MGHWABANE ROCK ART TRAIL
Busingatha lies parallel to Obonjaneni which borders Royal Natal National Park (the latter now incorporated into the Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site). Busingatha and Obanjaneni are part of the AmaZizi Traditional Authority Area.
This short rock art trail starts near a local homestead and crosses the Busingatha River on the banks of which is Mghwabane (Mhwabane, Mohwabane) Shelter. A visit to this historical site can be teamed with a homestead visit or trips to the Nozidwaba Tarn or Singathi Cave.
Arrangements for a cultural visit can be made through BAWINILE MTOLO (074 724 7826). Bawinile is the facilitator for the AmaZizi Wilderness Group and the Mdlankomo Cultural and Rock art Group.
Arrangements for a guided trip that will enable hikers to familiarise themselves with the general area and routes can be made through AmaZizi local guide ELIJAH MBONANE (073 1374 690).
For overnight hiking trips the mountain register should be filled in at Thandanani Craft Centre, just past the turnoff to Busingatha, on the road to RNNP. Thandanani is a co-operative of 55 local women who produce outstanding crafts and who also supply overseas markets.
Parking is available at a local homestead by arrangement with either Ms. Mtolo or Mr. Mbonane. The trail starts on the right upstream bank of the Busingatha River and follows a gentle slope down to cross the river then leads to a large shelter, on a slight incline, about 80m from the river. A series of large cairns mark the river crossing. "Mghwabane" (Mhwabane, Mohwabane) is the name given by local people to a large serpent painted in the shelter which was called eBusingatha (or Cinyati) in earlier times. The following overview of the site consists of extracts from an assessment made by archaeologist, Dr. J.C. Hollmann (Ph.D.) in 2006 during the course of the Amagugu Esizwe Project and his 2008 paper with L. Msimanga (See reference at the end of this overview).
Brief history and background to the site:
One of the earliest known visits to the site was in 1923 when a stone wall was present and the painting of a "great snake" was described. In the 1930s anthropologist Leo Frobenis' copy of rock art on the western wall of the shelter showed the head of the serpent; however today the head is no longer visible. Local amaZizi residents say that this painting depicts the snake they call uMghwabane - believed to have lived in a pool just below the shelter until the late 1990s when flooding changed the course of the river and the pool silted up. The serpent could be a supernatural/mythological water snake that controlled the rain and made the land green and fertile. Beliefs in such a snake are widespread in southern Africa.
In 1947, Van Riet Lowe photographed many of the paintings prior to the removal of over 30 painted rocks from the site in late 1946, or early 1947, to coincide with the 1947 visit of the British royal family to Royal Natal National Park where they viewed the painted slabs. Removers of the paintings apparently used explosives. The technique probably involved drilling holes into the rock and packing these with charges. There are traces of drill holes on some of the removed painted slabs and on several of the large sandstone slabs lying in the shelter. Today the removed paintings are in the care of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg. Remaining paintings in the shelter number about 50.
At the time removal of paintings and engravings from sites to museums was not unprecedented and took place for a variety of reasons. In the case of Mghwabane Shelter, the removal took place on the authorisation of the South African government with no community consultation. Today however heritage institutions work closely with communities and groups such as the Mdlankomo and the Mnweni Cultural & rock art Groups - community custodians who also monitor rock art sites in their respective areas.
Mghwabane Shelter around 1940, showing stone walling.
(RSA-EBU1-3P http:// ringingrocks.wits.ac.za)
The paintings removed included a magnificent painting of a human/elephant combination surrounded by bees.
Copy by Harald Pager of the human/elephant painting removed from Mghwabane Shelter.
The painting is frequently on display at the Museum.
There are numerous paintings of eland in the main panel. Eland were important religious symbols for Bushmen (Lewis-Williams 1981). God will not let a hunter kill an eland unless respect is shown in the hunt by following certain procedures (Bleek 1924). The many eland paintings at Mghwabane Shelter suggest that it was a place of religious significance for the Bushmen. In the adjacent painting a running human with strung bow approaches an eland but the arrow is aimed downwards at the animal's legs. The eland is running towards the human and not away from him, as one would expect in a hunting context. It seems therefore that this not simply a painted record of a hunt. Rather, the paintings could depict beliefs about hunting eland and their supernatural power.
There are also many paintings of anthropomorphs (human-like figures) at Mghwabane Shelter. Some of these paintings may depict human beings while others could depict supernatural/mythological beings. At the bottom right hand corner of the Main Panel at Mhwabane is a cluster of paintings that depicts an anthropomorph (yellow arrow) with an eared headdress, eyes and mouth. Two honeycombs (red arrow) are held aloft in one hand.
The small flecks of paint that surround the honeycombs are paintings of bees. Bushman people in the Kalahari believe that bees and honey are ‘strong’ things— they are supernaturally potent. They say that the eland (also a "strong" thing) smells of honey. The paintings of bees, honeycombs and eland at Mghwabane suggest that the artists here had similar beliefs about the significance of honey.
No dating work has been carried out at Mghwabane Shelter and so the age of the paintings is not known. To judge from dates obtained from rock art in the nearby Cathedral Peak area by Mazel and Watchman (2003) they could be thousands of years old.
There is no map accompanying this trail description since it is a very short walk.
BLEEK, D.F. 1924. The Mantis and his friends: Bushman folklore. Cape Town: Maskew Miller.
LEWIS-WILLIAMS, J.D. 1981. Believing and seeing: symbolic meanings in southern San rock paintings. London: Academic Press.
MAZEL, A.D. & A.L. WATCHMAN. 2003. Dating rock paintings in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg and the Biggarsberg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Southern African Humanities 15: 59–73.
ORPEN, J.M. 1874. A glimpse into the mythology of the Maluti Bushmen. Cape Monthly Magazine 9: 1–10.
HOLLMANN, J.C. & M. MSIMANGA. 2008. ‘An extreme case’: the removal of rock art from uMhwabane (eBusingatha) rock art shelter, Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal. Southern African Humanities 20: 285–315.
Trail development supported by the GEF Small Grants Programme, implemented by UNDP.