Yesterday was a day of celebration for the Bakgalaka tribe after years of fighting for recognition and the return of land to the descendants of Chief Tongagari. SA National Parks (SANParks) officially handed over the holy mountain Tikumbu and its surroundings.

Mount Tikumbu, more commonly known as Shikumbu, is located in the northern part of the park, where Bakgalaka moved from southern Zimbabwe to the Masvingo area in the area between the Oliphant and Letaba rivers in 1658.

After countless land reclamation processes, the Kruger National Park (KNP) yesterday officially launched the sacred mountain as an interpretive and heritage site in recognition of the Bakgalaki as they were the first to arrive at Mt Tikumbu from Zimbabwe.

While emotions ran high, descendant and community spokesperson Samson Mokgalaka said they were happy to see their sacred history and heritage finally documented and recognized.

However, he noted that they are still in the process of claiming the land. “We are still fighting because the commissioners don’t want to publicize our land,” he said.

“We brought them here last June to show them the homesteads, the ruins, the old houses and proof that there was life there, but to this day we are still fighting to be in the papers and get our land back.

“But we hope this is a stepping stone because SANParks has recognized us and our story.” When asked what they hope for, Mokgalaka said that although he cannot reveal much, they hope to see some economic transformation in the lives of the descendants and the community.

“I’m very excited and shocked at the same time because we never thought this moment would come. I am very happy for our people that at least they will have something to show as their history,” he said.

“But I would advise our people not to settle for money, because if we get the royalties, we can create generational wealth.” KNP General Manager of Socio-Economic Transformation Helen Mmeti said the economic transformation is not only about money but also about giving the Bakgalaki dignity knowing that their culture has been recognised.

“It’s a transformation in itself, remembering where we come from. We come from a history where we were looked down upon, when we were seen as unqualified, so this is a win not only for the Klan, but for black people in general,” she said.

The descendants performed the ritual to appease their ancestors and “inform them of the recognition of the tribe by the KNP,” said a descendant of the Ramotwa clan, Tlotzhan Evans Mokgalaka.

He explained the sanctity of the mountain and why it was important for them to preserve it and its history as rituals were still performed by the descendants of Chief Tongagara in a cave on the mountain.

Tlotjane said that after Chief Tongagar’s death, his body was buried on Mount Tikumbu and according to tradition, a sacred drum called “Kutwane” was empowered by his daughter Tsumeni through traditional customs and muti, or medicine.

The power of the drum was believed to ward off enemies and could bring down rain to help the people reap a bountiful harvest and receive abundant blessings.

“I am so proud that today SANParks was able to recognize the land of our ancestors and that our history is not dead because from now on the world will know about Bakgalaka ba Mmahelane,” he said as he read the tribe’s eulogy.

“This day is important for us because if we get our land back, we will be able to rebuild our local economy because our economy was stolen from us because we had no land.

“But now that we’ve been recognized, we can see the finish line and know that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit from what we create as a tribe.” –

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