top of page

A letter from Rooigrond

Dear Learn and Teach

I live and work in Rooigrond near Mafikeng. I want other people in our country to know of our struggle for the land we lost in 1971. We will also be very pleased if Learn and Teach visits us.

Our people lived in a place called Matlwang near Potchefstroom for a very long time. Some people knew this place as Machaviestad. We lived there long before the Voortrekkers crossed the Vaal River in search of land.

Our tribe, the “Barolong ba Modiboa”, did not fight the Boers when they came. Our old chief, Ntsinogang, let the Boers live near us on the banks of the Mooi River. We had enough land to plough and for our cattle to graze. We had enough water for ourselves and our animals.

Ntsinogang’s brother, Chief Moroka, was also kind to the Boers. The Boers asked him for help when the Zulu chief, Mzilikazi, stole their cattle. Moroka helped the Boers get their cattle back. Moroka did not ask for any payment for his help. He only asked that his people in Thaba Nchu and his brother’s people in Matlawang be left in peace on their land.

The Boers gave Chief Moroka their word. Many years later in 1885 the Boers signed a “kontrak” saying that Ntsinogang was the chief in the area and that he had a right to the land. But the “kontrak” got lost and all we had was the word of the Boer.

Our problems began in 1937. We were told that we must leave our land. Some white friends in Pochefstroom helped us and we kept our land. But in 1959 we were told again that we must move. This time it was serious. In 1961, all the people got notices to leave the land.

When they did not leave, the late Chief Ben Lerefolo and a school teacher were arrested. Their case was a test case. They were found guilty but they took the case to the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein. The court in Bloemfontein said they were not guilty. At last we had won. We were then sure we could stay in the land of our forefathers.

But we were wrong. The Commissioner of Bantu Administration and the Potchefstroom Municipality wanted us to move. They started worrying the people, making their lives very difficult. People were arrested for ploughing “against the law” and cows were taken away and locked up. People with jobs were fired and those without jobs were arrested. Then the schools and churchs were closed.

All these things happened from 1961 until 1971. We went through eight lawyers and advocates in that time. We refused the land that they wanted to give us at De-Hoop, Pilanesburg and Mafikeng. We wanted land that was the same size as the land in Matlwang, with enough water and land for our animals. Then they came with guns and made us move from Matlwang.

We had nowhere to go. So, we asked Chief Kebaligile Montshiwa near Mafikeng to let us stay on his land here in Rooigrond. We asked to stay for three months while we fought with the South African Government to get our land back.

Chief Montshiwa let the tribe stay on his land and told us to fight for what rightfully belonged to us. Three months has turned into 14 years. We are still in the wilderness.

Chief Montshiwa died and Bophuthatswana got independence. Now the new chief of the Barolong ba Ratshidi and the Bophuthatswana government want to move the tribe again.

They want us to move to Bodibe near Mafikeng. They want the tribe to break up and fall under the Barolong ba Rapulana of Bodibe. But we are refusing all that. Our fight carries on.

Since the tribe arrived in Rooigrond, we have got poorer and poorer. We are not allowed to plough or to build a proper school. We have no clinic, no shop, no church. Our ploughs have rusted. The South African Council of Churches and the Black Sash and other caring organizations have tried to help us.

We hope that now you have heard our story, maybe you will pay us a visit. But maybe you won’t find us still at Rooigrond because they can come at anytime. We don’t know when.

Yours sincerely Dudu Modise (voluntary community worker)


Learn and Teach went to visit Dudu and the people in Rooigrond. Rooigrond is a dry, dusty place with few trees for shade. The ground is thick with white grey lime. The old broken tin shacks shine like mirrors in the veld. A vegetable garden lies drying next to the broken windmill.

Dudu showed us around. He showed us the tin houses people live in. And he showed us the school – it is also tin. At the school the children were singing. We stopped to listen. They sang, “We lived in Matlwang for many centuries, hearing the birds’ song, praising the Lord.”

Then Dudu took us to meet Chief Makodi. Chief Makodi was sitting with some old men. It was very hot but Chief Makodi wore a tie. Chief Makodi started to tells us the sad story of his people.

FROM 13 000 CATTLE TO 20

“In 1936 when we were at Matlwang, we had thirteen thousand cattle. Now we have got twenty. When we came here to Rooigrond, there was nothing. Each family got two tents, a bag of mealie meal and R18.40.

“I have told them, both the South African government and the Bophuthatswana government, that they want to destroy our tribe. All we want is a place to plough and grass for our cattle. If they have good land for us, then they must take us and show us.

“But we can not give up. If we give up, they will put us in a location. But we are farmers. You cannot keep cows in a location.”

Everyone in Rooigrond agrees. Another old man told us, “If I give up my struggle, I will be a nothing. And my children will be nothing too.”


One Saturday morning last year, everyone went to Chief Makodi’s house. They were going to march to Mafikeng. They wanted to show the tribal authorities that they were not happy.

People carried posters. The posters said, ” We want to go back to Matlwang, our home.” The old people walked with the young people, hand in hand.They sang hymns and prayed.

Every 2 kilometres people stopped so that the weak and the old could rest. But by midday it was too much. The children and the old people were too tired.So people turned and went back to their tin shelters in Rooigrond.


After Dudu wrote to us, the people of Rooigrond sent a letter to the new Deputy Minister of Develpoment and Land Affairs, Dr Viljoen. In that letter they said, “If you cannot help us, then we must go back to South Africa. Maybe when we are on South African land, we can make an agreement with you.”

But the Minister did nothing about this letter. So in March the people of Rooigrond wrote another letter. This time they wrote to the President of South Africa, PW Botha. They told him their story and how they have suffered for the past 15 years.


Up to now, nothing has happened. But for the Barolong ba Modiboa anything can happen. Maybe by the time you read this story they will no longer be at Rooigrond.

The people of Rooigrond do not know where they will go. They are like strangers in the country of their birth.


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page