Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) identified the need to establish a Liberation Heritage Route within the province that highlights the key freedom fighters, who fought for justice and freedom from oppression, as well as the destinations that featured prominently during the liberation struggle. During the research process, MTPA identified six towns that were extensively involved in the anti-apartheid liberation struggle, which resulted in a peaceful transition to democracy in 1994. These towns include: Bethal, Daggakraal, Ermelo, Saul Mkhizeville (formerly Driefontein), Secunda and Volksrust. The aim of the Liberation Heritage Route is primarily to attract local and international tourists to the various liberation heritage destinations that are linked to South Africa's liberation history.
Furthermore, each destination needs to be further developed so as to provide various tourism products and services that will encourage tourists to visit the Liberation Heritage Route in its entirety and also encourage them to remain longer in each destination, so as to support the local community and encourage the growth of the tourism sector in the region. In some cases, such as Bethal, tourism products and services are already well established, whereas in other cases they still need to be established and developed further. The Liberation Heritage Route is also very informative for learners and students and can be marketed as a history school or university tour.
However, these are not the only towns within the province that were home to various freedom fighters and involved in the grassroots liberation struggle. A number of towns have been identified that may be added to the route in the future. These include: Evander, Leandra and Standerton. Further research may identify more towns that could be added to the route.
Liberation Heritage Route Map
Below please find the link to the Liberation Heritage Route map that has been designed using Google maps. This map may be edited accordingly by accessing the editable file through Google Drive. It consists of three layers. The first layer demarcates the Liberation Heritage Route in terms of the towns and also includes a brief description of each town's liberation history, as will be uploaded onto the MTPA Travel Guide smartphone application. The second layer demarcates the driving route from one town to the next in the shape of a loop. And lastly the third layer indicates the average distances between each town.
This map may be embedded into a website page as a static png format photograph or may be uploaded in its current form, whereby tourists planning a trip to the area are able to download and edit it according to their specific travel plans.
Link to interactive Google Maps Liberation Heritage Route:
Bethal’s cultural precinct and Nomoya Masilela Museum pay homage to many of South Africa’s prominent liberation struggle heros, such as Richard 'Gert' Sibande, Nokuthula Simelane, Ruth First and Henry ‘Mr Drum’ Nxumalo.
The predominantly agricultural town of Bethal in Gert Sibande Municipality pays homage to many of South Africa’s prominent liberation struggle heros, including Richard ‘Gert’ Sibande, afer whom the district municipality was named in 2003. Bethal’s cultural precinct, in the centre of town, is in the shape of a ‘T’ and consists of a bronze statue of Sibande that looks in the direction of a statue of Nokuthula Simelane with the recently renovated Nomoya Masilela Museum in the background.
Despite having no formal schooling, in the 1930s Sibande, alongside fellow human rights activist and journalist Ruth First, helped expose the inhumane living and working conditions of black potato farm workers in the Bethal region in Drum Magazine. Sibande was a champion of the oppressed, who organised farm workers into South Africa’s first farm workers' association, so as to improve the socio-economic relations between farmer workers and their employers. He also supported the redistribution of land and became known as the Lion of the East. His towering statue depicts his ideological stature, which led him to become provincial president of the Transvaal African National Congress (ANC). He was one of the first accused in the Treason Trial that started in 1956, alongside Nelson Mandela and various other struggle activists, but was acquitted in 1961. While exiled in Swaziland, Sibande assisted members of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, to travel from Mozambique through Swaziland back to South Africa. He died of old age in Swaziland in 1987 and in April 2007 Sibande’s family received the order of Luthuli in Gold that was awarded to him by then President Thabo Mbeki.
A few steps away is a life-size statue of Simelane, who was a member of Umkhonto weSizwe and symbolises the hundreds of South Africans who, like her, went missing during the liberation struggle. Simelane served as an ANC courier between South Africa and Swaziland, while her father and uncle planned the routes to and from the targets and sheltered Umkhonto weSizwe members. In early September 1983 she was kidnapped from the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg by members of the Soweto Intelligence Unit, who had infiltrated ANC ranks – she thought that she was meeting with a fellow comrade. Simelane refused to become an informant and is believed to have been tortured to death on a farm near Thabazimbi, in present day Limpopo Province. While eight Soweto Security Branch operatives applied for amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for her detention and torture, no one took responsibility for her disappearance. The whereabouts of her remains are a mystery to this day, but her memory and sacrifice are immortalised here.
On the other side of Bethal cultural precinct is the Nomoya Masilela Museum, which was opened on 21 March 2012 – Human Rights Day – and is named in honour of the student from Mzinoni High School, who was shot dead during a 1980 student protest in the area. The museum, which is housed in the former Magistrate’s Court built in 1910, is a place of remembrance. This national monument includes 24 exhibitions and honours those who fell during the liberation struggle, it also houses Ruth First's and Henry ‘Mr Drum’ Nxumalo’s former prison cells.
Hint: Watch Betrayal, a documentary directed by Mark Kaplan about Simelane’s contribution to the liberation struggle and the mystery surrounding her disappearance.
The humble settlement of Daggakraal that overlooks the stretching landscapes of the highveld, is home to the Oxford-educated Dr Pixley Isaka Ka Seme, who established the precursor to the African National Congress (ANC).
The founding father of the African National Congress (ANC), Dr Pixley Isaka Ka Seme, hailed from the small highveld settlement of Daggakraal, not too far from Amersfoort. His ambition and luck led him to study abroad at Columbia University in New York and he later received his Civil Law degree at Oxford University in England. But his memories of home were too strong and he returned to South Africa on the eve of the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 to establish a private legal practice. Seme’s legal studies were his greatest asset in his fight for racial equality in the newly established union. In 1912 he founded the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), along with fellow African Lawyers Alfred Mangena, Richard Msimang and George Montsio. Not only was he the keynote speaker at the occasion, but his charisma also led him to be elected as the first treasurer-general. Seme believed in the regeneration of Africa and worked hard to conscientise non-white South Africans through the establishment of the multilingual SANNC newspaper, Abantu-Batho, which drew them to the political discourse that impacted their daily lives. It was only later, in 1923, that the political party’s name changed from SANNC to ANC.
The following year, Seme established the South African Native Farmers Association. It comprised of three main farms, namely Daggakraal, Driefontein and Driepan, which are significant sites of the South African Liberation Heritage Route. Its predominant concern was buying land, which led to the passing of the 1913 Land Act that prohibited non-whites from owning land in regions that were designated for whites only. His efforts for an equal society gained him recognition and he was granted an honourary doctorate by his alma mater, Columbia University, in 1928. But Seme was not without his critics: he was ANC president from 1930 to 1936, which coincided with the Great Depression; this was also a time when the party witnessed a decline for various reasons, such as the economic state and the rise in popularity of other parties like the ICU and CPSA.
Seme’s heart remained in Daggakraal and his home was a venue for ANC meetings, as was it a legal office. After his ANC presidential terms came to an end, he returned to his private law practice, where for the majority of 1940s he worked as an attorney at his downtown Johannesburg offices. Seme died in 1951 and the erection of his statue coincided with the ANC’s centenary celebrations in March 2012. Today, the local high school is named in recognition of his contribution to South Africa’s liberation struggle.
Ermelo played a pivotal role in South Africa’s liberation struggle as it was a stop over for the ANC’s Umkhonto weSizwe members who were travelling to Swaziland and Mozambique, and it also experienced forced removals during the 1960s. But the surrounding region is also brimming with cultural, natural and geographic attractions.
The ruins of Nyebe settlement – the District Six of Mpumalanga Province – lie a few minutes south of Ermelo city centre, near the current settlement of New Ermelo. Today, all that remains of Nyebe are house foundations overgrown with grass, dried up water wells, stairs that lead to nowhere and a turned over stone pillar from a shop that faced the main throughroad. Various artefacts have been discovered in the area and one can walk between the outlines of houses, along streets that are no more, to the imagined sounds of playing children. An aerial satellite image from Google Maps illustrates the scars of the former settlement.
While little is known about Nyebe, save for the stories that a few surviving community members and their children relate; the ruins tell the story of forced removals that occured across South Africa during apartheid. This non-white community of thousands of people was razed to the ground in the 1960s after it was reclassified a whites only area, according to the 1950 Group Area’s Act. This was done upon the request of the white farmers who had to drive through the community en route to their properties. The settlement was also rumoured to shelter members of Umkhonto weSizwe – the African National Congress’ (ANC) military wing – who were travelling from Johannesburg to Swaziland and onwards to Mozambique. The white farmers reported excessive movement and target shooting practise in Nyebe after nightfall.
The community was relocated to an old portion of Ermelo called Wesselton, six kilometres away, that had been demarcated as a black area by the apartheid government. Many community members moved back to the area and used the bulldozed bricks to rebuild their houses on the remaining foundations, but within a year of their return the Department of Bantu Affairs knocked everything down again. This time the apartheid government transported the bricks to the other side of the valley to make them difficult to access. The area seemed forgotten until recently, as a handful of children of former community members are moving back to the area after successful land claim bids through the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights.
Cenotaph Msukaligwa in Ermelo city centre honours all those liberation heros and heroines from the Gert Sibande District Municipality, who fought for racial equality in the liberation struggle. Their names have been inscribed in stone, so that we never forget the immensity of their personal sacrifice. The cenotaph is located near the World War II memorial.
The region also has much to boast about in terms of cultural, natural and geographic attractions. Ermelo is often used as a base by those wanting to explore the surrounding region, such as the stone circle ruins of the Bakoni people near Machadodorp, and Bonnefoi ghost town that was home to the internationally-acclaimed Everard group of artists, which later served as a resting stop for high-level ANC members travelling to Swaziland. The bushman rock art of the Thiqwa Caves, also known as La Rochelle Caves, are also a fascinating history lesson.
Hint: Read more about the famed Everard Group of artists here: www.everard-group.comErmelo Mobile App Write Up
The ruins of Nyebe settlement – the District Six of Mpumalanga Province – lie a few minutes south of Ermelo city centre. Today, all that remains of Nyebe are overgrown house foundations, dried up water wells and stairs that lead to nowhere. The ruins and aerial satellite images from Google Maps tell the story of forced removals that occured across South Africa during apartheid. This non-white community of thousands of people was razed to the ground in the 1960s after it was reclassified a whites only area, according to the 1950 Group Area’s Act.
The settlement was rumoured to shelter members of Umkhonto weSizwe – the ANC military wing – overnight, who were travelling from Johannesburg to Swaziland and Mozambique.
Cenotaph Msukaligwa in Ermelo city centre honours liberation heros from the Gert Sibande District Municipality, who fought for racial equality in the liberation struggle. But the region also has much to boast about in terms of cultural, natural and geographic attractions. Ermelo is often used as a base by those wanting to explore the surrounding region, such as the stone circle ruins of the Bakoni people near Machadodorp, Bonnefoi ghost town that was home to the internationally-acclaimed Everard group of artists, and the bushman rock art of the Thiqwa Caves (also known as La Rochelle Caves).
These Google satellite images still bear the scars illustrating where Nyebe settlement was located, just outside of Ermelo.
Most South Africans only know Secunda as an industrial and commercial centre, but the town has a liberation history that includes some of the country’s bravest freedom fighters, who died for democracy and racial equality.
Vincent Sekete (aka Sydney Sebephu) and Victor Khayiyane (aka Bongane Mthetwa) were members of the elite Umkhonto weSizwe Special Operations Unit led by the highly trained Richard Barney Molokoane (aka Mmutle Ramanase) and under the command of Joe Slovo. In 1982, they carried out an elaborate bombing of Sasol 1 and Sasol 2 petrochemical plants, which were important political and strategic targets to the apartheid government and NATO. The petrochemical plants burned for five days, which led the three to become known as The Sasol Three.
They worked as a unit and were killed by the South African Defence Force on 28 November 1985 during an ambush in Houtkop, outside Mkhondo (formerly Piet Retief), as they attempted to cross into Swaziland. They were buried in Thandakukhanya Township and exhumed between 10-12 December 1997 to be reburied. That year, Molokoane was posthumously honoured with the gold Order of the Mendi, by then president, Thabo Mbeki for his bravery and heroic military offences. He is believed to have told his mother: "You have three other sons. I belong to the nation, and the place where I will die will not be known by you, but I will not die running away from the police. I will not die from being shot in the back. I will die in battle, and until they shoot me in my forehead the battle will continue. The area where such a battle will occur will be razed by the burnt bushes and grass."
Another story of heroism is that of Patrick Chamusso, who was falsely arrested in 1980 by the South African Special Branch under the suspicion of conspiring with the ANC to bomb the Secunda oil refinery. Despite his innocence, he was detained for two months and severely tortured. Upon his release he fled to Mozambique, where he joined Umkhonto weSizwe, the military arm of the ANC. Joe Slovo – head of Umkhonto weSizwe and leader of the South African Communist Party – sent Chamusso to Angola for explosives training on how to destroy infrastructure without fatalities. After his return to South Africa, Chamusso single-handedly bombed the Sasol plant. The attack was carried out on Republic Day, a public holiday, so as to claim as few lives as possible – the ANC did not want to lose support by killing people.
Chamusso planned for the reactor land mine to explode 15 minutes after the water treatment plant explosion, which was intended to empty the main plant so as to avoid casualties. The police guessed that there was another land mine and dismantled it before it exploded. If it had exploded, the fire would have been unstoppable. Over the next three days Chamusso bombed two electrical sub-stations near Witbank, plunging the entire town into darkness.
After having been shot in the leg and arrested, Chamusso was sentenced to 24 years on Robben Island on accounts of terrorism, high treason and the possession of false passports. In 1991, after serving 10 years, he was released, alongside other political prisoners, as part of the new government’s amnesty policy. He refused a position in the current government and instead turned his energies to establish the Two Sisters Orphanage, which cares for AIDS orphans. In 2008, Chamusso received the National Heritage Council Ubuntu award for his humanitarian work.
Hint: Catch A Fire is a biographical film that illustrates Chamusso’s fight for a free South Africa.
Set in the surrounds of pine forests and one of South Africa’s largest dams is Saul Mkhizeville, which played an important role in South Africa’s liberation struggle.
Overlooking the Heyshope Dam – one of the biggest in Mpumalanga and in fact South Africa – and the surrounding pine forests is Saul Mkhizeville, formerly known as Driefontein. Its namesake, Vusumuzi Saul Mkhize, chaired the Driefontein Community Board (DCB), which resisted the apartheid government’s plans for forcibly relocate 10,000 African landowners. In 1912, Mkhize’s grandfather's generation had bought 300 small plots of land in the Driefontein area from whites, before the Natives Land Act of 1913 was passed, which prohibited Africans from purchasing farmland outside the African-designated Bantustans or homelands. These Bantustans, which were allocated to the non-white South African population, only comprised of around 7 percent of South Africa's land mass.
Mkhize organised the community members and led a peaceful resistance, which included writing to President P.W Botha. When police came to investigate the peaceful protest meeting of about 800 landowners at Driefontein School on 02 April 1983, an argument erupted over whether they had obtained the necessary permit to hold such a meeting, which resulted in the police firing tear gas. The police opened fired and fatally wounded Mkhize. In 2008, Mkhize's hometown was renamed Saul Mkhizeville in his honour and a statue was erected on 08 March 2015.
Nearby in Mkhondo, formerly Piet Retief, there was much controversy in 1966 when Sandra Laing was reclassified from white to coloured and was removed from Sheepmoor School hostel. Laing’s reclassification resulted in the change to the Population Registration Amendment Act and the addition of Act No. 64 of 1967, which stated that a person shall be classified as white if his natural parents have both been classified as white.
The area surrounding Mkhondo is teeming with historical artefacts and sites, such as the Intombe Battle Fields where the Zulu forces defeated British troops and the Voortrekker Monument with imprinted ox-wagon tracks from the Great Trek.
It was in Volksrust that human rights activist Mahatma Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba, were arrested on numerous occasions, alongside other Indian protestors, for peacefully marching against the Black Act and Immigration Law. Gandhi’s Satyagraha Campaign resulted in the Gandhi-Smuts agreement of 1914 and better living conditions for Indians.
Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian lawyer and human rights activist, featured prominently in South Africa's liberation struggle during the 20th century. He is best known for adopting a passive resistance campaign, called Satyagraha, and concerned himself with the plight of Indian residents and merchants in South Africa. Their movement was restricted by the apartheid government, they could only reside in areas demarcated for Indians and could not freely move into the Transvaal. Gandhi, as the founder of the Natal Indian Congress, also called upon Indians not to register under the Black Act or to pay the grossly expensive £3 tax, which if they did not comply with would result in their repatriation to India.
In September 1913, Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, and other female Indian protestors illegally entered the Transvaal by train. They were protesting against the government’s refusal to acknowledge marriages between Hindu and Muslim Indians. Due to the fact that Indians were not allowed to reside in the area and did not possess permits to do so, they were taken across Convention Bridge near Volksrust, which borders the two provinces, back to Natal. The protestors however marched back into the Transvaal, where they were arrested and sentenced to three months in prison. Their arrest angered Indian community members and helped Gandhi’s Satyagraha Campaign gain momentum.
Two months later, Gandhi mobilised more than two thousand peaceful protestors, mostly Indian miners and railway workers, to march along the same route in protest against the Immigration Law. He was arrested, sent to Volksrust Correctional Services and released on £50 bail. His passive resistance drew more support and 155 others were arrested in the days following his arrest. Gandhi was arrested numerous times after that and was served the harshest sentence.
Gandhi’s peaceful resistance was successful as Jan Smuts, the Minister of Justice, was ordered by the British government to establish a commission to investigate the Indians’ grievances. In early 1914 the government agreed to all of Gandhi’s terms, they abolished the £3 tax and the Black Act, allowed Indians to move freely into the Transvaal and recognised Hindu-Muslim marriages as legitimate. Today, Gandhi’s prison cell has been converted into a classroom where inmates are taught life skills to help them adjust to life after prison, however it is not accessible to the public.