Modderfontein Reserve

The Modderfontein Reserve was established in 1988. It covers an area of 275 hectares. The Reserve includes a variety of habitats ranging from grasslands, forests and riverine vegetation to wetlands.

The Reserve was established by AECI to demonstrate that industry and nature can co-exist. At the heart of the Reserve is a small complex of buildings called “ISIDLEKE” which means “the nest” in isiZulu.

Isidleke comprises three buildings: an old barn, Dobb’s House and an office complex. The old barn was built in 1900 by Randlord Sir Alfred Beit, who was once the owner of a hunting lodge in the area. The only part of the hunting lodge that remains today is the observation tower. The barn was used to stage carriages and horses and has been restored to its former glory. The old estate manager’s house, Dobb’s House, built in 1934 has also been restored.

The office block, built in 1991 to blend in with the architecture of the barn and Dobb’s House, has ablution facilities to cater for up to 100 visitors.

An attraction of the Reserve has always been the wide variety of birds seen here. Some 290 species have been recorded since 1990 – plus an unbelievable fluke – a White-tailed Tropicbird seen in 2008.   Of course this includes a lot of ‘vagrant’ and ‘occasional’ species whereas the ‘resident’ and ‘regular visitors’ amount to less.  Birds such as the African Fish-Eagle, Long-Crested Eagle and European Bee-eaters are regular sightings. A pair of breeding Blue Cranes nested in the Reserve between 1981 and 2010.

The Reserve has small populations of Black-backed jackal, Duiker, Reedbuck and Genet. Even fallow deer have been seen from time to time. The game variety has been boosted with the introduction of Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Blesbok, Reedbuck and Highveld Springbok. At present these animals are restricted to an area in the north-west portion of the Reserve.

Enthusiasts walking through the Reserve may be privileged to see some of the Leguaan resident along the Modderfontein Spruit, as well as the African Clawless Otter, four varieties of Mongoose (Slender, Yellow, Banded and Water), Meerkats and Hedgehogs.

The Reserve is administered by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and is open to the public from 06:00 – 18:00 daily.

Potted history of Modderfontein Factory

Modderfontein (muddy spring) Factory was responsible for the birth of the explosives and chemicals industry in South Africa – an industry that has made a substantial contribution to the economy of not only the local community, but to that of the country as a whole. As such it has been an integral part of the country’s history.

Modderfontein Factory was established as a manufacturer of dynamite specifically to supply the burgeoning gold mining industry. It was designed as the largest commercial explosives factory in the world, a distinction it enjoyed up until the mid 1990s.

As the construction of the factory neared completion, a call went out to Nobel factories throughout Europe for people to come and work at Modderfontein. Scots came from Ardeer, Italians from the great works at Avigliana and Germans from the Baltic coast as well as Austrians, Irish and even Danes. Maintenance teams from Holland and England joined the workforce.

Officially opened by President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic in April 1896, it was situated some 20 km north-east of Johannesburg so as to be a safe distance from human habitation due to the hazardous nature of it operations.

Just three years after the factory began production, its role changed abruptly and dramatically when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899. From making only commercial explosives it became, within a matter of months, the munitions supplier to the two Boer Republics, making propellants for the big guns and cartridges by the hundred thousand for rifles and hand guns.

Modderfontein was occupied by the 3rd Cavalry Brigade in 1900 under the command of General J R P Morgan. Soon afterward, a ‘peacekeeping’ force called the South African Constabulary was formed under the command of Major-General Baden-Powell. Modderfontein became the South African Constabulary’s first depôt and Baden-Powell’s headquarters.

With the cessation of hostilities, the old explosives company was liquidated and reconstituted with a British parent headquartered in London. It was now called the British South African Explosives Company. The majority of shares were still held by the Nobel Trust and its subsidiary companies.

Fill in the gaps between then and now by paying a visit to The Dynamite Company Museum at No 2 Main Street, Modderfontein (next door but one from 33 High Street Restaurant). The museum is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 08h00 to 12h00 and on Thursday mornings for group tours. Advance booking for groups is essential. Call the curator on 011 608 2747.

Since those early times AECI has remained one of the major industrial organisations in South Africa.