A picture of King Mzilikazi (1790 - 1868) as portrayed by Captain William Cornwallis Harris. Picture circa 1836, via Wikimedia Commons

The Madikwe Game Reserve is steeped in history and tradition. The famous Mafikeng Road (the main road now running through the reserve) was once used by explorers, hunters, merchants and missionaries during the early 1800s, as part of a trade corridor linking Cape Town and Bulawayo.

Well-known public figures like William Cornwallis Harris, Cecil John Rhodes and David Livingstone travelled through the Madikwe region along this route, both battling and forming strong friendships with the local people who called this place home.

King Mzilikazi, leader and founder of the Matabele tribe, crossed Madikwe during the 1800s in his quest to expand his kingdom. In his autobiography, Livingstone referred to Mzilikazi as the second most impressive leader he had had the fortune of meeting during his time on the African continent. 

Renowned South African author Herman Charles Bosman also spent some time living in the area during the 1900s, finding inspiration in its rich character and atmosphere which he reflected in many of his famous short stories.

Herman Charles Bosman at age 21. Image courtesy uj.ac.za

Over time, cattle and maize farmers moved into the area. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of the soil, their returns were poor and much of the land became dilapidated. Then in the early 1990s, an organisation called Settlement Planning Services, or Setplan, conducted a feasibility study in the region which showed that developing it into a game reserve was the most efficient form of land use and the most beneficial to local communities.

In 1991, the government of the time initiated Operation Phoenix – the largest wildlife translocation to ever take place in the world. The demarcated area was fenced off, and by 1997 more than 8 000 animals of 28 species had been released into the reserve.

Other historical events or places of interest within Madikwe:

The Kaditshwene Ruins (Tshwenyane Hills)

This is the largest Iron Age stone-built city in South Africa. In 1820, this city was larger than Cape Town. It was the manufacturing, trading and cultural capital of the Bahurutshe before the 1600s, all the way to 1823.

At Silkatskop / Egabeni

King Mzilikazi's camp was attacked by Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter in November 1837, forcing Mzilikazi to migrate north through the Madikwe region to Zimbabwe.

Abjaterskop and Dwarsberg Hills

Contain numerous ancient iron and copper mines, and many Iron Age stone-built settlements.

Bosman's School

A school built in the 1920s near Abjaterskop, where writer Herman Charles Bosman taught.

At Derdepoort

Limestone caves which are largely unexplored. Also a battle site of the Anglo-Boer War.


An Iron Age settlement excavated by Revil Mason, near Mosega.


This was the capital city of the Barolong people from the 1820s to the 1830s, and the site of two battles of Difaqane (1823 and 1832). On 6 August 1832, the town was attacked by Mzilikazi's Ndebele, thus precipitating the Barolong migrations. Writer Sol Plaatje based his novel Mhudi on this event.


Kraaipan is the site of the first engagement of the Anglo-Boer War (12 October 1899). A monument is near the railway crossing there.

Thaba Sione

A well-known rock engraving site near Khunwana and Kraaipan.