Prehistory of the Region

Africans who worked with copper and iron inhabited the area between 350AD to 600AD. Linguistic and archaeological evidence indicates that these Iron Age inhabitants are most likely the ancestors of the BaTswana and BaSotho, as well as the BaFokeng. Indeed it was only after around 1500AD that the people became distinguishable as BaTswana and BaSotho. The BaKwena were one of the people that arose out of this group.

Led by Malope and later his son Masilo between 1440AD and 1560AD, the BaKwena split into smaller groupings that eventually peopled the region from the Highveld to the Kalahari.

Between 1440AD and 1560AD they were led by Malope and later his son Masilo. The BaKwena split into smaller groupings that eventually populated the region from the Highveld to the Kalahari.

Around 1690, a severe drought caused the BaKwena to migrate. Those that migrated to Lesotho became known as the Sotho, but many remained in the area today known as Phokeng, about 10km north of Rustenburg.

During the Difaqane of the 1820s, the Fokeng, led by Chief Sebitwane, defeated the Tswana in the Magaliesberg. But Mzilikazi's invasion of the area saw even these conquerors defeated by the Ndebele. They, in turn, were ousted from the region by a coalition of Griqua, Tswana and Voortrekkers in 1837.

During the Difaqane of the 1820s, the Fokeng, led by Chief Sebitwane, defeated the Tswana in the Magaliesberg. However, the Fokeng were later defeated by Mzilikazi and in turn, Mzilikazi was ousted from the region by a coalition of Griqua, Tswana and Voortrekkers in 1837.

The BaFokeng

The Bafokeng descend from the BaKwena, and were settled in the area of Phokeng from the 15th century. With the arrival of the Whites, the Bafokeng King Mokgatle (1836-1891) decided to secure the community's rights to land.

The BaFokeng are descended from the BaKwena, and were settled in the area of Phokeng in the 15th century. With the arrival of White people in the area, the BaFokeng King Mokgatle (1836-1891) decided to secure the community's rights to land.

Although the Bafokeng submitted to the rule of Mzilikazi in the early part of the 19th century, Mzilikazi's Ndebele were eventually ousted from the region, and Mokgatle unified the Bafokeng and embarked on what would today be called a development programme.

He sought out missionaries to settle in the Phokeng area to further the education of the youth, and established cordial relations with Paul Kruger and the Voortrekkers. He sent men to Kimberly to work on the diamond mines to earn cash wages, which was used to buy land. He bought land in the name of missionary ChristophPenzhorn, and the land was held in a trust by Lutheran missionaries, since Blacks were not legally allowed to buy land.

The policy of land purchases continued under the reign of August Motlolegi (1896-1938), and he maintained a policy of neutrality during the South African War.

When platinum was discovered on BaFokeng land in 1921, the government and mining companies made many attempts to dispossess the BaFokeng of their land and mineral rights, all of which failed. The BaFokeng were continually involved in land disputes.

During the reign of Kgosi James Manotshe Motlolegi XII (1936-1956), the National Party came to power in 1948, and apartheid legislation began to be introduced. When Motlolegi XII died in 1956, Kgosi Edward Lebone Mololegi became the leader of the Bafokeng, and embarked on major infrastructural development.

In 1972, Bophuthatswana became a self-governing state, and was granted 'independence' by the apartheid regime in 1977. President Lucas Mangope's relations with the BaFokeng were tense, and he sent their leaders into exile or had them imprisoned.

Later, protracted legal battles began with Mangope and Impala Platinum Mines over land and mineral rights. When Rocky Malebane-Metsing staged a coup in February 1988, and the coup failed, Malebane-Metsing, Lebone and his wife MmeMogolo went into exile.

Lebone only returned in 1995, the date which marks the proclamation of the Royal BaFokeng Nation. Lebone died in 2000, just after the BaFokeng's legal victory over Impala in 1999. He was succeeded by Leruo Tshekedi Motlolegi.

An archeological look at the prehistory of the Rustenburg area

Known as 'the richest tribe in Africa' because of their mineral wealth, the Fokeng have been based at Phokeng north of Rustenburg since the end of the 17th century. They now speak Tswana, but archaeological evidence indicates an earlier Nguni origin in KwaZulu-Natal.


According to oral traditions, their legendary place of origin is the hill Ntsuanatsatsi just south of the Vaal River. There in the Free State, a diagnostic type of stonewalling and pottery characterised early Fokeng settlements (see pre-history of Bloemfontein). Known as Type N walling and Ntsuanatsatsi pottery, the distribution of this complex marks the movement of people in the 'Fokeng cluster' north across the Vaal River into the Gauteng and North West provinces. This movement probably dates to the mid 16th century, predating the lifespan of meaningful oral traditions about specific leaders.

Once in the greater Rustenburg area, Fokeng met various Sotho-Tswana people. Through intermarriage and other forms of interaction, the Fokeng were 'Sotho-ised'. As part of this process, their type of walling changed somewhat to what is now called Klipriviersburg and the pottery to Uitkomst. Besides Fokeng, groups today with this second complex of stonewalling and pottery include Tlokwa and BaPo. In the early 19th century, the BaPo had their capital at the base of Wolhuterskop southeast of Rustenburg. Their historic leader, Mogale, gave his name to the Magaliesberg. Together these groups form the 'Fokeng cluster'.


As a result of the interaction, Sotho-Tswana speakers adopted stonewalling. In the Rustenburg area, they built the Molokwane type, named after a well-known settlement (also called Selonskraal) west of Rustenburg. In the late 19th century, Molokwane was the capital of the Modimosana Mmatau BaKwena, and housed up to 20 000 people. Archaeologists have excavated a small part of Molokwane and most of a similar settlement near the Olifantspoort Dam. One of the walling differences has to do with the location of small stock kraals. In the two types of Fokeng settlements, sheep/goat kraals were attached to the outer wall, and thus at the back of the residential area. In contrast, sheep and goats were penned at the front of the residential zone in Sotho-Tswana settlements. Further, stone arcs in the outer wall marked the back of a married woman's household at Molokwane and Olifantspoort. This 'bi-lobial' arrangement characterises all Sotho-Tswana settlement patterns, and this feature was adopted by Fokeng as they became more Sotho-like.

The large size of Molokwane and other contemporaneous settlements was a reaction to the troubled times known as the difaqane (Sotho), or mefacane (Nguni) that started in the late 18th century. At this time, Sotho-Tswana people aggregated around their leaders for mutual defence. Since then, urban clusters (rather than dispersed homesteads) have been a characteristic of Sotho-Tswana life.

Another kind of stonewalled settlement also dates to the Late Iron Age in the Rustenburg region. Located on hill slopes, stone-lined cattle tracks and house terraces follow a front/back axis that identifies the occupants as Southern Nguni. These people were probably the ancestors of present-day Tlhako, neighbours of the Fokeng.


When Mzilikazi moved from KwaZulu-Natal to here in about 1826, he incorporated many local people, including Fokeng. This combined nation created another stonewalled type, called Doornspruit (after the farm where it was first recognised). From the air, these recent settlements resemble a beaded necklace: long scalloped walls enclosed houses, kitchens and small stock, while cattle stayed inside wooden byres inside a large open space. This pattern appears to be a stonewalled version of a Zulu military kraal.

A favourable environment is one of the reasons why African farmers moved into the Rustenburg area. The underlying igneous rocks produce a rich, dark soil ideal for sorghum cultivation. Although the area suffers occasional dry spells, as elsewhere, the numerous hills ensure that it is generally well watered, and it suffers few frosts. In addition, the availability of iron and copper ores was another attraction. The Tlokwa was one group to exploit these mineral resources. Tlokwa mined copper ores from a shallow deposit not far from their capital town of Marothodi west of the Pilanesberg. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous iron and copper smelters there in the 'no man's land' in between the stonewalled homesteads. Metal workers, on the other hand, worked secondary crucible furnaces for copper in small enclosures attached to the outer wall of the residential zone. This location is probably part of a complex of ideas that associate women with copper and men with iron. Research here has helped to clarify copper production at farming settlements elsewhere in southern Africa that lack stonewalling.

Research here has also helped to bridge the gap between history and archaeology. Oral traditions, early historic records and archaeology all point to a complex mix of Sotho-Tswana (Kwena) as well as Southern (Tlhako) and Northern Nguni people (Fokeng, BaPo and Tlokwa) before Europeans entered the area. Historical archaeologists are now actively researching the complexity of this ethnic mix.

For Further Reading:

  • Boeyens, J. and S. Hall 2009. Tlokwa oral traditions and the interface between history and archaeology at Marothodi. South African Historical Journal 61: 457-481.
  • Carruthers, V. 2000. The Magaliesberg. Pretoria: Protea Book House.
  • Pistorius, J.J. 1992. Molokwane: An Iron Age Bakwena Village. Johannesburg: Perskor Printers.

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