Motouleng Caves

Fertility Caves - Saltpeterkrans

Useful Information

Location: Between Clarens and Fouriesberg, near the border of Lesotho, Thabo Mofutsanyane.
Turn off onto the dirt road which is signposted Surrender Hill. Wait at the Haritage site sign for someone to open the gate and pay a parking fee. 2 km hike from the farm with two river crossings.
(-28.6094, 28.3857)
Open: No restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: Subterraneacave churches SubterraneaCave Houses
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: M. S. Mensele (): A Study of Rituals Performed at two Sacred Sites in the Eastern Free State Masters of Arts., Centre for Africa Studies-CAS, University of the Free State Bloemfontein
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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OCT-2020 closed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.


Motouleng (the place were the drums keep on beating) is one of the largest rock overhangs in the Southern Hemisphere. The overhang is used by sangomas, shaman healers, as a home and as a sacred site. It is full of traditional dwellings, drywalls and kraals made from straw and grass. The healers live within the caves for weeks, months, or even years. A large number of pilgrims go to the cave to be healed by the healers.

The name Motouleng comes from the Basotho nation, but the English name is Fertility Caves. The caves were used for Lebolo, girls lived in the cave during the initiation school where young girls become women. Women go to the river for their initiation while men go to the mount, so the nearby river was essential for the ritual. The women's initiation school was moved to a different place because the cave became a popular destination for visitors. Privacy is vital for Lebolo ritual. Still the cave is called Fertility Cave because it became a pilgrimage destination for women hoping to get pregnant.

Today the caves are visited by many people on weekends and public holidays like Paseka (Passover). A lot of visitors are coming for their spiritual healing, initiation and baptism. This also has some drawbacks, as the caves have become subject to the modern scourge of waste. There are no hygiene or sanitation facilities and no litter bins. But there is an endless stream of visitors. A fountain at the entrance of the cave called Sediba sa Bophelo (Fountain of Life) is said to give luck when a silver coin is thrown in, which actually does not sound very traditional. And while the spring is held sacred by many of the visitors, it has become subject to pollution due to this tradition.

The caves are used for Ho Twasa, the process to become a ngaka (traditional healer) or sangoma as they are called in isiZulu. Healers get a calling from the ancestors and then undertake Ho Twasa which takes two to four months. To answer the call the initiate has to stay in the caves, abandoning the comforts of the modern world. The goal is to connect with the dlozi (ancestor) who has called him.

Other people also live at the cave, often with animals like cats, goats, and chickens in tow. People of all religions are welcome at the sacred site. It is also used by various esoteric Christian church sects. Practitioners of traditional African religions are praying and performing rituals. People dance, sing, and make offerings to appease the ancestors. And modern life actually does not stop at the caves, the caves were closed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Police arrived and all residents were removed from the holy site.

The eastern Free State has a lot of canyons with vertical cliff faces and overhangs. Numerous rock shelters in the area are quite exceptional. Some were used as shelters since Prehistoric times, showing human remains and even rock paintings. Today numerous rock shelters are believed by the Sotho to be possessed by powerful spirits. The most important sites are Matouleng and the nearby Badimong caves.

Motoulong is considered a sacred place and so you should dress and behave accordingly. There are recesses within the cave where visitors can meditate, rocks adorned with candles lighted by visitors and some visitors leave messages. Some visitors collect the water which drips out of the cave walls, which called Sediba water and is said to have healing properties. Parallels to catholic churches are of course accidental.