The Waterberg Mountains and Vaalwater Vaalwater changed its name in 2006 to Mabatlane a Northern Sotho word that suggests a plateau or large open place by John Miller It's still called the "undiscovered" Waterberg region of South Africa. It is remote [afgelegen] (though only three hours from Johannesburg), sparsely populated [dunbevolkt], and quite beautiful with its rugged [ruige] mountains, water courses, and wildlife. It is also very poor.

The Waterberg Mountains run about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from east to west, and cover 14,500 square kilometers (5,800 square miles), roughly the size of the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, less than half the size of the Netherlands, or slightly larger than the US state of Connecticut. The Waterberg (mountains of water, Thaba Meetse in the local Northern Sotho language) refers to the abundance of [overvloed aan]water, still true in good rainy seasons and questionable in bad rainy seasons. Daily rainfall is a regular and important topic of conversation [onderwerp van gesprek] in the Waterberg.

Since the mid-1800s, whites (mainly Afrikaners) settled in the Waterberg. Grave cairns [kegelvormige steenhopen] on burial sites [begraafplaatsen]show the arrival of Christianity about this time. Early settlers found virtually [praktisch] no mineral wealth, and instead established cattle, tobacco, and citrus farms.

It was about this time that the Waterberg’s remoteness, dangerous wild animals, and the threat of malaria reputedly prompted Paul Kruger [bracht, naar men beweert, Paul Kruger er toe], the President of the South African Republic from 1883 to 1900, to deal with troublesome politicians with the order “Give him a farm in the Waterberg”, providing the impetus [waarmee hij een stimulans gaf] for the settlement at Vaalwater, still the only significant town [stad van betekenis] in the heart of the Waterberg.

The original Vaalwater had a few shops, hotel, post office, railway station and a cooperative that served the surrounding farming community. By the mid-1900s, due to [als gevolg van] climatic changes and improved farming prospects in more fertile [vruchtbare] regions to the east and north, many farmers left the Waterberg.

Since the early 1980s, large but unprofitable farmland (predominantly [voornamelijk] cattle and tobacco) has given way to tourism and conservation [natuurbehoud] enterprises – game [wild] farms and hunting, second-home (time-share) developments and luxury lodges on “Big Five” reserves, private reserves and special species [diersoorten] research areas, horse safaris and bush camps in wilderness areas. The traditional employment base of agriculture is gradually being replaced by employment in tourism and conservation.

In 2001, the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve was formally designated [aangewezen als reservaat] by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). A Biosphere Reserve ultimately establishes a cooperative and responsible approach to land management – an ethic of caring for the earth. [zorgt uiteindelijk voor een gezamenlijke en verantwoorde aanpak van het grondbeheer – een gedragscode voor zorg voor de aarde] The Waterberg Biosphere incorporates over 414,000 hectares (1,035,000 acres). It joins three other South African Biosphere Reserves, and some 320 Biosphere Reserves around the world.

For most of its history, the Waterberg's poor have suffered from an indifferent [schamel] education system. Worse [nog erger], children of farm workers who lived on the farm (the great majority) had no schools at all. Farm schools – those established by the farmer expressly for the workers' children – were developed. The quality of education was poor, the facilities and equipment quite minimal, but it was something.

Peter Farrant (a farmer who is also a doctor) established the Meetsetshehla Secondary School on his farm (adjacent to the town of Vaalwater) in 1986, serving the children who received their primary education at various farm schools in the Waterberg. Meetsetshehla has gone through a lot of growing pains since then, not only from the original few students and classrooms to the current enrolment of 650 students on a lively campus, but also from an uneasy relationship with the national and provincial education authorities to a state-aided, independent school with a dedicated staff and teachers providing a high standard of education to a very disadvantaged [minder bevoorrechte] community. Matric results [het aantal studenten toegelaten tot de universiteiten] have improved dramatically in recent years and there is active support from the Waterberg community.

A Bit of History. Scientific debates continue about the age of the first primates and hominids [mensachtigen], but the evidence is clear that they lived from two to three million years ago in the “Cradle of Mankind” at the Sterkfontein Caves, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the Waterberg. In the last few thousand years, Europe’s Iron Age population moved through the Middle East, and ultimately to Southern Africa about 200 AD, joining [en voegden zich bij] the indigenous [inheemse] San people.

The ruins of several Iron Age settlements are located in the Waterberg. Some may have been inhabited as early as the mid-1500s and as recently as the 1800s. Archeologists suggest that the stone-walled settlements at high points were probably built for defensive reasons. They believe that the stone walls were constructed with upright slabs [stenen platen], somewhat like monoliths [uit één steen gehouwen gedenkstenen], forming complex arrangements of lanes, arcs and oval enclosures [omheinde gebieden]. These sites were probably built by Nguni speakers, the ancestors [voorouders] of the present Ndebele living in the Mokopane/Polokwane area (formerly Potgietersrus/Pietersburg). Or maybe, in similar settlements, by Setswana.

The Environment, Ecology and Conservation. The Waterberg comprises [omvat] a varied and wild landscape, including high mountain lookouts with incredible panoramic views, bushveld, sweeping [wuivende] grasslands, wetlands and dams, and hidden mountain streams. The highest point in the Waterberg, in Marakele National Park, is about 1,800 meters (5,900 feet).

In the May to September months of virtually [praktisch] no rainfall, dam levels are low and many watercourses dry completely. Nearly all of the area’s annual rainfall of 500-700 mm. (20-28 inches) occurs from October to April. During that period, dams fill and streams run hard and fast. Wildlife seeks and easily finds the water and vegetation turns many shades of green.

Some rain is soft and gentle, but much of the heavy rainfall comes in the form of majestic [overweldigende], severe storms. Lightning often ignites fires and rain, often but not always, puts them out. [Er ontstaan vaak branden door blikseminslag en de regen dooft ze vaak weer, maar niet altijd] Cycles of fire and flood and drought [droogte] have shaped the land for thousands of years and the balance of nature ensures that vegetation regenerates itself annually.

Average summer temperatures range from 15 degrees Celsius at night to 30 degrees Celsius during the day (59-86 degrees Fahrenheit). The Waterberg doesn’t suffer from stifling humidity [verstikkende vochtigheid]. Evenings are pleasant. Winters are moderate [gematigd], with cold nights and mornings (reaching freezing on only a few nights during June and July), and sunny pleasant days with average temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius at night to 20 degrees Celsius during the day (41-68 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Waterberg is called “malaria-free”. While that cannot be 100% assured, the region is generally devoid of [vrij van] the Anopheles mosquito which transmits malaria. Malaria precautions [voorzorgsmaatregelen] need not be taken if you are only visiting this region of South Africa.

Besides insects, butterflies, moths, wild flowers, grasses, and big skies and stars, the Waterberg is home to an abundance [overvloed] of birds. Of special note are the Cape vulture [Kaapgier] from the largest breeding colony in Africa situated in Marakele National Park and the Blue Crane (South Africa's national bird) who roost [broeden] and feed in some of the Waterberg’s grasslands in the summer months. As for reptiles, besides mountain tortoise, monitor lizard and African rock python, the Waterberg is home to many non-venomous [niet-giftige] snakes and four common venomous snakes: puffadder, black mamba, Mozambique spitting cobra, and rinkhals.

    A great variety of indigenous [inheemse] mammal species [zoogdiersoorten] live in the Waterberg, surviving the pressures of human encroachment [inbreuk door de mens].

  1. kudu
  2. common reedbuck
  3. warthog [wrattenzwijn]
  4. leopard
  5. klipspringer
  6. black-backed jackal
  7. chacma baboon
  8. steenbok
  9. caracal
  10. brown hyena
  11. aardvark
  12. aardwolf
  13. porcupine [stekelvarken]
  14. serval
  15. African wild cat
  16. rock rabbit (dassie)
Many reserves have re-introduced other species, such as lion, elephant, black and white rhinos, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, waterbuck, impala, and more. Vegetation. The higher lying areas (higher rainfall, cooler temperatures) are called Moist Mountain Bushveld. The lower lying areas (lower rainfall, warmer temperatures) are called Mixed Bushveld. The tree layer is characterised, among others, by: Transvaal Beech (Faurea saligna), Red Seringa (Burkea africana), Stemfruit (Englerophytum magaliesmontanum), Common sugarbush (Protea caffra), Velvet bushwillow (Combretum molle), Silver clusterleaf (Terminalia sericea), Peeling plane (Ochna Pulchra). In the past one hundred years, farmers planted trees and plants not indigenous to the area. These exotics (e.g., lantana, guava, eucalyptus/blue gum, jacaranda, and hawthorn [haagdoorn] ) are invasive [ze verspreiden zich snel] and destructive [brengen grote schade toe]. A single blue gum tree can consume 500 litres of water per day and efforts are being made to remove these invasive species from the wetlands and water courses throughout water-poor South Africa.

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