Cave boasts rich history

2016-10-05 06:00
WITSIE’S CAVE in the Monontsha Village, Qwaqwa. Photo: Supplied

WITSIE’S CAVE in the Monontsha Village, Qwaqwa. Photo: Supplied

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THE Free State Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (FSPHRA) should consider declaring Witsie’s Cave a heritage site.

The cave, situated in the Monontsha village, is of great historical significance to the Witsieshoek area.

Witsieshoek was the name of the area tucked away on the northern slopes of the Drakensberg in the northern Free State. It nestles deeply in the corner bordered in the southeast by Natal and by Lesotho in the southwest.

The original inhabitants of Qwaqwa were the San people. They were driven out of the area by one of the subordinates of King Moshoeshoe I, Lephatsoana Oetsi (Witsie), who, in turn, settled there around 1838.

The historical and cultural significance of Witsie’s Cave in Qwaqwa lies therein that Witsie’s people, the Makholokoe, first settled at the foot of the mountain now known as Fika Patso before moving to settle at Mohlomong.

Farmers in the area reported Witsie to Major H.D. Warden, the British Resident in Bloemfontein, who administered the Free State at the time, for allegedly stealing cattle from them.

Major Warden ordered Witsie to return the cattle.

Mohlomong was in the vicinity of where the government building and former Qwaqwa parliament is situated today.

It was while residing in Mohlomong that Witsie discovered a cave near Monontsha Village.

The cave was first used as a cattle post during dry seasons and later as a hiding place when the Makholokoe were attacked by Boers and fled to the neighbouring Lesotho and Natal.

Witsie’s hideout was a horseshoe-shaped cavern about 107 m long, 35 m deep and approximately 121 m high, with boulders at the entrance.

Access to the site became difficult for his attackers.

The commandos therefore surrounded the area with the object of starving Witsie and his subjects.

Witsie’s Cave has a strong attachment to the Makholokoe, as it marks their existence in the Qwaqwa area.

There are also claims that the pile of stones found at the entrance of the cave symbolizes that during the attack, some people were trapped inside the cave and left to die.

According to some historians, such suspicions emanate from stories of similar atrocities that happened elsewhere in the country, for example at the cave in Makapan.

Witsie was also known as a traditional healer and rainmaker. There is reason to believe that the cave might also have been used for such purposes and that it therefore possesses some spiritual powers.

Witsie’s Cave can be considered an iconic site which can celebrate the achievements of the Makho­lokoe.

As mentioned before, oral tradition and some written records attest to the fact that Witsie was a distinguished traditional healer during the Difaqane.

The cave has also been referred to as a “fortress” or “stronghold” of the Makholokoe forefathers.

After it came into power in 1948, the National Party (NP) vigorously pursued its policy of apartheid that led to the passing of the Bantu Authorities Act in 1951 and provided for the establishment of the homeland system.

Thus Qwaqwa became a homeland for the Basotho under this Act and was granted self-governance in 1974.

It remained semi-autonomous until 1994, when it was reincorporated into South Africa and became part of the Free State Province.

One could conclude that Witsie’s Cave is not just a piece of land, but a site of heritage significance and with cultural value.

It has been described as a site to which oral tradition is attached because of the events that took place there.

Section 3: Sub-section 2(b) of the National Heritage Resources Act states: “Places to which oral traditions are attached or which are associated with living heritage of cultural significance for the present community and for the future generation must be considered part of the national estate.”

I would therefore recommend that Witsie’s Cave be declared as one of the provincial heritage sites in the Free State.

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