The Lost City of Kweneng

An epitome of a civilization, forgotten now found.

Johannesburg is a gold rush city. Built from nothing but a city of tents and the discovery of a massive gold reef. A brave decision in 1886 to formalize and found a city in the middle of nowhere lacking any water with no guarantee the gold will be long-lasting paid of. The city of Johannesburg is now the economic hub of a continent that houses people from all over the continent in a population of approximately 10 million people in the greater area, a vast great technological economical hub of a city built on a uninhabited grassland.

This is what everyone in Johannesburg will tell you should the question of origins come up. Not that it is anyone’s fault (the author too was under this impression), it is a heroic story of European settlement. A city sprung from nothing with no water, an island of civilization on a previously barren unconquerable environment.

We should have known the truth could not be further. underestimating the people of Africa is something everyone claims now not to do but in practice nonetheless do so.

How however does the story of Johannesburg relate in any manner to the decolonization movement? Apart from the movement concentrated in the city Johannesburg’s history is short and generally presumed to be purely post-colonial.

Those who do think so can thank LiDAR for destroying this misconception, the same technology that revealed a lost Mayan city.

In March this year a group of university students and their professor scanned an area that for long had hinted at signs of settlement albeit nothing more then isolated homesteads.

The Suikersbosrand area is a thickly vegetated savanna grassland area protected by a nature reserve, it was here that the City Of Kweneng flourished for hundreds of years until 200 years ago.

The city began forming 500 years ago when small Tswana homesteads collated and organized around rich agricultural land. A large walled area in the center of the new city that was dedicated to cattle rearing and industrial activity pays tribute to the town planning of the city. The city grew over hundreds of years densified and its own architecture evolved. Squat 5 meter high stone towers were later systematically placed around the city. with their purpose being unclear (for storage, status or burial) and massive mounds of earth and cattle bones discovered as well.

The city grew alongside a ridge and measured 10km by 5km with roads stretching the length. At its peak the city was estimated to have had a population of 10 000 people.

Some suspect the city may have had gold mining outposts in the nearby Johannesburg area in Melville Koppies were evidence of gold smelters have long been known to exist (previously believed to be isolated) and logically could have contributed or supplemented the city’s economic growth.

Nothing stops this city from having a trade network with the nations further north that existed at the time such as Thumela.

Thumela was a Shona civilization that sprung up 1,200 years ago in the northern part of South Africa that too was recently rediscovered.

It was based around a stone citadel (fortress) and a royal enclosure that accommodated a 1000 people surrounded by a small city of 2000 people collectively referred to as Thumela.

The city (though growth predates this, the current embodiment) was occupied from 1250 AD to 1700 AD. Kweneng was established in 1400 AD to 1818 AD, the midlives (Generally the peak of a civilization) of both thus overlap.

This city was strategically built on the edge of a plateau that borders on the floodplain of the Levuvhu River This particular civilization appears to have been based around trade with West Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It also traded in locally processed iron as well as gold.

The gold could have theoretically come from the much larger more advanced Kweneng considering they existed and peaked at the same time and were relatively in close proximity (compared to West Africa and Asia)

Unfortunately 200 years ago European settlers pushed into the interior , divided the people and created wars among nations previously coexisting for hundreds of years . The city of Kweneng did not survive this, abandoned or destroyed (further research on both the rise and demise in still ongoing) in the 19th century.

So gold was long known to exist in the Johannesburg area. The area housed a organized city that may have acted as a hub in Southern Africa at the time. Inhabited despite the conditions of no water and flourishing for hundreds of years trading with other cities, Kweneng is the original Johannesburg.

Kweneng and Thumela both lost and now rediscovered have the ability to change the course of South African history, if they have not already.