Melville Koppies and Johannesburg skyline

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

Johannesburg, South Africa

Friends of Melville Koppies:              Phone: +27 11 482 4797                      Email:

Melville Koppies: Recorded History

From Iron Age to Nature Reserve

South Africa was ravaged by war from the early 1820s when Mzilikatsi swept across the Highveld, destroying or absorbing communities.

We have no recorded evidence of how the Iron Age community on Melville Koppies was affected, but it was almost certainly disrupted or destroyed.

Then the pioneer trekkers arrived and clashed with Mzilikatsi. They eventually drove him into what is now Zimbabwe. It is likely that by the mid 1800s the small settlement on Melville Koppies was abandoned. All that is left are the kraal walls and two iron smelting furnaces, the later one - now vandalised - possibly still in use in the early 1800s.

But by mid century there was a rudimentary Boer republic in place, the previous black inhabitants were well on their way to becoming non-persons, and in their place were white farmers, and quite soon prospectors.

The suspicion that there was gold on the Witwatersrand went back to the 1850s, but the prospectors were looking in the wrong places. They expected the quartz veins to contain gold - which some did, but not in payable quantities. It took until 1886 for the real riches to be discovered, not in quartz at all, but in the band of conglomerate which formed the main reef. Since then these rocks have produced 40% of the gold ever mined in the world.

Geldenhuys Cemetery

The Geldenhuys family graves in Hill Road Emmarentia.
Photo: Maria Cabaco

There is one name in particular which is associated with the Melville Koppies: Geldenhuys. The Geldenhuys family can trace their roots back to Johan ton Gyldenhaus in Westphalia in 1567.

Lourens, or Laurens, Geldenhuys was a farmer who had trekked from Swellendam, and from the 1870s was showing a lively interest in gold prospecting. The family acquired several farms on the Witwatersrand and did make a lot of money from gold discoveries on the east rand.

They also bought the farm Braamfontein. Melville Koppies is the last conserved remnant of that farm. Braamfontein gave them no luck with gold, but in effect the Geldenhuys brothers owned what was to become the affluent Northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

The story of The Geldenhuys family, their farms, and how the Melville Koppies survived to become a Nature reserve is told by Richard Hall in this article...

From Nature reserve to Heritage Site: 50 years of conservation

1 May 2009 Hike

On 1 May 2009 340 walkers came to the 50th anniversary cross-Koppie hike. After 50 years the Melville Koppies is, at 160 hectares, three times the size of the originally proclaimed reserve.
Photo: Norman Baines

Once the area now called Melville Koppies Central was proclaimed a Nature reserve there followed a long struggle to manage it properly, to make it accessible to the public, and to fend off various threats.

Richard Hall takes up the story... into the 1970s.

And Wendy Carstens and Norman Baines bring the account up to today on the conservation page.