Reserve History

1. Pre-European communities

The first humans to visit Buffelskloof were San hunter-gatherers (‘Bushmen’) who left little trace of their passing apart from a single rock painting of an eland made on a rock face in an overhang next to the stream below the Cottage. Many other paintings perhaps once existed, now obscured by rain-induced chemical deposits running down the rock faces.

Sometime between 1400 and 1700 AD, a group of Late Iron Age Nguni people settled in the Kloof. They constructed an extensive network of stone terraces on the slopes below the cliffs in the gorge, interspersed with numerous small settlements. Initially millet and sorghum were probably the main crops grown (as evidenced by the discovery of narrow-grooved grinding stones) although after the introduction of maize in ± 1750 to the Maputo area by the Portuguese, maize was also grown in the Kloof. Livestock were kraaled in enclosures in the settlements in the kloof although they were probably herded up on to the grassy slopes above the Kloof each day to graze, an activity which probably resulted in the several broad access routes into the Kloof which remain to this day. During the later stage of their occupancy of the Kloof the Nguni appear to have integrated with the Pedi tribes of the North Sotho and by 1820-1860 they left the Kloof, either of their own accord, or were destroyed by the chief Mzilikazi. Since all the terraces and their crops were of necessity in full sun, it can be assumed that all forest now occurring on the terraces dates from ± 1840 AD.

2. Anglo-Boer War influences

Although the bulk of the final actions of the Anglo-Boer conflict (1899-1902) took place to the west of Buffelskloof in the Kwena (Badfontein) basin, and to the north in the Long Tom Pass area, an exploded shell the Boer Long Tom cannon was found near the sawmill near the north-west boundary of the Reserve. Boer womenfolk and children are also purported to have taken refuge in or on the margins of the Kloof during this latter episode of the War.

3. The establishment of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve

The creation of Buffelskloof Nature Reserve is the entirely due to the vision and determination of Mr John Rae. In the 1950s John Rae purchased the first portion of land on the range of hills to the west of the kloof, and soon planted tree pines there. He rapidly realised the value of conserving the richly forested kloof and, over a period of 40 years, acquired sixteen portions of land in order to ensure that the kloof could be protected as a single unit. In 1986 the Reserve was proclaimed as a Natural Heritage Site (#26) and in 2000 a herbarium and research cottage was built in order to increase the reserve’s value as a research facility. The reserve is currently managed by John Burrows.