Thohoyandou is the former capital of what was the independent homeland of Venda and the proud heart of the VhaVenda people. Thohoyandou, named after a historical chief of the VhaVenda nation, literally means 'head of the elephant'. It is the commercial, administrative and legislative centre of the Vhembe district and is situated in the South of Venda on the main road between Louis Trichardt (Makhado) and the Kruger National Park. The Venda were a patrilineal, virilocal people many of whom still practiced polygyny and worshipped their families ancestors. The culture of the VhaVenda distinguished themselves clearly from other Bantu speaking people in the Republic, and their language is classed on its own, although it has some affinities with Sotho and Karanga. They were originally shifting cultivators and hunters, but later adopted a more settled economy; they also took to keeping cattle as well as goats. They used to live in large villages, which were often cited on mountain slopes and difficult to reach, and every village was ruled by a chief or headman and his council. In the first part of the 20t century, the Venda began to move away from the villages of their rulers, taking up homesteads scattered all over the hills and mountains. With the expansion of development schemes in the country, they began to re-group in villages.
Louis Trichardt (Makhado)
Louis Trichardt (Makhado) is an important commercial, industrial and residential centre in the Northern Region, a true 'gateway' to Africa. Situated at the foot of the densely forested Soutpansberg Mountain Range near the Zimbabwean border and the Kruger National Park, in a highly fertile rapidly growing agricultural area. The town of Louis Trichardt was named after the Voortrekker leader Louis Trichardt, who during the great trek in 1838 wanted to move to as far as away as possible from British rule first settling at the Salt Pan and then later at the site now known as Schoemansdal. They were later visited by Commandant Andries Hendrik Potgieter and it was agreed to build a Town. Trichardt subsequently left and he and his wife died of malaria after an arduous trip. Eventually in 1848 the Zoutpansbergdorp was established under the leadership of Commandant Schoeman. The remains of these structures can be seen at the Schoemansdal Open Air museum. The Church of the Covenant was built after the battle between early settlers and the Vendas and the white building stands in striking contrast to the Blue Mountains in the distance.
Joao Albasini & the Albasini Dam
The Albasini Dam, roughly 20 km's east of Louis Trichardt gets its name from the famed Portuguese trader and hunter Joao Albasini, who at the same time that the pioneers arrived in the Soutpansberg area, established himself at Delagoa Bay. Opposite the picnic spot at the dam wall, the gravesite of the man that local Shangaan people still commemorate annually can be found. Joao was not only their chief but the Portuguese vice-consul in the mid 1800's and he is most remembered for employing over 500 men to carry ivory to Lorenco Marques (Maputo) and open trade routes from Mozambique into the interior. The Albasini Dam was built on his farm and in 1970/71 the dam was raised by means of spillway gates and its primary purpose is to supply the Levubu irrigation scheme. Today it's a popular boating, recreational and birding spot.
Elim and the Swiss Missionaries
In 1870 a group of Swiss missionaries come to the area on a reconnaissance trip. The outcome of this trip was the establishment of a mission station at Valdezia in 1975 by Paul Berthoud and Ernest Creux. These two missionaries covered the area from Elim to Pietersburg to the Mozambique Coast, usually travelling on foot as horses were very susceptible to horse sickness. In 1878 they bought the farm Waterval at Elim to start another mission station and this resulted in the establishment of Elim Hospital. Dr. Georges Liengme came to Elim in 1897 making do in a primitive hospital set up in the old mill buildings. His reputation as a miracle doctor soon spread and pressure was put on him to build a hospital. President Paul Kruger was so impressed with the work being done at Elim that he gave his permission for building and after additional funding from Switzerland in 1898 work began on the new buildings. The work was greatly hampered by the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) but it was duly completed in 1900. This hospital served an area of up to 300 km radius, including Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Elim played a pioneering role in the development of the Soutpansberg area. It got its first telephone in 1911; it had well functioning electricity in 1920 long before Louis Trichardt. Due to its success as a hospital three more hospitals were built in the area in 1920 at Sekukhuni, Mphahlelea and in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). After 1933 under the capable hands of Dr Jean Rosset a nursing school and a maternity ward were established. The hospital became world renowned for its eye treatment and surgery under the guidance of Dr. Odette Rosset Berdez. Today many of the descendants of these Swiss missionaries live in the area. The Hospital has been declared a natural monument and visitors can still catch a glimpse of the yesteryear at the Elim Hospital museum.
The first white settler to settle in the Soutpansberg area was Coenraad de Buys, who according to tradition, was an outlaw from the Cape Colony. He settled in the area in 1821. The town of Buysdorp, 20 km's outside Louis Trichardt is still home to the direct descendants of Coenraad de Buys. In the 1830's the Voortrekkers arrived and established the town, Schoemansdal,which was the most important trading centre in the Northern Transvaal where ivory, game skins, horns, wood and salt changed hands. The settlers' way of life is depicted in the Schoemansdal Open Air Museum, close to Louis Trichardt. The famous Voortrekker leader Andries Potgieter was buried at Schoemansdal. Joao Albasini, a Shangaan tribal chief and Portugese Vice Consul to this area in the mid 1800's, was buried at the Albasini Dam. The Kranspoort Mission Station which was erected in memory of Reverend MacKidd, who worked as a missionary amongst the Buys people in 1863, is also close to Buysdorp.