For nature lovers, the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve in the Drakensberg has always been a special destination. Once the realm of the San (also known as Bushmen), who left their mark in the form of delicate cave art, it was also the site of major colonial friction between the British and the amaHlubi, once led by Chief Langalibalele.

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Shortly after his release in from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela laid a wreath on Langalibalele’s grave near Estcourt.

Ah, Giant’s Castle at the end of a long winter. The russet-toned land is sleeping. There is a great silence, punctuated only by the distant call of an elusive bearded vulture.

These Drakensberg ridges are lined with snow, and the lower sandstone hills are a study in sepia. The air is cold, and there is a chill on your exposed cheeks.

This place, like most of the Drakensberg range, was once the domain of the San (also known as Bushmen). Their exquisite artwork adorns many caves and overhangs in these mountains, and is one of the major reasons, apart from its natural beauty, that the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park was declared a World Heritage Site.

Near Giant’s Castle is a passage once called the Bushman’s Pass, which the San used to cross back and forth from Lesotho. It has been renamed Langalibalele Pass.

Langalibalele (which means ‘the sun is boiling hot’ in Zulu) was chief of the amaHlubi, an Nguni group. Many of the Hlubi men worked in the diamond fields of Kimberley, and instead of being paid in cash, they were given firearms.

The British colonial government in the then-Natal ordered the Hlubi people to register their firearms. Langalibalele baulked at this directive and hostilities were declared.

He decided to take his people over the Bushman’s Pass into Lesotho.

Major Anthony Durnford led the colonial forces trying to prevent this passage. The skirmish that ensued on 3 November 1873 was chaotic, and left five colonial soldiers dead.

There were massive reprisals by the British, and on 11 December 1873, Langalibalele surrendered. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

In 1875 he was transferred to Uitvlug Farm near Pinelands in Cape Town and was held there for 12 years.

In 1887 he was sent to the Swartkop location near Pietermaritzburg and was held under house arrest for another two years until his death.

These days hikers make their way up from the Giant’s Castle Camp to the historic Langalibalele Pass.

On their way, they will encounter ‘Rock 75’, a large boulder with the number 75 painted on it by members of the 75th Regiment Royal Engineers involved in the so-called ‘Langalibalele Rebellion’.

Further on, they come to the Main Caves Bushman Museum, which has a reconstructed display of a San family going about their daily business. There are very good examples of San rock art in the area.

In the words of the late South African painter, Walter Battiss, who was one of the first to champion the importance of San rock art: ‘No artist has said more, saying less ...’

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