The founders of Pretoria

2010-11-02 11:00

Any explorer seeking to trace the founders of modern-day Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, would eventually arrive at one place, Church Square, and meet one particular group of migrants, the Voortrekkers.

And any search for Chief Tshwane, after whom the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality is named, will lead any explorer either astray (as I was initially) or out of the city.

My initial expedition to trace the footsteps of the enigmatic chief was based on a widely-held presupposition, that Chief Tshwane was the founder of the modern-day city of Pretoria.

Following a futile three-day search for the chief in mid-September, I found myself immersed in Afrikaner history. I abandoned my search for Tshwane, whom even the municipal tourism authorities do not say much about.

Tshwane, the son of early Nguni migrants from the Natal, has now had his name immortalised in history, given to the municipality governing the historic capital city of South Africa.

Initial attempts to rename the entire city, including the central business district, after Tshwane have stalled, owing to vigorous opposition mainly from Afrikaners.

The predominantly Afrikaner political party, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), has been so unrelenting in its opposition to the renaming of Pretoria to Tshwane it once even commissioned two Afrikaner academics to prepare a solid case against the name change.  

The academics, Prof Pieter Labuschagne of the Department of Political Science at Unisa and Mr Dirk Hermann, director of the Research Institute of the trade union Solidarity, concluded that the chief was never based on the site of modern-day Pretoria.

“The area south of the Magalies Mountains was up to 1825 Tswana area and not inhabited by the Ndebele,” wrote Labuschagne and Hermann. The two credited Tswana tribes as the rightful indigenous inhabitants of the area.

“The Bakwena tribe moved into the area and existed peacefully up to approximately 1825 when they were assimilated by force into a bigger unit as a result of the migration of the Matebeles under [the] leadership of Mzilikazi.”

Relying heavily on historical accounts of early 17th century English explorers, the two academics concluded in their report that “the location of the main kraal of Mzilikazi is indicated to be in the area of Pretoria North, even though smaller temporary rural settlements appeared to be more widespread”.

Hermann and Labuschagne credit Gerhardus Bronkhorst and his brother Lukas Bronkhorst as the first whites that settled in the Apies River area. The two brothers are said to have laid the farm Elandspoort.

Martinus Wessel Pretorius, the son of Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, bought the farm Elandspoort in 1835 from the Bronkhorst brothers. It was on this very farm, in 1855, that Pretorius founded the city of Pretoria.

Interestingly, by this time, Chief Tshwane’s royal family was most probably long disbanded – not by Voortrekker invaders, though, but as a result of infighting amongst his six sons.

According to a book published in 1965 (to which I was referred by a reader of the Sunday Independent after my initial article), Tshwane’s farther, Musi, was amongst the first group of Ngunis that trekked from Natal around year 1651.

The book by TV Dulpin, Lost Trails of the Transvaal (available at the municipal library), contains a brief narration of the story of Chief Tshwane. And the story corroborates with the contents of the report that Hermann and Labuschagne wrote for the FF+.

These early Zulu migrants – who later became known as Ndebeles – were not the first inhabitants of the areas around Pretoria. Various Tswana tribes were here long before them. And Musi’s base was in the Pretoria North region, in what is now the small town of Wonderboompoort, which is also known as Mayville.

It is not clear when Tshwane died; but, after his death, according to Dulpin, his six sons fought amongst themselves for chieftainship. “The whole tribe, accordingly, was split up into six groups: each independent, but all acknowledging a common origin.”

One group, under Manala, is said to have remained at the original tribal home. A second section, under Ndzundza, reportedly detached to the Olifants River. Another son, Dhlomo, is said to have gone back to Zululand.

Another one of the sons, Mthombeni, is reported to have “wandered up northwards and eventually settled in the bush along the southern slopes of Strydpoort Mountains.” The author does not say what happened to the rest of the two brothers.

It is important to note that the destruction of the Tshwane royal family happened before the arrival in the Transvaal of the second grouping of Ngunis, this time led by the warrior king, Mzilikazi.

A noteworthy conqueror, Mzilikazi led this second grouping of Ngunis from the mouth of the Olifants River. Towards the end of 1823, according to Dulpin, Mzilikazi operated a “robber band” from what is now the town of Bethal.

Mzilikazi’s alleged loot was not limited to livestock, for he is accused of having “won” even the wives of conquered clans and enrolled their sons as warriors.

It is important also to note that, even at this time – when Tshwane’s royal family had disintegrated – MW Pretorius had not even bought the farm, Elandspoort, upon which he later founded the city of Pretoria.

In their determination to keep the name Pretoria, the FF+ have gone to courts, organised protests and, at one point, even borrowed from Carl Marx’s theory of alienation.

The socialist theory revolved around workers losing their sense of identification with their own work. As explained in German, the word “alienation”, as applied in Marxist theory, means separation of things that naturally belong to each other.

The FF+ has argued that the dangers of alienation are also “extremely relevant” in name change processes. “In a majority democracy, it means that the majority in practice possess all the power,” the party lamented.

Earlier this year, in February, the storm around the name-change nearly erupted again after the Department of Arts and Culture listed Pretoria in a Government Gazette as one of the names to be changed permanently.

A predictable outcry immediately ensued, and the registration of the name was retracted within days of the gazette’s publication.

Still unresolved, the Pretoria name-change saga may soon come up again, and some unavoidable questions will have to be answered: could Tshwane himself have identified his name with the city as founded by Afrikaners? If names are being changed as tribute to ancient African leaders, won’t the Tswana tribe, Bakwena, claim more right to Pretoria?

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  • geanann - 2010-11-02 11:08

    Exeptional article, well researched, well written and sadly points out how lies become the truth if politally expedient.

  • Johan - 2010-11-02 11:14

    very good article,well done!

  • Jasper - 2010-11-02 11:20

    Interesting article Madibeng. Well written and seemingly unbiased.

    A pity that people never learn, not to use people's names for cities, because invariably they go out of 'fashion' and changing these things are stupidly expensive.

  • its just me - 2010-11-02 11:21

    and soon we will take that rubbish paul kruger statue out of church squar and his excelency future President of the republic Mr Julias Malema will be erected there instead

  • Mumba - 2010-11-02 11:26

    We were there first!

  • Al - 2010-11-02 11:27

    Dear Madibeng, I am also dead set against the name changing to Tshwane because the reasons for the change are all bogus. It's not because I belong to any political party, racial group or whatever but because of the principle that is involved. The Tshwane Metro entered in Wikipedia a story about chief Tshwane, had a statue made in his honour etc. The fact is that research has shown that the name Tshwane was not derived from the name of any person. This chief Tshwane probably never even existed. Read the scientific article by Louwrens, LJ in the scholarly journal South African Journal of Cultural History 20(1), 2006. The word "tshwana" refers to a black cow that was traditionally slaughtered as part of a rainmaking ceremony. Water was fetched from the (not yet so-named) Tshwane river and sprinkled on the cow. The cow was then allowed to graze freely, and, it was believed, rain would fall wherever the cow grazed. After a severe drought was broken in this way, the river thereafter was named "Tshwane", derived from "tshwana" and meaning "place of the black cow". When the city of Pretoria began to develop around the Apies river, the name Tshwane was carried over to the city. I responded with this information previously after a similar article by you but wish to repeat it here for the sake of openness and honesty.

  • Zaq @ Mumba - 2010-11-02 11:42

    So, just what is it that you built when you got there (first), hmmmmm?
    Nothing as usual. But the Whites did!!

  • LogicBomb @author - 2010-11-02 11:45

    A job well done Madibeng! If only everybody could approach this matter so objectively, honestly and sincerely. Keep feeding us the truth brother!

  • AJ @ Madibeng Kgwete - 2010-11-02 11:49

    Very informative, thanks Madibeng. I also think most level headed people see this attempt to change Pretoria as nothing more than a a way to 'stick to the Afrikaner', it is revenge based, or to make the previously disadvantaged 'leadership' feel better about themselves, and not grounded in fact at all. Childish, yes; avoidable, probably not. Appreciate all the time you took to educate us though!

  • Zizo - 2010-11-02 11:54

    Madibeng, great read.

  • Observer - 2010-11-02 11:54

    They couldn't care less if it would be called "Ding bloody Dong", as long as they change it from something white to something else. It's part of the cultural onslaught. Well, the British tried that same tactic before and it only backfired.

  • Nixon@its just me - 2010-11-02 12:00

    That was weak, if your are going to try and p*ss people off at least do better job!

  • Eish @ Mumba - 2010-11-02 12:04

    The bushmen were the first!

  • Steve - 2010-11-02 12:14

    I enjoyed your previous article and enjoyed this one as much. Thanks for the information.

  • MJ - 2010-11-02 12:16

    Nicely researched, from some angles. But in your article you state that some guy (MW Pretorius) bought the land, after the tribe had disintegrated, and founded the city Pretoria there. So he named the city. Just because Tshwane was there years before does not make the city his to name. The guy who bought the land, and founded a city - he gets to name it.

  • BigMoose - 2010-11-02 12:18

    Name it after the river, call it Apiesfontein, because that is so appropriate for all the residents.

  • Old chap - 2010-11-02 12:24

    I wish to offer a feather in the cap of the author's objective and thorough research.
    This article deserves to be inserted verbatim in the school history syllabus!

  • magus - 2010-11-02 12:25

    Deja vue - I could swear this article was published a few months ago? Still a good read though

  • Charles - 2010-11-02 12:29

    LOL. It's just me. You are so clever. I have a secret that I would like to share with you and then you can boast with all your friends that you knew the aswer.
    Ready to go?
    OK. here goes...
    The wheel burrow originally had a different purpose than was designed for.
    What was that purpose?
    The answer will follow shortly.

  • Mad Hatter - 2010-11-02 12:37

    Really worth the hundreds of millions it will cost , govt, business and the taxpayer to change the name ? Screw basic services to the poor , this is more important.

  • Eles - 2010-11-02 12:38

    Interesting read, however I think that just because someone lived in the area before pretorius doesn't mean the city should be named after them - what did they contribute? They didn't build a city? Personally I think the renaming a waste of time, money would be better spent rather naming new buildings and roads however govt wishes to instead of wasting time renaming roads and towns etc

  • kg - 2010-11-02 12:39

    good one keep them coming.

  • @Charles - 2010-11-02 12:42

    Charles, do you mean a 'wheel barrow' or a 'wheel burrow'? A burrow is a hole in the ground that rabbits live in.

  • tseliso@everybody - 2010-11-02 12:42

    why is no one saying anything about what Al said?? i think its because "the truth" doesn't really matter ppl either want Pretoria or Tshwane and the reasons are far from fair/just or logical, Tshanetoria is fine for me

  • Sasha - 2010-11-02 12:46

    Well written and properly researched article! I do agree with MJ though - the city should be the namesake of the man who founded and started building it.

  • Stephan - 2010-11-02 12:48

    Great article. Interesting that the powers-that-be haven't yet attempted to change Cape Town to something "less offensive". Yet, it's the oldest colonial settlement in the country. Or was it changed and everybody is just ignoring it and continues to call it Cape Town, like I do??

  • TheNekkidEmperor - 2010-11-02 12:52

    Regardless of whom was here first... changing the name is a slap in the face of all Afrikaners. Full stop.

  • SimonP - 2010-11-02 12:57

    Good FACTUAL article. Its a shame the ANC seem hell bent on rewriting history with a load of afro-optimistic lies.

  • Zolani - 2010-11-02 12:57

    Very good and very Intresting, I just wish The ANC would focus as much attention to Service delivery, that they do to name changes and quota's in Sport

  • william@Madibeng - 2010-11-02 12:58

    Your love for history is evident and refreshing...thanx. The comment from "Al" seems to suggest that the "facts" surrounding the chief Tshwane is even debatable.

    Still, it's great to better understand the history of our lovely country.

    But this highlights the point: why rename a city when there aren't even consensus regarding the real facts.

  • robgun - 2010-11-02 13:12

    Awesome article. Well researched and objective. The truth is always easy to see when it is reported in a way such as this. Thanks for a very factual article. Well done!

  • HD - 2010-11-02 13:14

    If only those first inhabitants didn't have to wait for the settlers to teach them how to write, we would have had everything in black and white!

  • @Charles - 2010-11-02 13:14

    What is a wheel burrow?

  • Caesar - 2010-11-02 13:31

    I find it so interesting yet alarming that there is so much ballyhoo concerning A person, chief, of dubious authenticity. As AL says above the possibility exists that the person never existed. It may be a pessimistic attitude but the whole issue is in all probability a political stunt to engrave certain concepts and perceptions into a bogus history. Only one political organization can gain by this farce.

  • Andre - 2010-11-02 13:32

    Very good article. Can you not also do research on all the towns that have had names changed. Everyone in Pretoria knows what happened to Munitoria, so changing it to Tshanaetoria will cause something. Your guess is as good as mine.

  • @Nixon@Its just me - 2010-11-02 13:36

    Agreed. Pathetic little attempts to get a raise. Much like a child. No rhyme or reason to the posts, just a continuous "chucking the toys out the cot" exercise.

  • Al - 2010-11-02 13:56

    Madibeng, you have now written two very objective pieces about the name Tshwane. Because of that the discussions/responses have been balanced as well and there has been virtually no mud-slinging, which is really encouraging. May I ask if you would be willing to go and read the article by LJ Louwrens and see if you can summarise it in the allowed space here. Your readers can then discuss it further. Just a suggestion. Readers must be reminded that scientific articles liek the one by Louwrens have to peer reviewed by 2 anonymous reviewers before it can be published. The reviewers must be specialists in the particular field, have to verify that the article was based on original research and must be convinced that it makes a contribution to existing knowledge or that it breaks new ground.

  • Jacques - 2010-11-02 13:58

    @ author
    this is the first article i have read here that was completely unbiased. unfortunately the comments do take a turn for the worst at times. i really enjoyed the read looking forward to more from you

  • Livhu - 2010-11-02 14:00

    Boring article,cant we find something that will unite than separate?typical old white mentality,the name of the city must be Malema for all i care.

  • dee - 2010-11-02 14:09

    Well written well worth the read thank you. Wish there were more factual unbiased reads on these posts. If there aer going to be name changes I do wish they'd pick something relevant and non-personalised - and then only after every last person in our country is housed and schooled with running water and electrification. What a waste of time and money this renaming is. Priorities!! Well voters priorities would be good for a start.

  • BLACKsoWHAT! - 2010-11-02 14:15

    How refreshing, educational and factual letter.

  • Bullion - 2010-11-02 14:38

    I heard it is changing to Tshwane because it is named to the first person hear. The Tshwanepoels - Lol

  • matso - 2010-11-02 14:41

    Madibeng you are reading too much of Afrikaners nonsense, Tshwane was never a Ndebele chief but was a Tswana chief.

  • Arch Enemy - 2010-11-02 14:43

    Please change the name to Tshwane. At least in Pretoria things were working, there was service delivery. Under the name Tshwane nothing works, f-all delivery.

  • J ON - 2010-11-02 15:35

    haha Its just me, and much like Saddam Hussain's statue was torn down by irate citizens, so will your precious Malema statue. But we will never get that far because a statue of that ass will never get erected

  • Gerhard - 2010-11-02 15:43

    I agree with Jasper, very good, informativem, well researched and interresting article. It is a pity that people keep lending their own names to places, for when history or future events take its course, we end up having to deal with this type of outfall. Times move on, so must we.

  • Just one small correction... - 2010-11-02 16:44

    Very interesting and refreshing look at this very contentious subject. Well done, however, just one little correction: the author of the book "Lost Trails of the Transvaal", was TV Bulpin, not Dulpin. No big deal though..:-)

  • Saffer - 2010-11-02 17:29

    Fascinating history.

    One correction: the author you mention is TV Bulpin, not Dulpin, and very worth reading.

  • Saffer - 2010-11-02 17:30

    Fascinating history.

    Just one correction: the author you mention is TV Bulpin, not Dulpin, and worthwhile reading.

  • @BigMoose - 2010-11-02 21:12

    Hahahaha. Your poor team probably lost on Saturday. Shame.