Braai4Heritage tour Day 30 – Bushman Rock Art in the foothills of the Drakensberg MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Exploring Ancient Bushman Rock Art in the Drakensberg Foothills

Waking up at a chilly 2865 meters was no easy feat, but the refreshing morning air revealed astounding vistas of the winding Sani Pass road we had traversed the previous day.

With a quick cup of coffee and a bite to energize us, we loaded up the vehicles, got our passports stamped at the border, and embarked on the drive down the pass. Today promised to be one of the tour’s highlights, as we set out on a hike through the beautiful Drakensberg foothills, eager to witness the awe-inspiring Bushman Rock Art that adorned the sacred sites scattered throughout the region.

Did you know that there are around 650 to 700 different Bushman Rock Art sites in a mountain range called the Drakensberg mountains? These mountains are also known as the uKhahlamba, which means “the Barrier of Spears.” Some of these rock art sites are difficult to access and haven’t been fully explored or documented yet. So, it’s hard to say exactly how many individual images there are, but experts estimate that there are about 50,000.

This collection of indigenous art is truly remarkable, and its significance is recognized worldwide. In fact, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park a World Heritage Site in 2000. This park is our 7th stop on the Braai4Heritage tour!

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park now protects about 550 sites and 40,000 individual rock art images. There are also another 120 known sites in the nearby Mnweni and Amazizi valley region.

I’m excited to share my experience with you of meeting our guides, Sue, Vicky, Jeff, and Matthew, at the bottom of the pass around 10 in the morning. We were finally starting our hike, and we couldn’t wait to get some exercise and take in the breathtaking views as we made our way up the towering mountains covered in lush greenery from the recent summer rains.

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Let me tell you about Sue McKenzie, who holds the impressive title of “Rock Art Monitor for the Southern Buffer Zone.” Her passion and enthusiasm for the ancient Rock Art, as well as the deep spiritual connection it holds for the indigenous Bushmen who once inhabited this area, are truly contagious.

“We really need to learn more about our cultural heritage as a nation,” she said to Jan, as we stood admiring the exquisite Eland paintings at the first site we visited that day. “These sites were incredibly important to the people who lived here long ago, and it’s important to always be aware of that when we visit them.”

Sue, Vicky, and Jeff are all part of the African Conservation Trust, a partnership between the government and private organizations that was created in 2000 to support research and conservation efforts for the environment and cultural heritage in southern Africa.

When I discovered Vicky Nardell’s current project, it immediately caught my attention. What Vicky and her team at the Rock Art Mapping Unit are doing is truly remarkable. They venture out on monthly hiking expeditions to document both new and existing archaeological sites. The goal is to create detailed 3D maps of these sites, allowing experts to study them without having to endure the arduous and time-consuming hikes required to reach them.

According to Vicky, these maps serve as a precious testament to the Bushmen people and their rich cultural heritage. It is our responsibility to acknowledge this heritage and ensure its preservation for future generations.

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Rock Art is really tricky to date correctly. You see, to date it, you have to take samples of the material and basically destroy it. But that’s not really an option when you’re dealing with unique pieces of Bushman Rock Art. It’s a bit of a dilemma, you know?

And there’s another thing that makes it even harder. You see, the Bushman artists had this practice called superimposition. Basically, what they would do is retouch and paint over the artwork of their ancestors. They believed that this sacred process would bring back the spirit captured by the original artists. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it.

So, because of all these challenges, none of our guides could give us an exact date for any of the Rock Art we saw. The best they could do was give us a rough estimate. And I mean, it was really rough, like anywhere between 150 and 2500 years old. Can you believe that? And who knows, some of the pieces could be even older than that. It’s just mind-boggling.

As we hiked back to the vehicles, we had a lot to think about. But Jan had enough of thinking and decided to add some excitement to our journey. With impressive dedication to fitness, he started running down the mountain, capturing footage with his camera. Stephanus joined him, and they quickly raced ahead of us, cameras in hand.

During our hike, Sue kindly invited us to her place for a braai. It was the perfect way to end our incredible day in the mountains. At Sue’s beautiful farm home near Himeville, we gathered around a half-geyser braai drum and enjoyed a mouth-watering meal of steaks, salad, and putu-pap.

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At 10 pm, it was time to say our goodbyes. We hopped into our vehicles and drove for an hour and a half to Kokstad. We had a reservation at The Old Orchard Bed and Breakfast, but it was late when we arrived. Despite our late arrival, the owner greeted us with a warm smile and quickly checked us in. We were grateful to crawl into bed and get some well-deserved rest.

Hey there! So, guess what? I’ve got some really interesting information to share with you about Qunu, the place where Nelson Mandela was born and spent his early school days. Isn’t that cool?

If you’re thinking of visiting Qunu, I’ve got just what you need – the contact details of our awesome guides who can show you around:

We have Sue McKenzie, whose email is [email protected] and phone number is 033 702 1028. There’s also Vicky Nardell, you can reach her at [email protected] or dial 033 342 2844. And last but not least, we have Matthew Wiggill, a top-notch Accredited Field Guide. Shoot him an email at [email protected] or give him a call at 082 595 8444. They’ll make your visit to Qunu extra special!

We have Sue McKenzie, whose email is [email protected] and phone number is 033 702 1028. There’s also Vicky Nardell, you can reach her at [email protected] or dial 033 342 2844. And last but not least, we have Matthew Wiggill, a top-notch Accredited Field Guide. Shoot him an email at [email protected] or give him a call at 082 595 8444. They’ll make your visit to Qunu extra special!

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