Book Review: ‘Land of my Ancestors’

With Land of my Ancestors, Botlhale Tema writes a riveting story about two young men and how they came to settle in the village of Welgeval. This book is a beautiful rendition of what our heritage is as a country. Our ancestors have been and gone through so much and for Dr Tema to animate their stories is such a beautiful and commendable moment in the non-fiction genre in South Africa.



Land of my Ancestors — initially published back in 2005 as The People of Welgeval —talks about the slavery that took place in the Transvaal, the issue of land ownership that many South Africans face even to this day and how land restitution processes were implemented. Tema illustrates how Polomane and his companion Maja got and settled on the land of Welgeval and how the people who gradually settled on the land nearly lost and eventually had their land taken from them.

The story, written in the narrative non-fiction style, is divided into three parts that illustrate the beginning, growth and demise of the wonder that is Welgeval. It’s mostly set in the period between 1852, which was approximately when Maja and Polomane were in Rustenburg, and the 1980s when the village was demolished in order to build the Pilanesberg National Park in the North-West.

Topics Discussed in Land of my Ancestors

While telling a very intimate tale, Land of my Ancestors explores some common themes in South African history. In this way, it’s a personalised take on our country’s painful past and the inspiring legacy we can take away.


One of the main reasons Tema wrote the book is because of how closely associated she was with the topic of slavery herself. The book Slavery in South Africa revealed that she indeed was the descendant of a slave. In Land of my Ancestors, Tema talks about how Polomane and Maja were enslaved and stripped of their culture, languages and traditions. She also highlights the huge impact it had, not only on the two of them but on the generations that followed.


Polomane and Maja settled on this piece of land with the help of a Dutch missionary who wanted to open a church on the land and then offered them a piece of the rest of the land as gratitude for their help with him and his family. The land belonged to them for a while — until the day the land was turned into a national park. Disputes arose as to whom exactly the land belonged to. It was only years later that it was confirmed that the land did indeed belong to Tema’s family.

In this way, Land of my Ancestors brings light to how many South African families have been exploited and had their land stolen.


The Pilanesberg National Park is the location of the village of Welgeval. Image: Jack Soma, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The topic of home is quite subtle but it heavily influences the entire book. Polomane and Maja were taken away from their homes and basically enslaved for the better parts of their youth. They were stripped of the identities they were born with and given others. Later on, they were set free and they embarked on a journey to find or make their own home, starting first by reclaiming their birth names. They founded the village of Welgeval and they not only made it a home for themselves but for all the other people who were welcomed to the farm.

The village of Welgeval is now part of the Pilanesberg National Park. For a long time, residents, including the author’s family, the Molotos, were not compensated for the land. However, this very book served as substantial evidence for the land claim processes which ensured that the Molotos became partial owners of the Pilanesberg National Park.

Why You Should Read Land of my Ancestors

The story of Polomane and Maja is one of bravery and determination. The trust and faith they had in each other were admirable, to say the least. They started something that could be passed down from generation to generation. I am so happy that I got to read this book because it tells a story of our history and heritage as South Africans before, during and even after apartheid. It tells us how we were stripped from our homes but still made a way to make a home that resembled the homes we came from. I think a lesson can and should be learned from this book: if anything, our ancestors, were brave and strong and innovative in their years of life. They made a way and that is our heritage. 

Thekgo Raseala

Thekgo Raseala is a BA in Creative Writing student who has a passion for both reading and writing. She is a fashion fanatic and a novel enthusiast.

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