Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:
Town, in the Thaba Chweu Municipality, 61 km north-west of Nelspruit and 54 km east of Lydenburg, at 25 06S 30 47E, and named after the Sabie River, founded in 1895 by H T Glynn. It developed from a gold-diggers’ camp on the farm Grootfontein (Big Fountain). The first title deed was issued by the Landdrost (Magistrate) of Ohrigstad to a P J Badenhorst for the farm ‘Grootvantijn’. Sabie had numerous fountains and still has sparkling, natural water. Badenhorst sold this farm to P de Villiers who in 1880 sold it to H T Glynn.
The name Sabie is derived from the siSwati word ‘sabisa’, which means to be ‘careful’. This name was not given because they feared crocodiles, because the upper reaches of the Sabie River appears not to facilitate crocodile biology, but owing to the slippery nature of rocks in this river. The river rises on the escarpment and flows over kaolin, a white and very slippery clay, which is washed down the river and clings to the rocks, making them very slippery when wet, therefore, care must be taken when crossing not to fall in the water. Visitors to Sabie must be very careful when negotiating the streams, especially above waterfalls, as rocks are difficult to hold on to when wet. Even bathers will find it difficult to try and stand on rocks in the river. It is a very old name and was recorded on a map as Sabe by Francois de Kuiper in July 1725, when he led an expedition from Fort Lijdzaamheid (Fort de Lagoa), in Mozambique, to Dawano (Gomondwane), in the present Kruger National Park.
In 1906 the inhabitants of Pilgrim’s Rest voluntarily forfeited their township rights, which were given to Sabie instead. On the 24 September 1915 the first Health Committee met under the chairmanship of H T Glynn. Sabie was officially proclaimed a Health Committee on 1 January 1916 and was proclaimed a Village Council in 1924, under the chairmanship of E P Simmons (1879-1935).
The early mines required timber for pit-props, a need which soon depleted the natural forests. In 1876 large scale planting of exotics (chiefly eucalyptus and wattle trees) was initiated. The Sabie region has become the biggest single block of man-made forest in South Africa, a magnificent 257 000ha, supplying about half the country’s wood requirements. It also boasts the largest sawmill in South Africa.
In 1873 the first gold was found in the region on Elandsdrift and Hendriksdal, named after Hendrik Coetzee who had settled there with his brother Petrus. In the same year gold was found at Geelhoutboom, renamed Macmac, after Maj W MacDonald, the Gold Commissioner, Thomas McLachlan the prospector and Bob McFie the shopkeeper. Gold was also found at Spitzkop and Hendriksdal, the original digger’s camp.
In September 1873 alluvial gold was found at Ponieskrantz, renamed Pilgrim’s Rest, and most of the diggers moved there. In 1884 gold was found at Barberton, and most of the diggers tried their luck there. In 1886 gold reefs were found on the Reef (Johannesburg) and the majority of diggers then left Barberton.
For many years Glynn searched for gold in Sabie until in 1895 the payable reef of what became known as Glynn’s Lydenburg Mine was established. Between May 1897 and July 1950 this mine milled 3 427 784 tons of ore and extracted 1 240 646 oz of gold, making a profit of R4 234 664.
From about 1881 vested interests (companies) began taking over mining, which now switched from alluvial to reef workings. This switch-over necessitated the use of timbering. For this the mines went to the few, small patches of indigenous forest, which was soon exhausted.
Years before this inevitable shortage was to become clear, Joseph Brooks Shires had planted eucalyptus and wattle for mine timber as long ago as 1876 on the farm Onverwacht, south-west of Hendriksdal. He bought the farm and renamed it Brooklands. This is the first known commercial tree planting that took place in the area. Today it forms part of the Brooklands State Forest and four of the original eucalyptus trees still stand at Brooklands.
In 1904 the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates, with operating headquarters and main mine interest at Pilgrim’s Rest, planted their first eucalyptus and wattles at Driekop outside Graskop. In 1906 the Department of Forestry planted its first Mediterranean climate pines and some eucalyptus on Graskop Plantation, now MacMac Plantations. It was not until 1909 that the first Mexican pines were planted there.
These exotic trees grew so well that soon private enterprise as well as the government were planting tens of thousands of hectares. By 1978 there was a total of 1 158 000 ha of forest in the Republic of South Africa of which 845 000 ha were privately owned. Yet it was not until 1919 that the first pines were planted at Hendriksdal, an area that was rapidly increased from 1922 onwards.
During the depression years of 1929/1932 the Government launched vast afforestation schemes in the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga) region with a view to providing employment for hundreds of farmers who had succumbed under the fourteen years drought and the world financial collapse of 1929.
In 1929 the first private sawmill sawed pine thinnings for boxes at Hendriksdal. The first Government sawmill, a small, portable breakdown, followed at Lekkkerlach, portion of Spitzkop, in 1937. More and more trees were planted and so increasing profits were derived from forestry products, until by 1948 these profits exceeded the total mining profits by R178 000. It was decided, in that year, to separate the company’s forestry interest from its mining interest and thus created the beginning of SA Forest Investment Ltd, now owned by Mondi Forests.
In 1981 the Sabie Forestry Museum opened and is the only one of its kind in South Africa. It is filled with exciting exhibits where both young and old will find something of interest. There are many surprises such as the talking tree and a 600 year old yellowwood disc explaining the history of the industry in South Africa.
ST Peters Church
This magnificent church was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, whose fee was £5, and built by Italians in 1913.
Magnificent cork trees planted by TGME in 1936, may be seen in front of the post office, Magistrates office and the Municipality complex.
Tile panels – Sabie Post Office
The colourful ceramic tiles on the Post Office wall, was done by Mrs R J Pope Finchen, from ‘Ceramic Studio’ in 1937.
A hitching rail, dating from 1911, can be seen outside First National Bank.
Mac Mac Falls
Situated 13 km north-west of Sabie, on the road to Graskop, with a split stream, caused by miners blasting the rock for gold in 1873. These falls are 68 metres high and can be viewed from a platform overlooking the ravine.
These falls are 16 km north of Sabie on the R532 road to Graskop. Stop just after the railway crossing at the forest picnic spot. These falls are reached by walking the 3 km Forest Falls Nature Trail. Across the road are the Maria Shires falls, named after the mother of Joseph Brooks Shires who had planted the first eucalyptus and wattle trees for mine timber in the area. There are old graves of miners nearby, such as Bowman, who died in 1878. The grave of Maria, who died at the age of 61 in July 1875, is situated at the crest of the knoll above the falls. Her daughter, Ann, married Thomas MacLachlan, the pioneer prospector. Her husband, Brooks Shires, died before her death, and is buried in Natal.
Memorial to the Diggers’ and Transport Riders of 1873-1892
This memorial, alongside the 19,7 km post on the main tarred road at Macmac, was erected and financed by the Lowveld Diggers’ and Transport Riders’ Society.