Battles once raged where peace reigns

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The unspoiled beauty, peace and tranquility are often the very first things you notice when you escape the city and spend some time in any of the South African National Parks. However, if you take a closer look you will see evidence of times gone by, and eras dominated by warfare. We made a list of some of our national parks that still have remnants of these wars today. If you know of any others, let us know.

Bedrogfontein 4×4 trail, Addo Elephant National Park

The fierce battle of Bedrogfontein between the Boers and British during the Anglo-Boer War took place in the Zuurberg area. General Jan Smuts and his commando traveled from the north while the British traveled up from the south. The Boers ambushed the British troops and about 700 horses fell to their death during the attack due to the rocky terrain. Today you can still find graves, soldiers’ carvings on tree trunks, wagon remnants and lookout points.

Bedrogfontein

Bedrogfontein 4×4 route. Photo: Eric Reisinger

Salpeterkop chess board, Mountain Zebra National Park

There is a chessboard at the highest point in the park, carved on rock. While the British hid during the Anglo-Boer War, they played chess with fellow soldiers in an old fort in Cradock, transmitting moves by means of mirrors. The board and the names of the soldiers are etched onto a rock and can be viewed as part of a guided tour. Moderate fitness levels are required because of a challenging climb and no children younger than 12 allowed. The cost is R399 per person.
Enquiries: +27 48 881 2427

Salpeterkop chess board

Photo: Bruce Taplin

Sterile ground, Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Countless battles took place in this area during the Anglo-Boer War. Once, the Boers retreated into the Rooiberge as 50 000 British soldiers entered Bethlehem. The Boers eventually surrendered, but not before setting their ammunition wagons alight. Patches of scorched earth can be seen near the Mount Pierre area in the park. Until today, nothing grows in these sterile areas.

Scorched earth Golden Gate

Photo: René de Klerk

Shipwrecks and forts, Table Mountain National Park

Liberty ship Thomas T. Tucker struck rocks while avoiding torpedoes during a night attack in the Second World War in 1942. The hike to see the wreck is a three-kilometer return route. If you take the 6.5km Sirkelvlei route, you will pass a body of freshwater used as an air-attack range during the same war. Old cartridges can still be found in the area. Just above Olifantsbos on the ridge, the ruins of Fortress Observation Post “Bosch” still stand. It was built in 1941 to keep vigil over the Atlantic where U-boats, convoys and submarine hunters once played their deadly games.

Thomas T Tucker

Photo: Cathy Withers-Clark

Steinaecker’s Horse – Kruger National Park

The Steinaecker Horse Military Unit fought on the side of the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). The unit consisted of local inhabitants from the Lowveld; their most important task was to ensure the Boers did not make contact with Portuguese supporters in Mozambique to arrange food and supplies. Evidence was found at more than 15 sites within the Kruger National Park. More information is available at the Mopani Rest Camp reception.

Vhembe Military Base, Mapungubwe National Park

You can see remnants of the Vhembe Military Base, which operated during the time of the Anglo-Boer War near the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Here infantrymen, paratroopers, signalers and medics were stationed to keep ANC guerillas out of the country as the rivers share borders with Zimbabwe and Botswana. During the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe, joint operations were held with Rhodesian troops. You can still see a painted Rhodesian Light Infantry emblem.

Vhembe Military Base

Photo: René de Klerk

*Article originally published in the SANParks Times.

Written by: René de Klerk

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