Mapungubwe: following Zakes Mda and the ancient people

April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

I am a great fan of Zakes Mda and his book The sculptors of Mapungubwe thrilled me; yet even before I had read the book, the archaeological finds at Mapungubwe had me curious. Here was a kingdom trading with the Far East centuries before Europe even woke from its dark slumber. In fact, at the time when Marco Polo, who explored the East on behalf the Europeans, was born, eastern traders already had a booming trade relationship with the kingdom of Mapungubwe.

Both the beloved and I felt the urge to explore, so we travelled to the newly-founded Mapungubwe National Park.

Our guide, Johannes Masalesa, drove us to within half a kilometre of the royal household. From there we walked.

Johannes is a legend in his own right. He grew up in this area and his grandfather was instrumental in guiding academics towards the site that would later be researched by the University of Pretoria.

We stopped every now and again for Johannes to explain things. He knows the plants and the birds. He tells stories.

Suddenly he said: “That is the rain-making koppie.” (Picture above)

At that moment Mda’s story came to life. I could vividly re-enact the scenes.

From then on I was not merely following the same path as Mda would have, I was also walking on soil that belonged to the people of a fascinating kingdom.

On top of the royal koppie Johannes pointed out the reception area where guests would have had to wait, the position of the queens’ huts and also where the allusive king kept his chambers. This picture was taken from the reception area.

The foundations of the huts still are visible.

In these holes stilts were planted to anchor royal huts – like those of one of the queens.

The mount indicates the reburial spot – all the human remains were returned in aluminium coffins.

The royal water reservoir on top of the hill. Note the large rock that was placed on top in order to protect it.


I highly recommend Zakes Mda’s book and a visit to the site under the guidance of Johannes Masalesa would be the next step. Then you should buy a copy of the book Johannes himself has written: Mapungubwe – place of the ancestors.

Johannes has the oral history that brings the surrounding to life. I loved listening to him and have a signed copy of his book here on my desk. Zakes Mda had honed those stories and sculpted them into vivid imagery.

These two storytellers made history real at Mapungubwe.


Afterwards we visited the museum that houses the famous golden rhino and some of the gold found at the royal gravesite. I stood there, centimetres away from one of the most famous sculptures of Southern Africa. Security was extremely tight and I was, understandably, not allowed to take pictures, but this postage stamp gives you some idea.

I’d suggest you go and see it for yourself!


Here are more pictures of our holiday.


’n Besoek aan Mapungubwe is iets wat ek baie sterk aanbeveel. Daar is soveel geskiedenis om te ervaar.

Hier is nog kiekies van ons vakansie.

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