If you are based in Johannesburg, South Africa and would like to travel back in time for a few hours, be sure to visit Melville Koppies. Sit on the high rocky ridges of the 3 billion-year-old quartzite rocks and enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding suburbs.
This is a ‘wow’ sight. The serenity of the Koppies contrasts with the bustle of city life. Then, take a walk through the grasslands dotted with veld flowers, through trails that meander in cool forests down to the sparkling Westdene Spruit. This is how Joburg looked before humans arrived.
Australopithecines probably loped here but they left no trace because the geology does not form caves for creatures to fall into and become fossilised.
However, modern humans left traces. The Late Stone Age Khoisan were nomadic hunter-gatherers who periodically visited the Koppies to hunt and forage for edible and medicinal plants. Archaeologists have found some of their stone tools, knapped into arrowheads, chisels and scrapers. Guides keep some examples of these hidden in secret places to take out and show visitors. After seeing such tools, children promptly find ‘tools’ everywhere. The Khoisan’s knowledge of medicinal plants was essential for survival. One such plant was a ‘cure-all’ little bush, Artemisia afra, which is still widely used today to treat coughs, etc. The leaves are infused with hot water and perhaps sweetened with a bit of honey to alleviate the bitter taste. Many of our current visitors know this plant and exclaim, “My Granny always uses this!”
The next wave of people to inhabit the Koppies were the Bantu-speaking early farmers who migrated down from the north and arrived at the Koppies about 1300CE. Archaeologist Revil Mason excavated an original iron smelting furnace which led to Melville Koppies being declared a Joburg Heritage Site. Traces of stone-walling of these Sotho/Tswana can be seen in many places on the Koppies. They used large grindstones to grind their sorghum and mealie crops for porridge and beer. People have donated several grindstones to the Koppies. Many female visitors immediately get down on their knees when they see the grindstones and start grinding the course sorghum (bought from the local supermarkets) we supply. Some women even sing a grinding song they learnt from their grannies. Occasionally a man will also do some grinding – traditionally a ‘woman’s job’.
In the 1880’s the Geldenhuys brothers bought an extensive farm which included Melville Koppies – to prospect for gold. Fortunately they didn’t find any payable gold and they left the Koppies intact.
Melville Koppies is prime real estate. Why wasn’t it developed? This was due to the foresight of academics from the University of the Witwatersrand and other environmentalists who realised the importance of preserving this biodiverse rich floral and geological heritage in 1959.
We are fortunate to be the current wave of visitors who are able to use the Koppies for education, research, field work and sustainable recreation. Explore the Koppies on your own on an open Sunday session or join a guided tour.
Story written by Wendy Carstens, Chairman of the Melville Koppies Management Committee. For more information about the Koppies visit: www.mk.org.za or email: email@example.com and call: 011 482 4797
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