The History of Makakatana

Our involvement in Makakatana Township began when Lionel Gunter, (our dad) purchased Lot 7, being 2 acres of land, from Frank Ivins on 19th June 1961. (Frank Ivins’s son, Everard Ivins used to be the Baker’s rep in the Eshowe/Zululand area.)

Co-incidentally in March 2013 a stranger started talking to me in the Pick’nPay in Mtubatuba.  When I told her I was on my way to Makakatana she proceeded to tell me that her Dad had owned a property there many years ago. He sold it shortly after building the outbuildings so that he could buy shares in a farm between the Nyalazi turnoff and Makakatana.  It turned out to be Everard’s sister. There was no need for them to keep Lot 7 as they now lived close enough to go to Charters on a regular basis.  We chatted further and discovered that she was a very good friend of Mike’s first cousin Jill Tayfield nee Mattinson.  Jill was married previously to a Davidson. Everard’s sister’s late husband was a great friend of Jill’s late husband. They did a lot of fishing together.

Frank Ivins bought the land from the state (Crown Lands), on 7th May 1958 for the sum of 200 pounds.  Unfortunately we are unable to trace what our Dad paid for this property.

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My Dad heard about the place through Jimmy Morrison. Lionel and Jimmy became good friends while attending the government school in Eshowe. Both stayed at the boarding establishment, Eshowe Boy’s Hostel.

Our cottage originally consisted of a garage with 2 inter leading bedrooms. The family bathroom/toilet was a separate building.  You had to walk outside to get to it, and even though it was a short walk around the corner, it was pretty scary as the grass around the cottage was still in its natural state. The vegetation/grass on the property became manicured years later. In the early years there was no such thing as leaving a caretaker at Makakatana to look after the place. The Locals could not resist poaching the animals!

My Dad’s boat, in those early years, was left here and was parked in the garage/kitchen.  When you arrived for your family holiday the boat was towed out and the garage became the kitchen. This is still the kitchen today. The inter-leading door into the nearest bedroom was closed up much later.

Over the years my Dad added on more rooms to accommodate the growing number of family and friends that joined in the fun at Makakatana.  It was a fishing holiday home.  It took the place of our annual pilgrimage of camping at Kosi Bay. My Dad together with my Mom had the good fortune of retiring at Makakatana at the age of 50 years. He died 3 months before his 71st birthday.

Sadly there are no written notes or stories relating to Makakatana left by Lionel or Patty.  My brother, Louis, and I decided to put something down on paper before our memories ‘left us’.

We are not sure how the name ‘Makakatana’ originated. There are various stories quoted.  Jabulani, our ex Caretaker told us that there is an old man, he lives near Jabulani’s home in the Nyalazi district, who says, that there used to be a woman by the name of Makakatana that used to live in this area.  Hugh Morrison tells us that his grandfather named the place after Chief Makakatana who resided nearby. Isimangaliso have just named the pan next to the homesteads of Makakatana, ‘Kwelezintombi Pan’. (‘Kwe’ means ‘@’ or ‘the place’. ‘Lezintombi’ – for the maidens.)  This is where the maidens used to bath. Never mind that crocodiles and mosquitoes abounded!

The following are extracts taken from an article written by Ursula Morrison: (Ursula attended the Eshowe school at the same time as Lionel and Jimmy)

The story of the Morrison family at Makakatana began in 1918, when David Brodie, one of the partners in a business called G. A. Challis & Co needed a young partner to take the place of Mr. Challis who had been so badly shell shocked during the great War of 1914 -18, that he was incapable of running the shop, known as ‘Lake Store’ at Makakatana.  David Brodie made regular trips to Scotland and needed a young and reliable partner to take care of the business while he was away. David Brodie and Mr. Challis were ex-Natal Government Policemen.

John Kemp Morrison (known as ‘Jock’) was eighteen years old, and was working in Mtubatuba for a shopkeeper called Fayle, when he was offered the opportunity to become a partner in the business of Challis & Co. In order to buy into the partnership he borrowed money from Mr. Percival, a friend of his parents.  In later years Mr. Percival’s grandson, Brian, married Mary Percival (nee Rogers). Mary is the sister of Ursula Morrison who married James, (Jimmy) the son of Jock Morrison. (Insert by Louis… Today in and around Eshowe lives Judy Steenberg and Heyden Percival, Mary’s daughter and son.)

During these early years there was no reliable transport. The railway line ended at Somkele, kilometers from Mtubatuba and from here all the goods for the shop had to be transported by ox wagon over rough tracks. During the rainy season the track often became water logged and detours had to be made around various pans of water.

Malaria was simply a nuisance to be endured if one wished to live on the Zululand coast.  Everyone kept a supply of quinine and although there were sprays, which were usually diluted with paraffin and sprayed from a pump action can, this had a very limited effect.  This was long before the advent of D.D.T. and aerosols, which did much to eradicate malaria.

The customers came from round about the shop, where their grass huts were widely scattered at the edge of the forest. Apart from the normal cash transactions, trade was also done by barter and store goods would be exchanged for hides and mealies.  Some of the customers came from the Eastern Shores, across the lake. To get to the store they had to cross at ‘Broadies Crossing’, at the start of what is called ‘the Narrows’.

Crocodiles abounded so the people crossed in a body, shouting, singing and beating the water. At Broadies there is a hard ‘path’ from one side to the other, reputedly made by elephants as they waded back and forth.  When the lake was high it was dangerous to cross on foot. Use was made of the shop’s ferryboat, which was rowed across.  The charge in 1949 was 3 pence or a tickey. This crossing was also used at night to illegally transport dagga that had been grown on the eastern shores.

(Insert by Louis…. Gabriel was the name of the African who was in charge of the ferry. The boat was an old wooden lifeboat, which was originally rowed and later powered by a Seagull motor. It was called “Skepe”. Zulu name for boat.)

Because the land was occupied and the local inhabitants continually burnt the grass for grazing, there was far less shrubs/trees than there is at present.  Aerial pictures taken in the 1940’s show this very clearly and also that the population was widespread but not large.

In 1924 ‘Jock’ Morrison married Agnes Bouverie Hamilton Leys, born in Aberdeen, Scotland. (She was the daughter of James and Agnes Leys. Her father, an engineer, emigrated to South Africa in about 1904 to work first for De Beers in Kimberley and then on Durban Harbour. Unfortunately James leys died a few months before his daughter married Jock as a result of contracting malaria at Makakatana). James Robert Hamilton Morrison, known as Jimmy, was born on 24th July 1925.

According to Ursula’s notes, some time in the early 1930’s a man by the name of Mr. James, from Verulam, asked the provincial authorities to sell him land at Makakatana in order to build a hotel. Challis & Co. had 100 acres of land on a 99 year lease from the province and in order to sell land to Mr. James this lease would have to be cancelled and Challis & Co. were approached to exchange the lease for 5 acres of freehold land.  This was agreed to and a start was made to the hotel, two rows of rooms being built.  Stone was blasted out of the lake to use in the building. (According to our Lot 7’s original Title Deeds, Makakatana was surveyed into Lots of 2 and 3 acres in March and April 1932.)

A concrete block store was built in about 1930 on the two acres plot on which the present Makakatana Lodge stands. This was used to store fish and the large swimming crabs which abound in the lake. These were packed up and sent by train to Durban. Due to the long journey and hot summers, fish did not travel well. The crabs, packed in grape baskets in layers of seaweed, survived.

Due to the poor state of the roads and distance from large centers, the Hotel scheme was non-viable.  The James’s had to give up their plans as they ran out of money.  They owed Challis & Co. a lot of money so ceded ownership of their 5 acres of land, (two where the lodge stands today, on the lake edge, and three next to ‘Lake Store’) together with the buildings, to the company.  Nothing was done about the land until Hugh Morrison built the present lodge, called Makakatana Bay Lodge.

Jock Morrison, as did everybody who lived in this part of the world, suffered regularly from Malaria. This had a bad effect on his kidneys and he died in 1938 at the age of 39 years, from black water fever leaving his wife Nan, son James (13) and daughter Nan (11).

This left Dave Brodie, the older partner, in the position to buy out the Morrison’s but for some reason he did not.  When he died in Scotland in the early 1940’s his heirs sold his share to Nan Morrison and her brother James Leys. James Leys had a small share in the Company.  Leys then ran the businesses from 1938 to 1948, which is when the partnership between brother and sister ended. James Leys then took over the shop at Mposa and Nan Morrison retained ownership of the other three businesses being Lake Store, Nyalazi Store and Hluhluwe Store. She handed the running of these three stores to her son James, all of 23 years old.

When Agnes Morrison, fondly known as Nan, and her twin brother James Leys parted company one of the conditions was that neither would use the name Challis & Co.’ Nan and her son James decided to name the business ‘JOCK MORRISON & SON’ in honor of their late husband and father, a man who had been much loved & honored throughout Zululand. The name of Challis, who had ended his days at Makakatana as a mental casualty of the Great War, faded from the scene until it was revived many years later as the name of one of the family companies.

The businesses were not in good shape, only one of the three shops showing a fair return.  The buildings, which were built of wood and iron, needed replacement.  There were shortages of goods for a number of years after the end of World War 2 and customers would queue for their daily rations of brown sugar, as this item was necessary for the brewing of homemade liquor.  Black people were not permitted to buy ‘white liquor’ at that time so concocted & sold their own version of moonshine (shimian) as well as tapping the Ilala palm to make palm wine, a potent liquor (Njomane).

In February 1949, James, known to most as Jimmy married Ursula Rogers and their first son John was born in December of that year to be followed by Barry, Pamela, Bruce, Keith and Hugh.

Following the tradition of Jimmy and Ursula, who attended the Eshowe Government School, their children were sent off to the same boarding school in Eshowe. Due to the bad roads in those days it was necessary for children to become boarders in Class 1, (now called Grade 1).

Business began to prosper and the Morrison’s were able to build their new home next to Lake Store. The old house behind the store became abandoned.

Now for a few Gunter stories:

Myrtle and I were already at boarding school when John and Barry arrived on the scene.  I can remember us girls befriending these dear boys.

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Our early memories, of traveling to Makakatana was having to drive into a huge shed, on the last stretch of road to Charter’s Creek, and having to have the inside of our vehicle sprayed with those old pump action insect sprayers.  This was to kill the Tsetse Fly we were told.

Makakatana is made up of 11 Lots, owned as follows (Open to correction):

Lot 5 belonged to Norman and Peggy Atkinson. Norman owned the original saw mill in Eshowe.  It was on your way to the Testing Grounds and the Old Fort. Norman used to make wooden spokes for wagon wheels. We suspect that Peggy might have taught the likes of Lionel and Jimmy. Years later I used to walk from the Junior School hostel to the home of Peggy and Norman, which was in the same yard as the sawmill, for extra arithmetic lessons.  Young girls were quite safe to walk around on their own, even through the bush. Penelope Atkinson, Norman and Peggy’s daughter, (she was at Eshowe school the same time as Mike) married Richard Rencken. They now own Lot 5.

A gentleman with the surname of Hodkins originally owned Lot 4. He sold it to Walter van Rooyen.  Walter and Priscilla’s children attended Eshowe High School. Walter farmed in the Monzi area. Their children now share ownership of this property.  His one daughter, Paula married John Morrison.

Lot 3 would have been owned by Mr. James and later ceded to the Morrisons. John and Bruce now share this property.  John and Paula have built a beautiful home on their portion and live here permanently.

The Morrison family owns Lot’s 1, 2, 3, 10 and 11.

Lot 6 belonged to people by the name of Surtees.  There was an occasion when my Dad had to rescue them and their boat which they had put a hole through in the middle of the lake. This property was later sold to my dad’s cousin Lionel King (also ex Eshowe boy). He later sold it to Wally Balcomb. This property now belongs to Cheryl, Wally’s daughter who married Mike Zunckel. Cheryl’s brother, Bryce was killed at a level crossing a week after Mike’s and my wedding.  Sadly Wally was traveling in a vehicle following his son when the accident took place.

Lot 7 now belongs to Myrtle, Louis and I.

Lot 8 belonged to the Roman Catholics.  In later years Ian Player managed to convince the Catholics to sell him half of their property.  All in the name of Conservation! He did not own it for long when he on sold it. It is now owned by Sid Rogers. My Dad built their home, which consists of 3 inter-leading flats. Two elderly couples took up residence in 2 of the flats for a few years.

Lot 9 was owned by Mr. Kent.  He was the lawyer/attorney in Eshowe. He used to practice where Sid Brien practiced, opposite the Police Station. The ‘Green’ and ‘Gathercole’ family are his descendants. Judy Green also went to school in Eshowe the same time as my Dad, Jimmy and Ursula. I had the privilege of going fishing with Mr. Kent on the odd occasion.

We got on well with all the Morrison children as we spent most of our school holidays at Makak.

There was never a problem, fishing for small Tilapia without adult supervision, in the little pans that formed amongst the grasses, on the edge of the lake.  We kept one eye open for crocodiles but never took them too seriously. Our Tilapia were used as bait to catch Sea Pike, King fish, Salmon and any other big fish that might be feeling hungry.

Prawns abounded in the lake.  On the odd occasion, shoals would be resident in the area where we launched our boats.  The shoal was so thick that it was very easy to stand on them while walking to and from your boat. We would quietly sneak them out from under our feet and use them for bait.  My folks were given the odd bag of prawns thanks to wonderful friends who worked for Natal Parks Board, as it was known back then.  We had many a feast on prawns, crabs and fish.  Our family being keen fishermen, were privileged to eat fish on a regularly basis.

Besides Pelicans there used to be huge flocks of flamingo. While fishing at night for Salmon, the Flamingoes appeared to never sleep.  They croaked through night!

My Dad’s first boat was an aluminum Bay boat with a 40hp Johnson motor. It had a ‘pull-start’ to get it going and a tiller bar to steer it with. My Dad took his fishing very seriously.  He did not have much patience with us children in his boat. He bought my Mom a plywood (more like painted Masonite) boat that looked like a bathtub. It had a flat bottom and was not at all sea-worthy. We would only venture out in this boat when the lake was very calm!  No life jackets! Those were kept in my Dad’s boat because he could not swim. It was propelled by a ‘Sea Gull’ motor.  The boat was painted red and cream. My Mom and I caught many fish off this boat, starting in the early years at Kosi Bay.  On one occasion while my mom and I were fishing off Mitchell Island a shoal of King Fish and Sea Pike came on the bite. When we looked again our sandwiches had curled up into bits of dry bread. You could not eat them! My mom and I were always hungry and if the fish were not biting we would eat. Invariably if we started eating the fish would come on the bite.

On the odd occasion, we would travel by vehicle to go fishing in the Nyalazi River. Louis remembers the strong fragrance that filled the car as we drove over the ‘Nsuzanie bush’.  Our dad had no problem asking herdsmen along the way where to find the best fishing spots. The Nyalazi River used to be a strong river that fed into the lake system. During the recent drought this river dried up completely. Hopefully it is running again as we have had lovely rains during the last 2 years. Big salmon were caught in this river, but only at night and mainly in winter. We would dress warmly and spend the night dozing on and off around the fire, keeping one eye open for crocodiles and the other on our fishing rod.  The sound of the bush-baby calling and the owls hooting was magic. You would hear the odd plop of a mullet jumping or a salmon slapping the surface of the water.  Young ‘herdsmen’ used to lie around the fire with us, waiting for us to finish filleting our sardines. They would immediately put the skeleton and head on the fire. It made tasty snacks. Some of the family slept in the vehicle. On one of these trips we could not understand why our sardines were being taken off our hooks without any noticeable tugs. Us children rigged up rods made from reeds. We attached a short piece of nylon with a tiny hook, made from a bent pin, and added a float.  We dropped these just over the bank into the river.  We found the culprits, huge prawns. This was while it was still light enough to see what we were doing. As darkness fell we improved on our fishing technique by putting a few sardines into the scoop net and balanced it just off the edge of the bank.  We would give it a few minutes and then sneak up to the net and lift it out with speed. This produced lots of prawns in one scoop! The prawn that stands out is the one that we managed to find under the jetty at Makakatana.  It looked like a crayfish. It’s head filled an old honey bottle. We kept it preserved in formalin for years. There was a stall on the main road where they sold honey in tall jars years ago. Honey in cones, is still being sold on the N2 by local hawkers.

On one particularly cold night, while fishing off the banks of the river, the only one left fishing was my Dad. The rest of us were huddled up in the Land Rover station wagon.  We woke up to my dad yelling and the sound of a steam train coming up the river.  Now and again you heard this loud ‘explosion’ on the surface of the water.  I am not sure how many of you ever read Zane Grey books.  In one of his books he explained about the salmon run coming up the river. Here we were experiencing our own salmon run! My dad was beside himself.  He spent more time running backwards and forwards from the vehicle to the river and back again, changing from one trace to another.  He could not decide what method to use. This resulted in his trace hardly being in the water. The sound of the mullet being chased by the salmon was amazing. Sadly as fast as they came up the river they disappeared, continuing up the river and into the night. My Dad was devastated as he stood there listening to the train becoming fainter and fainter!

The fish that surprised us all to come out of the lakes, caught by my Dad, was a huge Sawfish. Unfortunately after my Dad died and the dust had settled, after much spring-cleaning, we discovered that the chart where my Dad had recorded all the fish records caught at Makakatana, had disappeared.  None of us can remember the size of this Sawfish.

Before the area was taken over by Isimangaliso and stocked with game, there were the original game stocks of Bush Buck, Nyala, Reed Buck (including the white one), Hyena, Red Duiker, etc. One day while my parents were out fishing on the lake near Eastern Shores (this is the side nearest the ocean), they heard a Bushbuck barking frantically.  They thought it might be caught in a snare.  They reeled up and shot to the edge near the area where the noise was coming from.  They were able to run up into a slight clearing in the bush.  There they found a huge python coiled around a young bushbuck. The mother was jumping around the Python and barking furiously.  Unfortunately the sudden appearance of my folks frightened the Python and it released the buck.  It disappeared into the grass.  The mother, once she realized that her baby was dead also disappeared into the bush.  My folks, upset as they were, did not dare touch the young buck and hoped the Python would come back to collect its prey. They did not hang around to find out.

Just the other night we could hear 2 hippo’s fighting near the cottage.  We immediately thought of my mom and dad.  2 Hippo’s fought in their front garden, just off their veranda and outside their bedroom window. My mother was terrified. They quickly brought their little dog inside and made sure the front double door was locked. The bellowing and teeth (tusks) striking is quite something to hear.  Mom had visions of them crashing through the door.  Two days later a small area around the door was fenced in.  This later became a problem for the Wart Hogs who tended to beg for the mangoes, which fell into the fenced area.  To have a Wart Hog beg for food is also scary. They give a snort and give you a mock charge. You cannot be sure how ‘mock’ it is!

One of the builders that helped my Dad build at Makakatana, after visiting Agnes, the ‘shebeen queen’, walked into a hippo on his way back late at night. He was badly attacked. He had a hole in his back and a broken leg and arm.  He was found the next morning hiding in the bushes. He survived the attack.

Dick Herbert sent us a letter of condolence after my Dad died. In it he wrote, ‘Lionel will be remembered by his family and friends for years to come. Your Dad and his stories will be repeated around many a camp fire!’ How can we ever forget our Dad, Lionel?  He certainly taught us how wonderful it is to be permanently close to nature.

Notes by Louis:  The drought, during the early 1980’s, left a very high salt level in the lake. The fish that were caught were as thin as planks and could not be eaten. The homesteads that had swimming pools battled to keep the hippos out. Hippos also licked and nibbled at the condensation that had formed on the outside of the old ‘fuel tanks’ that were used to collect water from the gutters.  Then in January/February 1984 the ‘Demoina’ floods came. The lakes went from serious salt to fresh. Tons of fish died and drifted to shore.  Bushpigs, Hyaena, Water Mongoose, Fish Eagles, plus others thrived. What was not eaten was left to rot.  It was quite something to find the remains of Salmon in the region of 20-30kg.

Then came another drought. It was not pleasant to experience the stench that drifted up from the lake during these times.

Today Makakatana is a full on game reserve and falls within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This is thanks to Andrew Zaloumis, son of Nolly Zaloumis.  Nolly was a dentist in Stanger.  He was originally from Zimbabwe. Nolly was passionate about conservation and served on the board of the old Natal Parks Board for many years.  Andrew obviously inherited his father’s passion for conservation.

The only animals you are not going to see in our area at the moment are Lions, Cheetah and for some reason Impala.  When my dad was still alive and before Isimangaliso came on the scene, there were 2 Lions that found there way to Makakatana. These were duly tracked down and removed.

Even while Makakatana suffered years of very little water in the lake and fishing became a thing of the past, it never lost its appeal for the birding enthusiasts and those who loved the peace that you find in the bush.

In 2001 20 elephants that came from Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, were introduced on the western shore of the lake. We are on the western shore of the lake. Others were later introduced to the eastern side.  These elephants have multiplied and cross over the lake on the odd occasion.

The Buffalo that have been introduced also tend to cross the lake, even if it means they have to swim to do so.

Extracts taken from a brochure put out by Makakatana Bay Lodge:

St Lucia was first named in 1554 as “Rio de la Medaos do Oura” (‘River of the Dows of Gold’) by the survivors of the Portuguese ship ‘Saint Benedict’. At this stage, only the Tugela River mouth was known as St Lucia.  Later, in 1575, the Tugela River was named ‘Tugela’.  On 13th December 1575, the day of the feast of Saint Lucy, Manuel Peresterello renamed the mouth area to Santa Lucia.

  • In 1822 the British proclaimed St Lucia a township.
  • In 1895, St Lucia Game Reserve, 30 km north of the town was proclaimed. (Eastern Shores)
  • In 1937 the area around Makakatana fell under the jurisdiction of Natal Parks Board.
  • In 1971, St Lucia Lake and the turtle beaches and coral reefs of Maputaland were listed by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).
  • In December 1999, the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • On 1st November 2007 the ‘Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, was renamed iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The word ‘isimangaliso’ is Zulu for ‘a miracle’.

ISimangaliso Wetland Park, situated on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, is South Africa’s third-largest protected area, spanning 280km of coastline, from the Mozambican border in the north to Mapelane south of the St Lucia estuary, and is made up of around 3,280 km2 of pristine natural ecosystems.

11 thoughts on “The History of Makakatana”

    1. OMW – cannot believe found this today – many childhood memories – my dearest Mom passed away today 29yrs ago – our family loved sharing time with Uncle Lionel, Aunty Patty and family. Hi everyone trust all good with u guys.

  1. A most interesting story of facts about such a a beautiful and challenging area
    The names of true characters of Zululand privelaged to enjoy such a special area
    Thank you for history I found it most interesting and enlightening

  2. Thank you so much I really enjoyed your very well written account of the old days.As a member of the Leys family I am always very interested in old Zululand history.

  3. OMW … happened to come across this today. Amazing …our dearest Mom Judy Kippen passed away today 29yrs ago. Have very fond memories of sharing time with Uncle Lionel, Aunty Patti and family at their cottage.

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