Chief Makgoba

Chief (Kgoshi) Mamphoku Makgoba[1] was a Northern Sotho (Basotho ba Leboa) Chief who ruled Makgobaskloof (often misspelled Makgoebaskloof) in the Soutpansberg, former Northern Transvaal (Limpopo province[2]), Mopani district, South Africa. His tribal totem is the Tlou of BaTlou tribe.[3]

Chief Makgoba
Died1895, June 9
Cause of deathMurdered and beheaded
NationalityNorthern Sotho
OccupationChief of Makgobaskloof
RelativesProfessor Malegapuru William Makgoba, Kgoshi Mokopa Makgoba, Archbishop Thabo Madiye Makhanyo Makgoba


It is not clear which part of Afrika Chief Makgoba and his people originated from before migrating south. In the traditions of the BaTlou(Ditlou) tribe, a first born child born to the eldest son inherits the name of the grandfather. Thus, there should be no confusion to read the historical figure mentioned in this article also goes by the royal title King Mamphoku Makgoba. It is interesting the different use of the titles "Chief" when discussing events about Chief Makgoba in the literature, and "King" when referring to him. Several authors admit that Chief Makgoba presided over a small population when the tribe made contact with White Trekboers for the first time. As such, some say he could not have been King within a broader Northern Sotho population that once recognized the Pedi Royal Family as paramount King of all Northern Sotho tribes. Chief Makgoba was subordinate to other bigger tribes such as the Letswalo, and the Mamabolos.[3] Although the structure of the traditional system of governance and leadership as we know it in contemporary South Africa might have been differently articulated and understood by tribes in pre-colonial Africa.

Additionally, we know that the tribe of Makgobaskloof has strong links with some of the Kalanga[4]-Sotho-Tswana tribes that established ancient Kingdoms such as Butua, Maphungubwe and Great Zimbabwe. The history of these great kingdoms is often shrouded in mystery since very little information exists in literature, but also in museum displays and archaeological narratives.[5]


Chief Makgoba, as we know him, came from a royal family that led a tribe in Makgobaskloof prior to the arrival of White Trekboers in the Lowveld, Soutpansberg in the 1860.[6] His governance and leadership of a small but assertive, and fearless tribe can be traced back to the early 1700s to the late 1800s.[7]

Extended familyEdit

Knowledge about the extend of Chief Makgoba's immediate and extended family members [8] is tacitly organized and stored in the minds of the elders, and is part of the oral culture that is passed from generation to generation through tribal totems, child naming, surnames etcetera.[7] What we know is that Chief Makgoba once mentioned in a public address that he has close relations with the Molepo's.[3][1]

The struggle against land annexation, colonization and apartheidEdit

Chief Makgoba had several clashes with invading white Afrikaner farmers (Trekboers) who occupied land belonging to indigenous people in and around Makgobaskloof. As the ZAR administration began annexing land and imposing taxes on the indigenous populations, Chief Makgoba instructed his people to rebel against the annexation of land and the imposition of taxes.[7]

The Battle of MakgobaskloofEdit

After the former ZAR (Zuid Afrikaanse Repuliek) administration introduced laws that redefined wards in the Soutpansberg , land belonging to the indigenous local population was given away to White trekkers to farm. This resulted in increasing numbers of White trekkers also in search of gold mining in the area. There is no clear indication when the first group of White trekkers came to the Lowveld of the former Northern Transvaal, but it is known that in the mod-1880s there already signs of hunters and prospectors active in the area. As more gold was found, the towns of Haenertsburg and Leysdorp were established in 1887 and 1889 respectively.[7] As the ZAR administration intensified the giving away of free land to White trekkers, the chiefs in the area started complaining about the annexation of indigenous land. Many of the chiefs did not recognize the ZAR administration as legitimate because if fell outside the traditional institutions of governance and leadership framework[9](as amended). As a result, the chiefs and queens resisted because Africans were not seen as equal partners to the land and the many natural resources deposits in the area. One of the complainants was Chief Makgoba. In 1888, officials from the ZAR administration began erecting beacons to mark off land belonging to indigenous local populations. They also started imposing fines for those who resisted. Land under the traditional jurisdiction of Chief Makgoba was also annexed and given to White Trekboers. Chief Makgoba and his people destroyed the beacons in retaliation. After the Soutpansberg administration became aware of the action by Chief Makgoba and his people, they send then Native Commissioner Oscar Dahl several times to Makgobaskloof to talk Chief Makgoba around to no avail. A warrant of arrest was issued, and Chief Makgoba was arrested and send to prison at Fort Kilpdam near Pietersburg.

Resistance spreads to nearby Chiefs and QueensEdit

While Chief Makgoba was in prison for the first time, other traditional leaders not far from Makgobaskloof joined the struggle against land annexation and exclusion by the ZAR administration. Queen Modjadji of the Balobedu people was one of them. The "Rain Queen[10]" also started a campaign of civil disobedience, and refused to allow tax collection in her area. When she was threatened with punishment she also threatened to kill all Christians in her area. As Queen Modjadji and her people continued with resistance, the administration Pietersburg and Pretoria decided to form commandos to suppress the revolt. However, the commandos were being continuously harassed by Chief Makgoba's regiments and Queen Modjadji was becoming more hostile. These were the first signs of deteriorating situation that would lead to a guerilla warfare by mid-1892. Another commissioner was sent to the area, this time to tell the chiefs in the Soutpansberg to stay clear of White owned farms and stay in their designated reserves. When this plan was rejected, local chiefs started attacking white farms in retaliation. As the attacks intensified, many white farmers started leaving the area to avoid conflict. On March 1, 1894, the ZAR administration send final warnings to Chief Makgoba and neighboring chiefs and queens, but they also refused to be subjugated. It was then decided by the ZAR administration that a war with Chief Makgoba and other chiefs/queens would crush the resistance.

1895 War between Chief Makgoba and the ZAR administrationEdit

On June 3, 1895, the ZAR administration launched a full-scale war against Chief Makgoba and other local chiefs after many years of resistance. Chief Makgoba had already earned the titled of "The Lion of the Soutpansberg" for his guerilla warfare strategies and tactics against an invading population of White Trekboers.[7] Other chiefs such as Chief Malebogo had already surrendered. The war came to end after the ZAR administration connived with Swazi sellouts who managed to arrest one of Chief Makgoba's family members. At the time Chief Makgoba was at large in an undisclosed location while launching attacks on white farms and the commandos. The arrested family member gave in to torture by Swazi sellouts and revealed Chief Makgoba's location. He was later captured and beheaded by Swazi sellouts on behalf of the ZAR commandos.[11] The assassins took the head and concealed it to the Makgoba family for many years. In 2011, Chief Makgoba's great-grandson Kgoshi Mokopa Makgoba led a campaign to locate the remains of the head of Chief Makgoba.[12]


  1. ^ a b South African Heritage Publishers. 2020. Kgoshi Mamphoku Makgoba. Available at: (accessed 09 April 2021).
  2. ^ Limpopo Provincial Government (2021). "Makgobaskloof". Limpopo Provincial Government.
  3. ^ a b c Changuion, L. (2008), ‘A Report on the Potential Impact of Ndowana’s Prospecting Activities on Items of Historical Significance in Haenertsburg and its Surroundings’, Unpublished paper, Haenertsburg.
  4. ^ Phibion, O. S. (2003). "Bakalanga Music and Dance in Botswana and Zimbabwe". P.h.D Thesis, University of Pretoria.
  5. ^ Pikirayi, I. (2013). Great Zimbabwe in Historical Archaeology: Reconceptualizing Decline, Abandonment, and Reoccupation of an Ancient Polity, A.D. 1450-1900. Historical Archaeology, 47(1), 26-37. Available at: (accessed 6 April 2021)
  6. ^ Changuion, L. 2008, ‘A Report on the Potential Impact of Ndowana’s Prospecting Activities on Items of Historical Significance in Haenertsburg and its Surroundings’, Unpublished paper, Haenertsburg. Available at: (accessed 08 April 2021).
  7. ^ a b c d e Makgoba, M. W. (1997). Mokoko The Makgoba Affair: A Reflection on Transformation. Florida: Vivlia. pp. 1–242. ISBN 1868670767.
  8. ^ Makgoba, Thabo (2017). Faith and Courage Praying with Mandela. South Africa: Tafelberg Publishers. pp. 13–27. ISBN 9780624078975.
  9. ^ RSA (Republic of South Africa). (2003). “Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (Act No. 41 of 2003).” (accessed August 12, 2015).
  10. ^ Jourbert, A. (2011). Rain songs and the observance of the rain cult amongst the Lobedu people of Queen Modjadji. South African Journal of African Languages 31(1): 6-16.
  11. ^ Makgoba, M. W. (1997). Mokoko The Makgoba Affair: A Reflection on Transformation. Florida: Vivlia. pp. 1–242. ISBN 1868670767.
  12. ^ Govender, P. (2011). Where is King Mamphoku Makgoba's skull? Times Live, 09 October. Available at: (accessed 08 April 2021).