Statue of His Majesty King Makhado “Tshilwavhusiku” Ramabulana, in Makhado

Makhado (Tshitandani) nestles at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountain range. It is a neat town that’s always green (like the rest of Venda), even in the middle of the severest droughts. The following are some of the Vhavenda communities that had resided here and surrounding areas since time immemorial:

  • Tshirululuni
  • Magoni
  • La Ndou
  • Vhulorwa
  • Lunoni
  • Phawe
  • Khavhambe
  • Malimuwa
  • Vhutuwangadzebu
  • Mudimeli
  • Tshitungulu
  • Tshidzivhani
  • Mudzivhadi
  • Tshifhefhe
  • Old Mauluma
  • Mashau
  • Songozwi
  • Rasikhuthuma / Masakona
  • Luonde / Mukwevho
  • Luvhola
  • Mpheni
  • Ratombo
  • Marandela
  • Maila
  • Tshivhodza / Makatu
  • Tshikhudo
  • Manavhela
  • Mamphodo
  • Mushasha
  • Begwa
  • Folovhodwe
  • Funyufunyu and,
  • Matshavha.
These communities were forcibly removed to Nzhelele, Ha-Sinthumule, Ha-Kutama, Ha-Nesengani, Tshimbupfe, present day Ha-Mashau, present day Ha-Masakona, and Ha-Davhana. Some were taken to places more than 70 km away, such as Ha-Tshivhasa, Ha-Mphaphuli, and Ha-Rambuda.

White settlers arrived in the area in 1858. The first settlement was botched as the greed of colonialists for land and free labour saw King Makhado Ramabulana rout them from Schoemansdal, Ha-Sinthumule, 12 km to the west.

King Makhado’s father, King Ravele Ramabulana had allowed white settlers to stay at Schoemansdal in 1858. Schoemansdal was the northernmost part of white encroachment into the rest of South Africa. It was a hive of activity, the centre of business – where elephant tusks, skins from leopard and lion, dried meat and teak wood were exchanged for gold and other commodities. Trade in ivory and skins constituted two-thirds of the £150 000 derived from business in one year. Of that amount, £30 000 was from ivory.

As time went on, settlers wanted more and more land. They also wanted Vhavenda, including royal princes, to work for them for free. They even wanted tax and to map out where King Makhado’s area would be – a reserve designating where his jurisdiction would begin and end. King Makhado would have none of it. He told the whites to get off and that he did not recognise their rule over Vhavenda.

By 1858, there were between 40 and 50 settlers; by 1861 there were more than 70 families at Schoemansdal. From here, as tensions grew, whites called for reinforcements from Pretoria. They were given 400 commandos under the leadership of Commandant General Paul Kruger, later to become a leader and hero of the Boers. Their task was to dislodge King Makhado from Luaname and establish unchallenged rule over his areas and subjects.

King Makhado’s palace was at Luaname on Mount Songozwi1 . Sheer cliffs fortified the palace of one of the African liberation struggle heroes. The cattle post was at Tshirululuni, where Makhado town stands. Luaname offered King Makhado the view of all those approaching, including enemies. Luaname and Tshirululuni also provided the Venda capital with a home rich with wild fruits, good pasture for their many cattle, large tracts of land for ploughing and a place free of mosquitoes that plagued many Venda areas in summer.

King Makhado defended the Kingdom of Vhavenda with his battalions. The Manenu batallion, which was the strongest, was situated at Tshianane. The warriors of Manenu were popular for their fighting prowess. They used spears, battle axes, bows and arrows as their weapons. The shield (tshitangu) was the symbol of this battalion, symbolizing the safeguarding of the Kingdom. The Maunavhathu battalion was situated at the present Vuwani area. The Maunavhathu warriors were known for their fearlessness and ruthlessness. The Mavhoi was a senior battalion. It formed part of the security at the King’s palace, Luaname in Makhado.

One day King Makhado’s army commander, Funyufunyu, visited his brother who was working for the Boers at Schoemansdal. Funyufunyu witnessed how the Boers were ill-treating Vhavenda at Schoemansdal. The following day, 13 July 1867, the drum was beaten and Venda soldiers assembled for the attack. They went down and killed everybody who was there. The only survivors were two hunters who had gone out. They raced away towards the south, where they got help to go back and claim their dead. The bodies were taken to Soekmekaar and many went there to look for their relatives – and the name Soekmekaar (looking for one another) came from that.

The destruction of Schoemansdal meant that the regime in Pretoria had lost its hold on Venda. The whites settled in Marabastad, outside Polokwane and later settled in Polokwane. The settlers then tried many tricks to get King Makhado on their side. On 20 November 1869, Kruger, RA van Nispen and Commandant DB Snyman assembled more than 80 Ha-Ramabulana chiefs and headmen to pledge their loyalty to the white regime. King Makhado boycotted the meeting and refused to abide by its decree.

In 1887, General Piet Joubert was sent to try and convince Makhado that his land was too big for the number of people he ruled. King Makhado rejected this. He said his people would not be counted for a census and that his land did not need to be measured as he knew where it started and ended. The settlers, together with Shangaan/Tsongaspeaking men aligned to a Portuguese man called Joao Albasini, once more tried to fight King Makhado. But they could not dislodge him after several fights. This earned King Makhado the nickname “Bull of the North” and the praise name “Tshilwavhusiku tsha Ramabulana” (the night fighter of Ramabulana), because he attacked at night with men who knew the area intimately.

King Makhado died of suspected poisoning (poisoned at a shop owned by John Cooksley) in September 1895. The Boers regrouped and attacked Makhado’s son, King Tshilamulela Ramabulana (Mphephu I), in October 1898. By this time the Venda army was divided due to internal family squabbles within the royal family. Mphephu was defeated and the Boers took over Luatame as Mphephu fled to Zimbabwe. A town was established on 22 February 1899 at Tshirululuni and was renamed Louis Trichardt2 . When the South African War (the Anglo-Boer War) broke out in 1899 Vhavenda sided with the English and burnt the town. The Boers were defeated and surrendered in 1902. King Mphephu I came back to Luaname in 1902. The Ramabulana royal family was later forcibly resettled in Dzanani, Dzata, after the 1913 Land Act was passed. Tshirululuni was later declared a ‘white area’.

In 1999 the Ramabulana royal family and two prominent Venda historians, Professor NV Ralushai and Dr HW Nemudzivhadi called for Kings Makhado and Mphephu to be honoured and to be acknowledged for their role in the defence of Makhado and the entire Venda Kingdom. They rightfully argued that Louis Trichardt, originally known as Tshirululuni, should be renamed after King Makhado. The Greater Louis Trichardt Municipality was renamed Makhado Municipality after the 2000 local government elections. Louis Trichardt was renamed Makhado by the Limpopo Geographic Names Committee in December 2002. The name Makhado was approved by the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Dr Ben Ngubane on 06 June 2003.

A caravan park was built in Makhado in 2002 and was named Makhado Caravan Park. A residential suburb that was built in the late 1990s was named Makhado Park. Some streets were renamed Songozwi and Tshirululuni. A shopping mall was opened in November 2006 and is known as Makhado Crossing. The South African Army Airforce Base in the area is also known AFB Makhado.

In 2005 Professor Malekgapuru Makgoba wrote a newspaper article titled “The Wrath of Dethroned White Males”. In this article Professor Makgoba gave examples of how in the primate family, especially baboons, a certain male becomes dominant in terms of control of the social cluster and reproduction. But in the long run, the dominant male is dethroned by a young and fitter male. The dethroned male turns into being a social spoiler of the new order, becomes depressed and quarrelsome until he abandons the troop to live a lonely and frustrated life. Professor Makgoba likened the baboon concept of dominance with a sector of the white males (and females) who, through the demise of colonialism and apartheid, have become bitter and unwilling to accept that there is now an African government presiding over an African country and predominantly African society with dominant African values.

It is this sector of dethroned white males and females that organised marches opposing the name change and went as far as insulting King Makhado and Vhavenda by saying that King Makhado “was a tribal warlord chief”. This group thought that it could rewrite history by denying that Tshirululuni / Makhado was the capital of the then Venda Kingdom and was the centre of Venda. These dethroned white males and females took the Minister of Arts and Culture to the Northern Gauteng High Court in August 2005. Presenting themselves as “the Louis Trichardt Chairpersons Committee (“the LTCC”)”, they asked the court to set aside the name change. They argued that the majority of inhabitants in the Makhado Municipality opposed the name change3 . They conveniently forgot to mention that 85% of the inhabitants of the Makhado Municipality are Venda speaking and that they were happy that the town had been renamed Makhado.

The state argued that the erstwhile louis trichardt was the main centre of the territory which was commonly known as Vendaland and dominated by the Venda people to whom Makhado was a very important historical figure4 . The LTCC, who stated in 2003 that “Makhado was a tribal warlord chief”, suddenly changed tune and argued that “Makhado was not the name of a person, but an institution and Louis Trichardt was in any event never part of Venda”5 . They said that Louis Trichardt was an indigenous name, pre-colonial name6 that was the first name for the town and never displaced any other name. Judge Francis Legodi dismissed the LTCC’s application with costs on Thursday 08 August 2005.

These dethroned males and females have consistently decided to pretend, and go as far as convincing themselves that their distorted history is the correct history. Have these people forgotten that where Makhado town stands today was known as Tshirululuni? It is time these racists and their sidekicks were reminded the truth, that the following Venda-speaking communities resided in Makhado and surrounding areas (10 kilometre radius) before the racist policies of land grabbing, forced removals and segregation came into effect:

  • Songozwi;
  • Tshirululuni;
  • Magoni;
  • La Ndou;
  • Vhulorwa;
  • Lunoni;
  • Phawe;
  • Khavhambe;
  • Malimuwa;
  • Vhutuwangadzebu;
  • Mudimeli;
  • Tshitungulu;
  • Tshidzivhani;
  • Mudzivhadi;
  • Tshifhefhe;
  • Old Mauluma;
  • Mashau;
  • Rasikhuthuma / Masakona;
  • Luonde / Mukwevho;
  • Luvhola;
  • Mpheni;
  • Ratombo;
  • Marandela;
  • Maila;
  • Tshivhodza / Makatu;
  • Tshikhudo;
  • Manavhela;
  • Mamphodo;
  • Mushasha;
  • Begwa;
  • Folovhodwe;
  • Funyufunyu;
  • and Matshavha.

How do these people explain the fact that land claims by communities in Nzhelele, Ha-Sinthumule, Ha-Kutama, and Ha-Nthabalala affect 90% of Makhado area, including Makhado itself? Do they think that these are false claims? Tough…these claims have been validated.

On Thursday 08 August 2005 the statue of King Makhado was unveiled in Makhado by the Limpopo Provincial government. Six days after the unveiling, the statue was vandalised by several dethroned white men (right wingers) who drove their vehicles at high speed into the Makhado Information Center in the dead of night. They fired shots at a spotlight overlooking the statue of King Makhado and then proceeded to paint it in the colours of the old apartheid flag. The action scared the security guard who was posted there that he hid behind the walls before fleeing the premises7 .

The incident was condemned by various people including King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, King Makhado’s great grandson. King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana described the action as insulting. Soon after it was established that King Makhado’s statue had been vandalised, Daan Enslin, the owner of Makhado Spar Supermarket, took it upon himself to cover the statue and arranged for experts to clean off the paint. Daan Enslin described the incident as embarrassing to both Africans and whites. This courageous action by a white man demonstrated that some white people had embraced change and transformation and that only a few lunatics opposed change.

This was not the first time that a statue of an African struggle icon had been vandalised by right wing Boers. In 2001 the bust of Makgoba erected at Makgobaskloof was vandalised. The statue of Steve Biko, the father of Black Consciousness, was also vandalised in King Williams Town.

The statute of King Makhado was cleaned on Wednesday 14 September. A public meeting in Makhado on 14 September 2005 expressed fury over the vandalising of the statue and resolved to work with the police to find the perpetrators. The communities in the Makhado municipality, of which 85% are Venda speaking, were furious that the statue of their king had been painted.

The City Press editorial of 18 September 2005 got it right when it stated that apartheid was an evil system that bred intolerance.

“It told white people that they were a chosen race, superhuman and tasked by God to lead the inferior African out of barbarism. Many white people believed this and lived their lives by it. When change came, many of them embraced the truth of life, that all people are equal and that the inequalities of the past, material and psychological, needed to be addressed. However, there is a minority of whites who cling to the forlorn hope that the past will return to give them what they see as their loss of power. They are the groups who are behind the defacing of King Makhado and other statues. They think they can win against truth, justice and fairness. They cannot and will not. The Makhado statue must be restored and if we need to place 10 guards to guard it and, in so doing, move this country into the new era, so be it. But we are not as a nation going to be intimidated by painters in the night whose sole basis in life is a belief in the inhumanity of humans”8.

Dethroned white males and females have continued to cause ha voc. They are threatening to take the Minister of Arts and Culture to court if he approves the changing of apartheid names of Pretoria, Potchefstroom, and Nelspruit to their original names of Tshwane, Tlokwe, and Mbomblea respectively.

These dethroned white males and females approached the Supreme Court of Appeal (“the SCA”) in March 2007 and requested the SCA to reverse the name Makhado. The SCA ruled in their favour on Thursday 29th March 2007. The SCA ordered the Minister of Arts and Culture to reverse the name to the old apartheid and non-indigenous insulting name of louis trichardt. The SCA, unfortunately, based its findings on the issue of ‘lack of consultation’. The SCA ignored the historical and political context of name changes.

The LTCC is one of many right-wing, racist, anti-transformation associations that oppose any effort at transformation, from Affirmative Action, to Black Economic Empowerment, to Employment Equity, etc. The issue of name changes should be located within its political and historical context. It is a political issue. That is why racists organisations like Solidarity Trade Union and its baby, Afriforum, always threaten legal action before the process of changing a place name commences. The dethroned white males and females would like to hang on to names like louis trichardt, HF Verwoerd Tunnels, JG Strydom Tunnels, etc, names that are insulting to the African majority and that are a reminder of the terrible past.

A special Makhado council meeting on Thursday 12th April 2007 resolved to re-start a process to get Makhado renamed yet again to Makhado. “We are going to start that process immediately, but we’ll make it a point that we don’t make mistakes which happened in the past,” said former Makhado mayor Gloria Mashaba.

At the meeting, 55 African National Congress, Azanian People’s Organisation, Pan Africanist Congress and United Democratic Movement councillors voted to start the process to get the town named Makhado again. Five Democratic Alliance and African Christian Democratic Party councillors voted against, while councillors from the Independent Democrats and Ximoko Progressive Party abstained from voting9 .

We should not, in the words of Mudini Maivha, the PAC’s Secretary for Political Affairs, “allow local racists to derail the Africanising of society. It is time that racists accepted that things have changed and will keep changing”.

The ANC in Limpopo issued a statement on 16 April 2007. The statement welcomed and supported the decision of the Makhado Municipality to restart the process of consultation to rename the town. “We acknowledge the court did not rule against the principle of the changing of names, which is part of our transformation agenda. The decision was about the process. As the new consultation starts, the ANC will encourage our members to fully participate in the process to support our transformation agenda. The ANC will not apologise and negate our history by holding on to names which do not add value to our transformation and nation-building agenda. We therefore fully support the Makhado municipality as they commence this process”10 .

The battle for Makhado continued with the Makhado Municipality restarting the process of renaming the town Makhado. On 14 October 2011 the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile, announced, in a Government Gazette, that the town would officially be known as Makhado.

As soon as the announcement was made defeated white males and their sidekicks, as expected, made noises that they would, once again, mount a legal challenge. The Limpopo Geographical Names Committee, on the other hand, welcomed the Minister’s decision and announced that the committee would embark on a process to enforce the implementation of the new name through changing all signage around Limpopo. The committee also announced that it would engage the department of roads and transport and the Makhado municipality to fast-track the process to avoid confusing people.