Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains of the Eastern Cape
Rock Art in the Southern Drakensberg in South Africa
The draw card to do a trip to Mount Fletcher in the Drakensberg Mountain Range of the Eastern Cape in South Africa was the discovery in recent times of what is arguably the best Bushman Rock Art in Southern Africa. This area is off the beaten track as far as tourism is concerned and in fact very few South African’s have probably been there, apart from the residents and family of the people living in this isolated rural environment. Just over the mountains nearby lies the Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked country within the borders of South Africa.
Until recently the goat and sheep herders in the area are the only ones who have known about the rock art in the caves situated high in the mountains. Scientist however recently “discovered” this historical treasure and so several have visited the caves to add these wonderful paintings to the collection of other known rock art in Southern Africa. An article on Google pointed me in that direction and so during the Heritage Day long weekend in South Africa we made the trip, about 500 km from East London. With mist and rain our trip took us eight hours of rather stressful driving. At the same time the roads were remarkably good as we drove past Stutterheim, Cathcart, Queenstown, Dortrecht, Ugie and Maclear to get to Mount Fletcher.
Accommodation in a B and B run by a local Xhosa resident was comfortable and our guide who works out of his office in Mount Fletcher was a delightful and informed young Xhosa man who had been trained in the skill of a rock art guide in the Western Cape as a part of a program designed to empower local people to set up their own businesses in the tourism industry. Thabothani Tshaka was knowledgeable and very friendly as he escorted us into the area some 35 km from Mount Fletcher and introduced us to the local Headman of the village
From here the climb up the mountain took about two hours and the large caves were indeed remarkable and can be compared to the best found in the Natal Drakensberg. Unfortunately some modern graffiti has been added to some of the paintings by some young and ignorant visitors with no idea about the value of these important historical Bushman paintings.
Thabonathi and the local Headman are now guarding the caves with more care so that hoprfully no further damage is done to them and so it would be almost impossible to find or visit the caves without the supervision of a guide like Thabonathi Tshaka who has a vested interest in this task. At the same time he seems to have a sincere desire to preserve these important paintings.
The painting show both animal and human figures and there is a lot of speculation as scientists interpret the paintings. There seems to be a close link between the spiritual world of the artists and the physical world that they lived in. Different students of Rock Art are still interpreting the meaning found in these beautiful and often mystical images that have survived for so long.
What was particularly interesting to me was meeting people like the Headman of the village in the area, his family, and others in the area who live in this very isolated rural area. They in some ways have been untouched by the pressures of the modern western world and seem to be living more simple lives. While they enjoy some of the obvious benefits of technology like electricity, cell phones and television, their lives seem much slower and more peaceful. Perhaps that is an illusion, but after two days in these isolated mountains I felt a peace and hope for our country that has been missing in my heart lately. The beautiful rock art from the past also spoke of lives that lived years ago in a different world with different challenges and pressures.
On the way home on Heritage Day we met some women in Maclear who were wearing their beautiful tribal dresses and this led to an impromptu photo shoot in the Freshstop Cafe where we enjoyed a breakfast on our way back.