When staying at Nelspruit Lodge, there is so much to see and do in the area. A trip to the rock garden at Revolve Creek is one such adventure that you should do.
During the late 1960s travellers between Barberton and Kaapmuiden were astounded as they came across a sea of beautifully painted rocks. The owner of this stunning sight was Nukain Mabuza, a farm worker from one of the nearby farms. His origins are a mystery and while the people who knew him said he was a Shangaan or Swazi, it was unknown even to them from where he came.
When Nukain was questioned as to why he painted the rocks, he replied that “his head told him too”. He strictly used yellow, black, white and red paint in his garden. He cleared the veld grass and any other vegetation in a triangular area on the slope and marked it off with small rocks. Like most peoples gardens, he had delineated paths. The area outside his rock garden was full of indigenous plants including aloes and wild dagga. While Mabuza painted all sorts of designs, he never once painted a flower on his rocks.
Over the years many people started to donate paint, but any other colours were used between the road and his fence, not in his garden. He painted mostly spots and stripes but there were also paintings of dogs, rabbits, elephant and birds among his art. This certain style he kept up for many years. He painted rocks and also large embedded boulders on the hillside that surrounded his humble hut. A distinctive boulder at the bottom of his garden was said to be his throne. From this “Throne” like boulder, Mabuza could sit and gaze up at his garden. Mabuza used to tell people his garden was the most beautiful garden in the universe. His hut too was painted in a similar fashion, inside and out. Many articles were written about his art and he kept these clippings on the inside walls of his home.
Two books were written about his life and work, “The Home Of Nukain Mabuza” and “The Painted Stone Garden of Nukain Mabuza”.
Nukain Mabuza’s rock art was a tourist attraction during his life but he was never recognised as an artist. Athol Fugard did, however, make a play about his life, “The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek” and in 2015 the play enjoyed a highly acclaimed debut season in New York. The play was later done at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. Like any good story, there is a sad end to this one. Nukain Mabuza was an eccentric man in every aspect. One day in 1981, he dug a hole at the top of his painted mountain and buried himself alive.
His body was removed and today he lies in an unmarked grave in the Barberton Cemetary, identifiable only by a reference number. Like Mozart, his life and brilliance were only recognised after his death and both have ended in paupers graves.
Neglected and forgotten for thirty years, this spectacular garden has faded; it’s peeling and overgrown. Although there are only a few photographic records of the site, attempts to restore it are being made.