1970’s onwards, was spurred to a large degree by the increasing opportunities for employment and availability of education and entertainment. The result was that the South African “platteland” until recently remained largely unexplored and unexploited by city dwellers. For the past 25 years there has been a dramatic shift away from cattle farming in the Waterberg with the introduction of large quantities of game into farms formerly utilized almost entirely for food and tobacco production. Lodges and other accommodation, including holiday farms, gradually became more readily available thus assisting to facilitate the expanding game breeding industry. The result of all this was an affluence hitherto unknown to the Waterberg region, leading to the creation of many new ventures and industries and thus affording the region a welcome injection of cash and know-how and at the same time fuelling general interest in the region as a whole. These events, in turn, stimulated a largely dormant information sector leading to a rapid increase in books, periodicals and minor publications now appearing more regularly and thus creating renewed interest in the Waterberg and its offerings while at the same time satisfying the curiosity of prospective local and overseas visitors.

Richard Wadley’s well presented, easy to read, highly entertaining and well-researched book includes fascinating stories and anecdotes narrated or written by locals past and present, which dovetails nicely into the already available literature on the Waterberg and its people and contributes largely to an up to now seemingly under-explored niche. Waterberg ways is not a novel or storybook as such, nor does it attempt to be an historical treatise; the stories being too wide and varied. Perhaps it can be best described as adding another important piece to the puzzle which is the Waterberg.

Braam Beneke, May 2023

Wildflowers of the Waterberg

Lyn Wadley, Linda Willemse, Kerry Baytopp, Jonathan Swart, Joseph Heymans, Warwick & Michèle Tarboton (2021): Wildflowers of the Waterberg.

Wildflowers of the Waterberg is an immensely attractive and user-friendly guide to the flora of this extraordinary area. Clear photographs of whole plants plus close-ups of flowers, combined with an accessible text, make for easy identification. No nature-lover visiting the Waterberg should be without a copy.

John Manning, 2021

A sample of the book can be seen here.

Waterberg o Waterberg

Aletius Botha, geredigeer deur Pieter Prinsloo (2021): Waterberg O Waterberg! Vergete stories uit die Waterberg.

Hierdie bundel is ‘n samestelling van volksvertellinge (kontrei stories). Die vertellinge word gegroepeer in agt hoofstukke en in elke hoofstuk word die vertellinge gevleg deur die land se geskiedenis en internasionale gebeure, en gevleg deur die lewenswyses van mense in die kontrei van toeka tot nou.

Hierdie bundel is nie ‘n geskiedenis verhandeling nie, en die verwerker maak mildelik gebruik van fiktiewe dialoog, en sekerlik fiktiewe karakters. Die gebruik van hierdie tegniek word beskryf in die voorwoord. Daar word ook gebruik gemaak van fotos wat die eras waardeur die vertellinge beweeg illustreer, maar wat nie noodwendig van gebeure in die Waterberg is nie.

Kontrei stories is ‘n belangrike komponent van ‘n volk se kulturele herkoms en geskiedenis. Hierdie bundel sal dus aanklank vind by mense wat belangstel in kultureel historiese vertellinge.

Johann Coetzee, November 2021

Veldboek Gedigte

Johann Lodewyk Marais (2020): Veldboek: gedigte.  Imprimatur Uitgewers. 

An extract from the book:

Diospyros lycioides subsp. guerkei

Jy sê ek moet 'n gedig skryf
oor hierdie hemelse bessie.
Het die gode om nagvure
hieroor gepraat? In die oksels
van blare die geslag sien hang
met helmknoppe digharig?
Die kroon roomkleurig en vrug rooi
in die bos gewaar? Het hulle
die goddelike oes geken
en saam met die wilde gefuif
snags dronkmansliedere oor dié
ronde, lustige drag gesing?

Waterberg Echoes

Richard Wadley (2019): Waterberg Echoes. Protea Book House.

Having just completed reading the 832 page Waterberg Echoes from cover to cover I am over-awed by the task that Richard Wadley set himself 15 years ago, and which he has now successfully accomplished. Namely, to put on record, most eloquently, the diverse and complex but equally fascinating history of the Waterberg. To use Richard's own words “Its history is replete with stories of prejudice, suffering, struggle and misfortune, exploitation of the weak by the powerful, of the ignorant by the cunning, and of the oppressed by the rulers. Yet among them are accounts of outstanding selflessness, courage in adversity, endurance, faith, perseverance and hope”. Richard traces the innumerable threads that build the story from interviewing many long-time residents in the region, by sifting through old diaries and journals, and combing the relevant archives at museums, universities, churches, town municipal records and minutes, newspapers and gazettes, and more.

The 20 chapters start with a review of the prehistory of the Waterberg, this section written by Lyn Wadley, a renowned archaeologist who has been closely involved in archaeological research in the region. It follows with a review of the complex history of settlement and displacement of Sotho, Ndebele, Matabele and other groups, especially along the Waterberg's eastern boundary, and then the arrival of the early trekkers into the region (Chapter 4 'The Wild West'). And so events unfold, the surveying and registering of farms, the monopolisation of great chunks of the Waterberg by speculators, principally overseas companies staking their claim to perceived mining opportunities, the birth and growth of Modimolle, Vaalwater, Lephalale and other towns in the region, the history of the missions and churches, and the tragedy and long-term consequences of the Anglo-Boer war. There is an insightful chapter on how malaria, tsetse-fly and bilharzia have played their part in the evolving settlement of the Waterberg and another on its geology which spells out why the wealth of mineral deposits that surround the Waterberg are essentially absent here. As one turns the pages one is constantly aware of the turbulence of the times.

The book is beautifully illustrated with innumerable, meticulously drawn maps, photographs and line drawings. Many photographs capture the imagination; there is an undated one, for example, showing a nagmaal scene with a dozen or more outspanned wagons drawn up in the bare veld around the original building of the Gereformeerde Kerk in Modimolle, and another from 1925 showing the arrival of the first train in Vaalwater with flags flying, strings of bunting and crowds of onlookers.

It is not only a reference book par excellence for the Waterberg but also a book that you can dip into anywhere and become absorbed. Thank you Richard for creating this precious asset for us Waterbergers. It is a book that should be on the shelf of every home in the region.

Warwick Tarboton, October 2019

Leon Rousseau (1974): Die Groot Verlange – Die verhaal van Eugene Marais. Translated as The Dark Stream. The story of Eugene Marais.

Eugene Marais's name is synonymous with the Waterberg and the evocative essay describing his arrival here - “The road to Waterberg” (can be downloaded here) - is one of his best-known works. Leon Rousseau's book shown alongside pieces together the story of the ten years he spent here. Johann Lodewyk Marais' 2009 piece adds to this.

At the age of 36 (in 1906 or 1907) he made the move from city life, attracted, perhaps, to the Waterberg by the idea of prospecting as he established himself on a farm outside Naboomspruit where a number of prospectors were investigating a tin deposit. This was the farm Doornhoek and he bought a prospecting licence from the owner, built himself a shack on the property and teamed up with another prospector. A ravine ran through Doornhoek and in it lived a large troop of baboons that became the focus of his interest and the subject of an enduring study the results of which, years later, was published under the title “The soul of the ape”.

Doorhoek was taken over in 1908 by a Johannesburg-based mining company and he had to move on. By then he'd befriended several neighbouring farmers and one nearby couple, Gys and Maria van Rooyen invited him to live on their farm, Rietfontein. Rietfontein is the present-day site of Die Oog and several other hot spring resorts and it was to provide Eugene Marais with a base for much of the time that he lived in the Waterberg. As time went on he became well known in the area, serving as the medical officer for the Doornhoek mine for a couple of years, attending to the medical needs of farmers in the area, keeping a range of animals including baboons, crocodiles and warthog, dabbling in farming with cattle and horses, going on hunting trips with friends, writing numerous essays and poems that were published in newspapers and magazines and all the while continuing his studies of baboons and other animals. He also made a study of termites on Rietfontein and published this as “Die siel van die mier” (The soul of the white ant) in Die Burger and Huisgenoot. The study was to become the basis of a classic case of academic plagiarism when, in 1926, a Dutch scientist published it almost word for word under his own name.

Eugene also spent half a year living with Gys's brother Piet who lived not far away on Purekrans, the farm where the endangered cycad, Encepholatus eugene-maraisi, that is named after him, is to be found. Throughout his adult life Eugene Marais was debilitated by his addiction to morphine and in his last years in the Waterberg when his drug supply became problematic, withdrawal symptoms played havoc with his physical and mental health. When the news that he was reaching the end of his tether reached his friends in Pretoria, his son fetched him from Rietfontein and brought his father back to town. And so, in early 1916, Eugene Marais left the Waterberg, never to return.

The map alongside shows the area where Eugene Marais spent most of his time in the Waterberg.

Eugene Marais books

Eugene Marais books

Eugene N Marais (1969): The Soul of the Ape. Human & Rousseau.

Eugene Marais was a complex man. He was a well-respected poet, early Afrikaner intellectual, journalist, advocate, hypnotist and naturalist. And he was a tormented drug addict.

The Soul of the Ape is an incomplete manuscript, published 33 years after his death. Marais made observations of baboon social behaviour in the early 1900 and was by all accounts working on the manuscript by 1922. He died in 1936.

He used the Darwinian method (see Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selections in Relation to Sex, Ch III and IV, 1871), of describing the behaviour of lower animals to understand the behaviour of man.

This incomplete, and therefore unrefined, manuscript should be seen as a very early exposition in the modern discipline of evolutionary psychology. However, it is not about the psyche of baboons, it is rather an attempt to understand the psyche of mankind. One can only surmise that he was trying to understand himself.

Johann Coetzee, July 2018

Eugene Marais

Leon Rousseau (1984): Eugene N. Marais – Versamelde Werke. 2 vols, 1296 pages. Van Schaik: Pretoria.

A collection of some but not all the writings of Eugene Marais. Of interest for Waterbergers are the chapters “Die Siel van die Mier” (documenting EM's research on termites on Rietfontein) and “The soul of the Ape” (EM's research on baboons on Doornhoek). There is also a chapter titled “The road to the Waterberg” which includes EM's shorter essays and poems written with a Waterberg theme.

Liz Hunter

Elizabeth Hunter (2010): Pioneers of the Waterberg – a photographic journey. 128 pages. Privately published.

Using family diaries and old photographs Liz traces her family's history from the great grandfather's arrival in the Waterberg in 1886 to the present. It provides a fascinating day-to-day account of the lives of those early settlers and is beautifully illustrated with numerous evocative photographs, many taken more than a century ago.

Lex Rodger book

Lex Rodger (2000): Vintage Waterberg and Timeless Waterberg. Privately published.

Lex Rodger lived for many years on the family farm Stepping Stones (now absorbed into Entabeni Nature Reserve) and these two slim volumes provide a wealth of information on events, neighbouring landowners, Waterberg lore and, especially, on Lex's first love, the trees of the area.

Clive Walker

Clive Walker & Koos du P Bothma (2005): The soul of the Waterberg. 187 pages. Waterberg Publishers & African Sky Publishing: Johannesburg.

Provides a lavishly illustrated account of the geology, geomorphology, archaeology, cultural heritage and fauna & flora of the Waterberg, concluding with a detailed account of Eugene Marais and his writings from the ten years he spent in the Waterberg.

Swaershoek in die Waterberge

Louis Trichardt (2016): Swaershoek in die Waterberg – Afrikanner erfenis of niemandsland? Privately published.

The author is a fifth generation descendent of the famous trekker of the same name. His father (or perhaps it was grandfather?) married into the Enslin family who were one of the five families that constituted the trekker group known as the 'Jerusalemgangers'. This group left Marico in 1858 on a journey intended to take them to the Holy Land but on reaching the Nyl river (so-named by them according to legend) they instead settled in the district, some close to Nylstroom others spreading out further west. The Enslins settled on Renosterkloof at the base of Trichardt's Pass where their descendents continue to live today. The book traces the tumultous events in the lives of the successive generations. Swaershoek is so-named after the five swaers (brothers-in-law) who constituted the Jerusalemgangers.

Renosterkloof signboard

FARM NAMES - Many of the registered names for Waterberg farms carry animal names. There are, for example, 16 (like the one alongside) that use the name renoster (rhinoceros) tagged to -kloof, -poort, -kop, -hoek or -hoekspruit, -spruit, -drift, and so on. Twenty-one use the name buffel (buffalo) and top of the list is hartbees or hartebees in which 24 farms in the Waterberg are thus-named.

Other animal's names are also used but less frequently, eland being used in 7, gemsbok 6, lion (leeu-), zebra (kwagga-) and duiker 4 each, elephant (olifant-), reedbuck (rietbok-) 3, and steenbok 1. It does suggest that in the late 1800s when the Waterberg farms were surveyed and named, lion and elephant had almost disappeared from the district but rhino and buffalo were still found sufficiently widely to have farms named after them.

Trees get some recognition: boekenhout and tambotie (each used for 5 farm names) geelhout (for 4), fig (vyeboom, 3) and marula (maroela, 1). Unsurprisingly, given the rocky and/or sandy nature of much of the Waterberg, sand and rock feature strongly in farm names – there are 16 bearing the name sand (Zand-) and 16 with rock (Klip-).

Perhaps the most curious of all the farm names in the Waterberg is Kiss-Me-Quick-And-Go My-Honey 794 LR which lies just north of the Kloof Pass. The story behind this name is covered in RF Odendaal's book "Noord Transvaal op Kommando", reviewed below.

Roelf Odendaal (1995): Waterberg op Kommando, 1899 - 1902. Privately published, Nylstroom.

This book deals mainly with the involvement in the Anglo-Boer War, of the people of the Waterberg. It focusses primarily on the role of Gen Christiaan Beyers in the war effort while others such as Jan du Plessis de Beer, Freek and S.P.Grobler and Gen Hendrik Schoeman also feature prominently. Some reference is also made to Eugene Marais although he played no part in the war having been overseas for its duration. The scorched earth policy, employed by the British soldiers, and the internment of woman and children in the Concentration Camp at Nystroom, also receive ample coverage.
"Waterberg op Kommando" was followed up in 2002 by a book by the same author with the title "Noord-Transvaal op Kommando" (see summary elsewhere) which gives a much more comprehensive account of the aspects covered here.

Braam Beneke, April 2018.

R.F.Odendaal (2000): Noordtransvaal op kommando. Jotha Printers.

In this relatively voluminous treatise, the author endeavours to reconstruct the participation of the "burgers" of the former Northern Transvaal in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. He discusses perceived ambivalent conceptions about the behaviour of certain individuals, large-scale division amongst the white population, the role of traitors, the scorched earth policy employed by the British soldiers, the internment of women and children in concentration camps and the resultant post-war bitterness and poverty. A major part of the book deals with the influence of individuals, especially Boer leaders such as Generals Beyers, Viljoen and Botha.

Braam Beneke, April 2018.

R.F.Odendaal (2000): Waterberg word gekersten. Privately published (with technical assistance from Jotha printers).

The author attempts to piece together the demographics of the Waterberg region during the middle to late 19th century in an effort to shed more light on the endeavours of various church organisations and individuals to spread the Christian doctrine to the then widespread local population. He sets the tone by applying several postulations, derived from various sources, amongst others official and unofficial publications and whatever other material available. At the heart of these postulations is the frequent wars and skirmishes between local indigenous tribes, the repeated droughts and overgrazing which led to a degree of nomadicism. The Anglo Boer war at the turn of the century, in which the British forces applied a scorched earth policy, caused terrible havoc and destruction to further unsettle the already sparse population, both black and white. He further speculates that even the slavery committed by the ruling local tribes had a profound effect on the population demographics of the Waterberg during that time. This brings him to conclude that the Waterberg region during most of the 19th century was, as he describes it, "woes en leeg" (desolate and empty).

Braam Beneke, April 2018.


William Taylor, Gerald Hinde & David Holt-Biddle (2003): The Waterberg: the natural splendours and the people. Struik, Cape Town.

A coffee-table presentation of key aspects of the history, culture, scenery and biodiversity of the Waterberg plateau and surrounding areas.

Ian Finlay (2011): Welgevonden: An African Wilderness Reborn. Firefinch Publications, Dublin.

The author, a noted photographer and Welgevonden resident, has compiled a magnificent selection of images of the fauna and scenery of this iconic Waterberg reserve.

Clive Walker (2016): Lapalala Wilderness in the Waterberg. Jacana Media, Johannesburg.

A privately-funded coffee-table book about the establishment and development of the Lapalala Wilderness private game reserve.

14 E.E. Burke (ed) (1969): The Journals of Carl Mauch 1869-1872. National Archives of Rhodesia, Salisbury.

This record contains the earliest-known written account of a journey across the Waterberg plateau, in November/December 1869. Pp 25-35.

Sas Kloppers (2013): A Dictionary of the Artists of the Waterberg. Dream Africa Productions, Bela-Bela. www.dreamafrica.ws.

A comprehensive, though not exhaustive collation of artists who have lived and worked in the Waterberg, together with examples of their work.

Chris Wagner (2010): Waterberg-Bosveld – Prikkelgids vir Veldbewaring. Hoogland Uitgewers / PNA Bela Bela.

A Waterberg resident has produced this small, stimulating guide to veld management based on his experience as a farmer and conservationist in the Warmbad area for over 45 years.

Maria M van der Ryst (1998): The Waterberg Plateau ... in the Later Stone Age. BAR International Series 715. Archaeopress, Oxford, UK.

The only comprehensive, professional publication so far about the early human history of the area, up until the arrival of white settler farmers.

Three privately published volumes that describe the founding and growth of the various Dutch Reformed Churches and their communities in Modimolle, Vaalwater and Melkrivier from 1865 to the present.

C. Louis Leipoldt (1937, 1980): Bushveld Doctor. Human & Rousseau, Cape Town.

An autobiographical account of the career of the first Schools Medical Inspector of the Transvaal in the period following World War 1 by the renowned medical doctor, natural historian, Afrikaans poet and writer. Leipoldt visited many rural schools in the Waterberg and Bushveld, and described the primitive, unhygienic and disease-wracked conditions he encountered there.

Stephanie Rohrbach (2013): Healing Rhinos and other souls: The Extraordinary Fortunes of a Bushveld Vet. Privately published. www.peppertreechronicles.com.

A warm and amusing account of the career of a beloved and highly regarded vet, the late Dr Walter Eschenburg, who spent most of a 50 year career working among domestic and wild animals in and around the Waterberg.

Rupert Baber (ed) (2009): The Waterberg Meander, Volume 1. Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, Vaalwater, Limpopo.

The first brief travellers’ guide to the essential scenic, geological, archaeological and cultural sites of the eastern part of the Waterberg Plateau, with detailed route maps and accommodation listings.

Pamela Oberem (2009): The Lazarus Funeral Parlour. Umuzi Press, Roggebaai.

The well-known veterinarian puts aside her professional role to write an entertaining novel about morals, intrigue and scandal in a typical Waterberg town.

Lee Gutteridge (2008): The South African Bushveld – a field guide from the Waterberg. Southbound, Johannesburg.

Born in England, Gutteridge came to South Africa as a teenager and, at the time of writing this book, had been working and living with his family on the Entabeni Safari Conservancy for about five years.

This well-illustrated field guide containing about 1800 colour photographs, includes colour page edges to facilitate easy referencing, guiding readers to the appropriate pages for identifying a vast number of species including animals, reptiles, other fauna as well as the flora found in this region - a handy tool in assisting the reader in discovering this treasure trove of the Waterberg.

Flowers, for instance, can be easily traced through their matching colour bars, while the sections pertaining to the trees found in this region, include a chart giving the distribution patterns of leaves and other related aspects such as shape and size.

Also in this field guide are contributions from several experts in the fields of, inter alia, amphibians, birds and reptiles.

Braam Beneke, April 2019.

Voëls by die Oog

Rudolph Oosthuizen (2018): Voëls by die Oog.

Rudolph Oosthuizen is ’n inwoner van Die Oog Aftreelandgoed. Hy het ’n passie vir voëls en is ook ’n uitstekende voëlfotograaf. Sy boek “Voëls by die Oog” het soos die titel aandui sy mede-inwoners van die aftreelandgoed as teiken gehoor. Dit is bedoel om ’n praktiese gids te wees vir natuurliefhebbers wat graag meer te wete wil kom oor tuinvoëls asook hoe om hulle te lok en te bevriend. Voëls by die Oog verskil heeltemal van die gewone veldgids vir voëls. In ’n lekker gemaklike verteltrant gee Rudolph raad oor hoe om voëls na jou tuin te lok met voëlvriendelike plante, die regte kos, planne vir die vervaardiging van voerders en die voorsiening van kunsmatige neste. Hy gee ook planne oor hoe om voëls mak te maak vir makliker bestudering. Bedreigings soos gif en huiskatte kry ook aandag. Die fotografie van voëls word breedvoerig bespreek. Al is die boek gemik op inwoners van die Oog is die oorgrote meerderheid van die inligting van toepassing op die Waterberge as geheel en selfs verder.

Chris van Zyl, August 2018.
Soul of the Leopard

Bosveld Jacobs (2018) Soul of the Leopard. 290 pp. Privately published.

Profusely illustrated with photographs of dead leopards draped over the shoulders, or beneath the butt of the rifle of a hunter, this anecdotal book is all about what one needs to know in order to kill leopards in the Waterberg. For those whose interest in leopards is having them as a trophy on the floor, or regard them as vermin and wish to know how best to get rid of them, this book will have appeal.

Warwick Tarboton, July 2019.
Eugene Marais

VE d'Assonville (2018) Eugène Marais en die Waterberge. 76 pp. Marnix 2008.


Since his death in 1936, at the age of 65, numerous books, articles and writings on the life and times of Eugène Marais, have seen the light. In fact one feels that just about everything known about this celebrated poet, journalist, scientist and medicine man, has been captured in writing by someone at some stage or other. The author of this particular book on Marais' life in the Waterberg, has, however, managed to produce some new insight into certain aspects of Marais' life, e.g. the chapters dealing with "The last Mapela murders" and Marais' interactions with the then chief of the Hereros. d'Assonville, a retired theologist and professor at the (then) University of Potchefstroom's book, "Eugène Marais en die Waterberge", published in 2008, will certainly be of interest to especially the younger reader, who could possibly be inspired to read and learn more about the Waterberg and it's rich history.

Braam Beneke, March 2020.

The cottage on Rietfontein (at Die Oog), now derelict, which Eugène Marais is reported to have used as his writing retreat.

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