Situated in the Soutpansberg District to the south-east of Louis Trichardt is Valdezia Mission Station, an establishment that has come to represent a portion of South Africa's Heritage. Valdezia Mission Station in Limpopo has certainly done much to benefit the local population and uplift the community, while providing insight into the past.
The Mission Station was established in 1875 by Ernst Creux and Henri Bertroud, both of them theological students. In 1874 they received permission to buy Klipfontein farm from Mr. Scot J. Watt and this is where they built the mission station. Valdezia Mission Station, its gardens and everyday functioning was cared for by Alexis Thomas, a missionary and artisan. The entire Mission Station area included Old Valdezia School, Elim Mission Church, Elim Hospital, Lemana College, Elim Mill, the dam and other historical structures.
Large numbers of Vatsonga people began moving into the area from the country of Mozambique. This great migration is chiefly attributed to Mfecane-Difaqane upheavals directed from Zululand. Additionally there was an ongoing power struggle amongst Vatsonga chief Soshangane own sons. The Swiss Mission went on to convert several of the Vatsonga people to Christianity. Shiso Zwele and his family were the first to convert. The congregation began increasing and so a church was built. Soon the Mission Station was a developmental hub in the area. The mission house was constructed in 1884 and the church two years later in 1886.
It was in 1888 that Valdezia primary school was set-up. Several well-recognized members of South African society were taught at the school, such as T. Mandlate (minister at a Maputo church), D. Marivate (became a school teacher, composer and poet), C. Marivate (now a parliamentarian) and Dr Manghezi (today at Development Bank of Southern Africa). The Swiss missionaries certainly left their mark on an area that previously had no hospitals, churches or education establishments. In 1999 Valdezia Mission Station was declared a national monument.
A development group has signed a 100-year lease agreement on 1 000 hectares of land at Valdezia and plans to develop a shopping centre and small factories within the next two years.
The developer is African Proficient Capital, a subsidiary of African Proficient Group, headed by Duke Mpapele, together with its development partners. The owner of the land is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Africa (EPCSA), also known as the Swiss Mission. “This development will accelerate economic growth and job creation for the village,” said Mpapele. Mpapele, who was born and raised in Valdezia, is confident that the project will create numerous employment opportunities and will also make life easier for the residents, as they would no longer have to travel to nearby areas to access services such as banking. The whole area is said to be getting a face-lift with construction work, scheduled to take place in two phases. The first phase, with a projected budget of around R10 million, is scheduled for completion by the first quarter of 2019. The second phase, also with a R10 million budget, is scheduled for completion by the first quarter of 2020. “The development will attract reputable, affordable retailers in clothing, food outlets, banking services, grocery, hardware, hair and beauty, communication services such as Internet and postal services, vehicle spares and a service station,” the developers said.
The area earmarked for construction is currently undergoing a rezoning process with the Makhado Municipality. The application is for a retail centre, a fuel station, an entertainment centre and a factory that produces beauty products out of a plant found in the Valdezia area. The moderator of the EPCSA, Reverend SPH Nyambi, was very excited about the project. “We could not have missed out on this opportunity to be partners in bringing development to the people of Valdezia where the origins of the church are deeply rooted,” he said.
The land where Valdezia is situated has a history that stretches back several centuries. It was one of the ancient Tsonga trading stations, where the traders stayed over when bringing their goods from the east coast. The Vhatsonga traded goods with, among other, the Bavenda. When large numbers of Tsonga people fled from the despotic rule from Soshangane in the early 1800s, they ended up in this area just south of the Soutpansberg mountain range. The Portuguese trader, João Albasini, came to the rescue of many of the refugees and was later considered to be one of their tribal chiefs. The area where they settled was then known as Klipfontein.
When the first Swiss missionaries arrived in 1875, they were given a friendly reception by Albasini and were allowed to establish a mission station among the Tsonga people. The area was renamed Valdezia, a name derived from the Swiss canton of Vaud, where the missionaries came from. The Swiss erected a clinic and the Valdezia Primary School in 1888 and Valdezia was also the forerunner of Elim hospital, which was established in 1899.