“ This book is a story of success, of the triumph of man over a wilderness; of the triumph of science over disease; of the conversion of a Valley of Death into a paradise. It tells of men and women of all races, toiling against great odds, some for sheer love of adventure, some for wealth or personal advantage, some with a true desire for the common weal.”
(HS Webb, in his preface to the South-Eastern Transvaal Lowveld published in 1954.
Although the area is poor in water resources, there are mighty rivers that rise along the face of the great escarpment and flow swiftly to the Indian Ocean via Mozambique. In the south the Sabie and Crocodile merge with the Komati River and in the north the Olifants and Letaba join with the Limpopo. And today there are thriving towns—Tzaneen, Phalaborwa, Graskop, Sabie, White River, Nelspruit (now named Mbombela), Komatipoort and Barberton—and a rich agricultural environment of subtropical fruits (avocados, mangoes, citrus, papaws, bananas, litchis, macadamia nuts) as well as timber. Notwithstanding this intensive agriculture, this is still an area of indigenous forests, sweeping grasslands, rolling mountains, bushveld and natural beauty.
Tourism flourishes in this sub-tropical region where attractions such as the Kruger National Park, archaeological sites, elite private game reserves, mountain resorts and spectacular scenery draw thousands of visitors from all over the world.
This stretch of country is rich with legend, myth, rumour and romance. Evidence of stone age habitation, pottery and artefact remnants from Arab traders from the east, tribal warfare, trekking Boers, gold reefs there for the picking, big game hunting, and above all sickness and disease—which limited the encroachment of man and his domestic beasts—malaria, blackwater fever, bilharzia, sleeping sickness and nagana—all of this characterised the old Transvaal Lowveld.
The book covers the prehistory of the region, the early kingdom of the Pedi, the Gaza empire, the Rain Queen of the Balubedi and the Venda. The narrative moves to the arrival of the Voortrekkers, the influence of the missionaries, the search for gold in Pilgrim’s Rest, de Kaap, Lydenburg, Barberton and Leydsdorp. The contribution made by the pioneers of the Lowveld is well-documented – João Albasini, Henry Glynn, HL Hall, Percy FizPatrick, James Stevenson-Hamilton, Henry Wolhuter, Deneys Reitz and many others.