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“Wild Flowers of the Magaliesberg” by Kevin Gill and Andry Engelbrecht 


“The Magaliesberg” by Vincent Carruthers 

The books are available from the Buffelspoort Valley Tourism and Information Centre

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Magaliesberg proclaimed a World Biosphere Reserve by Unesco

9 June 2015

Release by the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group

After nearly a decade of lobbying and sustained efforts by a small committee of dedicated environmentalists, the Magaliesberg has been declared a World Biosphere Reserve.

The announcement was made today (9 June) in Paris by the International Coordinating Council of the Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB).  This is a Unesco programme that aims to build a supportive and sustainable relationship between people and their environments.  In effect, this means a specific focus on safeguarding natural ecosystems through innovative approaches to economic development.

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which Magaliesberg now joins, counts 631 biosphere reserves in 119 countries.

“We are delighted with this final acknowledgement of the unique nature of the Magaliesberg and the powerful contribution it is making to our country, to the ecosystem services in Gauteng and the North West and the communities it nurtures over an extensive area,” said Paul Fatti, chair of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group (MBIG) that has been lobbying authorities since 2007 to support the establishment of the Biosphere.

Vincent Carruthers, past chair of MBIG and renowned author of “The Magaliesberg”, the most authoritative study of the mountain range, said that this announcement was the culmination of a campaign that began in 2006.

“I’m most grateful there is now international recognition of this great mountain range that has witnessed the whole span of life, from its very origins,” he said.  “The Magaliesberg is almost 100 times older than Mount Everest and half the age of the earth, a unique treasure for us in this part of Africa.”

Officials from South African environmental authorities were also at the MAB meeting in Paris when the announcement was made.

“The Magaliesberg Biosphere will be formally registered by Unesco and the Department of Environmental Affairs in October,” added Carruthers, who is chair of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Not-for-Profit Company.  “But before that happens we need to appoint a Board of Management for the Biosphere.”

The Board will be made up of representatives of 16 interest groups who are involved one way or another in the Magaliesberg.  These include bodies involved in conservation, education, tourism, culture/historical activities, business and religion.

The Magaliesberg is under intense pressure from urbanisation and has lacked the support of a strong regulatory framework to back its status as a Protected Area. 

“Our hope is that this recognition by a world body and the renewed local focus it will put on the Magaliesberg, will energise initiatives towards greater protection and balanced and sustainable use,” said Fatti who was at Unesco in Paris for the announcement.. “This is the duty the Board of Management will be taking on.” 


The Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve covers almost 358 000 ha  -  58 000 making up the core area, 110 000 ha the buffer area and 190 000 ha the transition area. 

Besides the range’s unique biomes  -  the Central Grassland Plateaux and the sub-Saharan savannah  -  it has a very rich biodiversity.  The Aloe Peglerae and Frithia pulchra are unique to the area which has 443 bird species, almost half the total bird species of Southern Africa.

In its report recommending that the Magaliesberg join the exclusive club of World Biosphere Reserves, the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves, noted:  “The area is endowed with scenic beauty, unique natural features, rich cultural heritage value and archaeological interest with the Cradle of Humankind, which is part of the World Heritage Site with four million years of history.” 


South Africa now has eight Biosphere Reserves.  Besides the Magaliesburg, the Gouritz Cluster was also declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco today (Tues). 

For further details:


Vincent Carruthers  -    082-411-8033 :

You are welcome to send news and notices of events for publication in this newsletter. 

Press Release

Tel: 012 259 0948 Fax: 012 259 0864



30 July 2015

The Magaliesberg region become became the newest biosphere at the annual UNESCO Man and the Biosphere meeting on 7 June 2015. The application to UNESCO was made by the South African Government after almost nine years of lobbying and work by the volunteer Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group who represented private environmental interests in the area.

People around Harties should begin to see the benefits of the Biosphere Reserve over the next few months. International tourism is expected to pick up, education projects will be developed, entrepreneurial opportunities will open up and property development should become more focussed on sustainability. Hopefully, all spheres of government, local, provincial and national, should perform better under the hard glare of international scrutiny.

What is the biosphere reserve?

Biosphere reserves are special landscapes designated by UNESCO and internationally recognized as places where human activities can prosper while natural resources are kept sustainable. They serve as ‘living laboratories’ for testing ideas to reconcile responsible development with sustainable use. The Magaliesberg now joins the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (MNBR) whose members share information about finding better ways for humanity to live in harmony with the natural environment.

The Magaliesberg is special for three reasons:

1) its unique geology from the mineral-rich Bushveld Complex to the fossil-rich dolomites in the Cradle of Humankind,

2) its diversity of fauna and flora at the interface of highveld grassland and bushveld savanna and 3) its rich history spanning thousands of years from pre-colonial cultures to the bitter struggle of the Anglo-Boer War.

The area that has been designated the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve is 360,000 ha and has a resident population of about 262,000. It lies between Pretoria and Rustenburg, crosses two provinces and falls within the following municipal areas:

•    City of Johannesburg Metro

•    City of Tshwane Metro

•    Bojanala District Municipality (including Madibeng and Katlengrivier and Rustenburg Local Municipalities)

•    West Rand District Municipality (including Mogale City Local municipality)

What can we expect to happen in the biosphere reserve?

Every biosphere reserve worldwide is intended to fulfil three basic functions: conservation of ecosystems, sustainable development and support for research and education.

These activities will be developed and encouraged in the Magaliesberg Biosphere with positive outcomes for all who participate in them.

Geographic zones in biosphere reserves

The Magaliesberg Biosphere reserve is organized into 3 interrelated zones:

•    Legally protected core areas: these are the Magaliesberg Protected Environment and the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

•    Buffer zones are around the core where sustainable human activities such as farming, tourism, education and small home industries can take place. Almost all of the Magaliesberg buffer area is made up of conservancies– voluntary associations of landowners who subscribe to sustainable principles.

•    Transitional zones where any economic activity can take place provided it does not impact adversely on the core and buffer zones.

Managing biosphere reserves

No specific new laws apply to the biosphere reserve. Although formally nominated by government, the Magaliesberg, like other South African biosphere reserves, will be managed by a registered non-profit company with a Board of Directors elected by the local people and local interest groups. That election process is to take place in September.

Funding biosphere reserves

 Biosphere reserves the Western Cape receive funding for basic operational expenses from provincial and municipal sources. Provincial funding for the Magaliesberg has not yet been finalised. Funds for special projects will need to be found from donors in industry, charitable foundations or funding agencies.

Monitoring and maintenance of biosphere reserves

UNESCO does not have a ‘police function’. It is the responsibility of each country, and especially the people living in the biosphere reserve, to make it work. However, UNESCO requires a periodic review of biospheres every 10 years. Review reports are prepared by the relevant authority for assessment according to a set procedure. A site can be de-registered from the Biosphere network if it does not satisfy these criteria. This will be the real test of the success of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve to deliver on all that it promises.

 Magaliesberg Biosphere Team 2015

27 August 2015

BY Vincent Carruthers

Vincent Carruthers with Dr Jane Carruthers and members of the BVTA

The violence was indescribable; the time scale beyond imagination. The events that produced the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve make a Wagner opera look like a nursery rhyme. Sculpted from the first stable landmass on the planet, this region witnessed the earliest burgeoning of life on Earth, the creation of the air we breathe, the birth pains of the African continent and the amassing of some of the richest mineral deposits in the world.

After the Earth cooled to the temperature of liquid water, the shifting plates under the ocean pushed a slab of rock above the surface – the first bit of dry land ever and the foundation on which the Magaliesberg was later to be built. In time similar slabs emerged, crashed and fused to form ever growing continents, but the original piece, the Kaapvaal Craton, now lies below the northern provinces of South Africa.

Continental shifting and colliding caused rivers to be truncated as the sea invaded the Kaapvaal Craton and sand and pebbles, including gold fragments, accumulated in the Black Reef conglomerate that runs along the southern boundary of the Biosphere Reserve. The gold of the Black Reef was mined in the nineteenth century before the discovery of the massive reefs of the Witwatersrand.

Elementary bacterial organisms were evolving at that time but a visitor to our planet would never have noticed because they were so few and microscopic. Then, about two and a half billion years ago, one type of bacteria, cyanobacteria, evolved the process of photosynthesis. With limitless abundance sunlight, carbon dioxide and water the cyanobacteria colonies proliferated exponentially in the shallow sea of the Kaapvaal Craton. Oxygen was a by-product. Initially it oxidised all of the iron resources into what is now iron ore, then it released free oxygen into the atmosphere and created the air on which we and almost all animal life depends.

As colonies of cyanobacteria grow, they develop a crust of calcium carbonate. This inhibits the photosynthesis so another layer of cyanobacteria forms on top of the first. In this way layers of calcium carbonate develop like onion skins into a dome called a stromatolite. Fossilised stromatolites are the basis for the dolomite rock bed and cave lands of the Cradle of Humankind, one of the core areas of the Biosphere Reserve. The dolomite is a kilometre thick – every grain of it manufactured by inconceivable numbers of bacteria!

While one side of the Biosphere Reserve was created by microscopic organisms the other was the result of immense seismic disturbance. More than two billion years ago, layers of sand smothered the cyanobacteria and formed a rocky seabed. But deep in the Earth’s mantle huge emissions of liquid rock, the Bushveld Complex, began to push through to the surface. The weight of it depressed the bed of the inland sea and tilted it the edges skyward to form the Magaliesberg range.

A billion years later molten rock from the Pilanesberg volcano flowed into the Magaliesberg. The larval onslaught was devastating and burned deep kloofs into the northern face as it tried to break through to the south. But the resilience of the ancient mountain endured and was only breeched once at Breedt’s Nek. The kloofs are now beautiful retreats for hikers and mountaineers, their fiery origins long forgotten.

Having survived a trial by fire, the Magaliesberg was then tested by ice. The continental plate, now extended into the supercontinent of Gondwana,  drifted south under the Antarctic polar ice cap. For millions of years the jagged peaks were scoured by the ice sheet. As a result the entire length of the range is shaved off to almost the same altitude from one end to the other.

More was to come. The region was buried in swamp, smothered under desert sands and finally capped with volcanic lava.  Sixty million years ago the covering began to weather away and the mountains re-emerged to become the cliffs, the gentle slopes, the secretive kloofs and the tumbling streams we know today.


24 September 2015


Now that the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve is a reality, there are exciting developments to report and October will be a month of celebration and progress!

With a great deal of help from many individuals and organisations, especially the Hartbeespoort Tourism Association, we have compiled a booklet entitled Mountains of Wonder. It is specifically intended for residents of and visitors to the Biosphere and its purpose is to explain in an interesting and accessible way what the Magaliesberg Biosphere is all about and what a great experience it is to be in this fabulous region. It is not intended to make money and all of the contributions to the publication have been made by volunteers so that it will be available at minimum cost. We have used numerous full-colour photographs and graphics with brief summaries of some of the wonders of the range. Topics covered include answers to questions about what a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve means, how this one came about and its importance to those living near the Biosphere as well as its significance to South Africa at large. There is a section on the geological origins of the mountains and the early hominids that inhabited the region millions of years ago, together with descriptions of the flora and fauna that can be seen today. The story of “Brandy the Leopard” gives us a glimpse of the importance of conservation in a Biosphere. Heritage is equally important and in the booklet you will meet many of the historical characters who contributed to social fabric of the Magaliesberg and the complex and often tumultuous past. Activities and opportunities for contributing to, and benefitting from the Biosphere are clearly explained. It will be available during October and we are hoping that it will make everyone better informed about the Biosphere and proud to be a part of it.

Another exciting thing happening in October is the appointment of a management board for the Magaliesberg Biosphere (see Management of the Biosphere is in the hands of a non-profit company with a board of 16 members representing six interest groups from:

•    Environment and heritage conservation

•    Business and tourism

•    Communities, development and planning

•    Education and research

•    Landowners and residents

•    Benefactors

Everyone who lives or works in the Biosphere is a stakeholder and is eligible to nominate a candidate to represent their interests and to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Several public meetings will be held ahead of the elections. The first two are on Thursday 8 October 16:00 to 18:30 at Idle Wings Conference Centre and on Saturday 10 October 09:30 to 12:00 at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm.

We hope that everyone in the area will come to these meetings to learn more about the Biosphere and participate in electing the men and women who will help us achieve a sustainable lifestyle over the next few years. These are not politicians or power seekers; they will be people who have the wellbeing of ourselves, our lives and our environment at heart. At the meetings there will be brief explanations of the purpose and objectives of the Biosphere, how the nomination and election process works. Nomination forms will be provided. The chosen board members will represent all stakeholders. They will be required to give direction and leadership for the sustainable use of our natural resources and the long-term prosperity of all who live in this environment.

Note the following dates, times and venues:

Thursday 8 October 16:00 to 18:30 at Idle Wings Conference Centre on the 511 between N4/Church Street and N14/Krugersdorp Highway (

Saturday 10 October 09:30 to 12:00 at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm at the T-Junction of R512 and R560, Skeerpoort (

The third great event in the Magaliesberg Biosphere will be a Celebration Day to be held at Harties Cableway on 28 October. Watch this space!


29 October 2015

 Lorriane Patton, Prof Lee Berger and Hermien van Schalkwyk October 2015

The value of the Magaliesberg and the need to protect this national treasure has been recognized for several decades. The recent declaration of a Biosphere Reserve owes much to those who pioneered different ways of conserving the area long before thoughts of an international biosphere reserve emerged.

James Clarke is one of South Africa’s best known newspaper columnists. His work for The Star began 60 years ago and covered topics as wide-ranging as the 1961 Sharpville shootings to the droll humour of his regular Stoep Talk column. In the 1970s he pioneered a campaign to save the Magaliesberg. His full-page illustrated weekly articles drew attention to the threats of confronting the region. Public reaction to his appeals was widespread and played an important role in the eventual development of legal protection for the Protected Environment that is now the core of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve. Always extraordinary modest, James claims he was “just guy who kicked off at a match and then toddled off home to watch the rest on TV”. Never was a kick such a game-changer!

Clarke’s articles coincided with conservation efforts by the Mountain Club of South Africa, led by its president, Doyle Liebenberg . He was a founder member of the Habitat Council and played a key role in the establishment of the Magaliesberg Protection Association in 1975 under the chairmanship of Paul Fatti (now Professor Emeritus at Wits University). For the past forty years Paul’s experience and measured leadership have underpinned the MPA’s battles against silica mining and illegal developments. When an unscrupulous MEC gave special dispensation to an illegal conference centre in a sensitive part of the Magaliesberg, Paul led the legal fight against him.

Scientific investigation of biodiversity in the Magaliesberg can be traced to pre-colonial naturalists such as Andrew Smith and William Cornwallis Harris but the first scholarly study of the rich archaeological heritage of the region was started by Professor Revil Mason. From the 1950s until 1988 he pioneered the investigation and interpretation of famous Iron Age and Stone Age sites such Broederstroom, Olifantspoort and Kruger’s Cave. His work went beyond the archaeological excavation. Often confronted by the prejudices and denials of some of his colleagues, he persevered throughout the Apartheid years, drawing public and academic recognition of the importance to South Africans of their pre-colonial history.

Various conservation measures and institutions were introduced during the 1980s and 1990s with growing levels of success. But after 1994 the Magliesberg fell between two provincial stools, Gauteng and North West, and inappropriate development and environmental degradation was allowed to flourish. Biosphere reserves were new to South Africa at that time and they seemed to address the problems of conflicting land use. The suggestion that the Magaliesberg should apply to UNESCO for biosphere reserve status was supported by the MPA, WESSA and Birdlife South Africa and a group of committed residents, mountaineers, conservationists and others, modestly calling ourselves the Biosphere Initiative Group (BIG), ventured down what was to be a long and difficult road.

Today the group includes John Wesson, well-known birder and photographer who brought his close association with WESSA, Birdlife SA, Rotary and the National Conservancy Association of SA to the group. Kevin Gill is a retired attorney and enthusiastic botanist and his legal expertise has been invaluable. Mercia Komen designed and hosts the website, manages the stakeholders’ data base, publishes a regular newsletter and has raised awareness through social media and organised a Biosphere Day to raise public awareness. Anthony Duigan is a long standing resident of the Rhenosterspruit Conservancy and his skill and experience in media liaison has been critically important in building and maintaining public awareness. Belinda Cooper joined the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group in 2012 at the outset of her research for her Masters degree entitled “A Spatial Prioritization of Threats to Biodiversity and Conservation in the Proposed Magaliesberg Biosphere” She immediately brought renewed focus and professionalism to the Group. Paul Fatti and I have shared the chairmanship of the Group over the nine years of its existence and today he and I rotate the chairmanship of the interim board of its successor, the Magaliesberg Biosphere Non-profit Company.


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