Letsitele, Valley of the Olifants

The Letsitele Valley lies along the Letsitele River, a tributary of the Letaba River, towards the mountains near New Agatha, in the northern Limpopo province. The valley is about 30 kilometres south of Tzaneen and regarded as one of the main agricultural areas in the lowveld.

Letsitele the place originally formed at the junction where the Letsitele River flowed into the Letaba. Letsitele is often spoken about in the same breath as either the Letsitele Valley or Tzaneen, but is actually a prosperous farming community in its own right and has produced significant quantities of fruit and vegetables such as bananas, mangoes, citrus, avocados, litchis, tomatoes, and macadamia nuts.

The valley, rather than the farming community, is thought to derive its name from the Letsitele River, meaning “valley of the dead” in Sotho. The meaning of this rather ominous sounding name no doubt originates in the devastating effects of malaria, which held much of the valley in its grip until the 1930s.

Despite historical reference to Dr Siegfried Annecke as the man behind managing the effects of the disease in the area, it was actually a Dr Botha de Meillon who was responsible for establishing the Malaria Research Station at Tzaneen and doing all the initial work on the life cycle of the parasite. It was later named the Siegfried Annecke Research Institute, but it is de Meillon who is the real hero, and the man who hired Annecke to carry out the malaria control programme that was to bring the disease under control. The institute in Tzaneen continues research in both malaria and bilharzia today.

The beautiful sub-tropical climate in this part of the world renders a unique soil perfect for the growing of citrus, hence the heavenly scent of oranges and the sight of orchards heavy with fruit, that fill the air between late February and the end of October every year. Citrus farming is the main form of employment in the Letsitele Valley on about 60 farms.

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