Greater Mapungubwe

Major Features

Cultural Importance

Copyright of the University of Pretoria Department of UP Arts Mapungubwe Museum.
Copyright of the University of Pretoria Department of UP Arts Mapungubwe Museum.
The cultural resources of the Limpopo-Shashe basin are generally associated with Iron Age settlements of around 1200 AD. The similarity of ivory objects, pottery remains and imported glass beads excavated at different sites that spread across the modern international boundaries of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe attests to the cultural affinity of the people that lived in the Limpopo-Shashe basin during the Iron Age.
The Iron Age sites of Mapungubwe and K2 on the farm Greefswald in South Africa are amongst the best-studied Iron Age sites in southern Africa. They represent the K2 and Mapungubwe Iron Age cultures that existed in this region between 900 AD and 1300 AD. Small Iron Age sites postdating Mapungubwe and K2 have also been identified on Greefswald. In addition, stonewalled sites on hilltops, including some identified as Khami-type ruins, have been found in the region.
Mapungubwe is renowned for the gold rhino and is believed to be the precursor of Great Zimbabwe, the most remarkable Iron Age site in southern Africa. Mapungubwe was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in July 2003 and is referred to as the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. Other important archaeological sites are at Toutswe Mogala and Mmamagwe in Botswana. Several sites are also situated on Sentinel Ranch and Mapela Hill in Zimbabwe.
Additional features of cultural importance in the Limpopo Valley are the numerous San rock paintings and engravings (petroglyphs), fossilised dinosaur footprints and skeletal remains of the dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus which became extinct approximately 65 million years ago.

Geographic Description

The TFCA measures approximately 3 021 km² in extent. The landscape south of the Limpopo River is flat with sandstone and conglomerate ridges and koppies. Nearer the Limpopo, the flat landscape becomes rugged hilly terrain. The altitude varies from 300 - 780m. In the Tuli Circle Safari Area, the relatively flat basalt country gives way to the Shashe River in the east. Other major rivers which cross the proposed TFCA are the Mali and Motloutse Rivers in Botswana, and the Mogalakwena River in South Africa.
The climate is semi-arid with the highly variable rainfall ranging from an average of 350mm to 400mm annually. It is a summer rainfall region, with temperatures rising to 45°C. Winters are mild, although frost may occur.

Biophysical Features

The soils of the Limpopo Valley are derived from rocks of the Archaean Granite Formation in the south and more generally from the Karoo Super Group. Large areas are characterised by sandy, lime-rich soils.


Three main vegetation communities are recognised in the region: riparian fringe along the Limpopo and tributaries, the Acacia-Salvadora community of the Limpopo flats (including flood plains) and vlei areas, and the mixed western mopane veld on ridges and flats south of the riparian fringe and flood plains. Both the riparian forest and the Acacia-Salvadora communities are regarded as being among the most endangered vegetation communities in the South African environment. Twenty-six Red Data Book plant species occur within the proposed park. Within the Tuli Circle Safari Area there are three botanical reserves: Tolo River (0.44 km²), Pioneer (0.38 km²), and South Camp (0.26 km²).


© Stefan Cilliers
© Stefan Cilliers
The region has excellent potential for a “big five” conservation area. Viable populations of lion, leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena still occur. In addition, the population of over 900 elephant in Botswana's Northern Tuli Game Reserve is the largest population protected on private land in Africa. Ungulates already present in the area include eland, duiker, impala, zebra, Sharpe's grysbok, steenbok and blue wildebeest. The habitat is suitable for both white and black rhinoceros and in July 2004, four white rhinos from Kruger National Park were released into the Mapungubwe National Park.The permanent pools in the Limpopo offer refuge to crocodiles as well as a variety of indigenous fish species. The De Beers Consolidated Mines Company, which owns large tracts of land on the South African side of the TFCA, reintroduced wild dogs, roan, tsessebe and elephant into the Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, which could potentially be one of the linked contractual buffer areas. This area also has a great diversity of bird life and over 350 species have been recorded to date.

Global Importance

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape was approved to be added to the World Heritage List at the 27th session of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee in Paris, in July 2003. It is referred to as the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape.
The Mapungubwe site is significant as it is here where the evidence of the oldest modern capital city in Southern Africa with over 5 000 inhabitants living there at its peak (±1 100 AD). Considering the location of the capital, their way of life and their level of development, it is indeed a significant and historic legacy worth preserving.