Magatasnek (N4)

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Approaching the nek from the west Approaching the nek from the west - Photo: Mike Leicester

The N4 is a national highway that stretches across the entire northern section of South Africa, from the Botswana border in the west, through Pretoria, to the Mozambique border in the east. Astonishingly, there are only four official passes on this road, and Magatasnek is the only one located on the western half. The pass lies just to the west of Rustenburg.

The N4 is heavily tolled, and has a reputation as a dangerous road, in particular the section between Brits and Rustenburg, where there is only a single lane in each direction for much of this route. Impatient motorists tend to overtake slow moving traffic without any regard for the road markings and signs, resulting in a number of injuries and fatalities.

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....


[On-car video footage supplied by Mike Leicester]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored. 

Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach the pass from the east, travel from Pretoria along the N4 in a westerly direction towards Rustenburg. Remain on the N4 and travel past the town until you reach S25.632966 E27.146460, which is the eastern start of the pass. To approach from the west, travel along the N4 in an easterly direction from Zeerust, Groot Marico or Swartruggens until you reach S25.638593 E27.124206, which is the western start of the pass. From the summit of the pass to the centre of Rustenburg is approximately 16 kms.

August MokgatleAugust Mokgatle - king of the Bafokeng / Photo: Bafokeng Digital ArchivesWe have filmed and describe the pass from west to east. As the pass begins there is a long, shallow curve to the left, with a very gentle upward gradient. A prominent almost perfectly conical hill looms directly in front of you. At the 550m mark, there is a road (the R52) intersecting off to your right, and the gradient kicks up sharply at this point. The road now curves to the right and then climbs steadily in a straight line until the summit is reached at the 1.6 km mark, where there is a fairly deep cutting. The descent winds its way through a shallow reverse S-bend, first turning left and then right, reaching the end of the pass at the 2.4 km mark.

Magatasnek is named after Magata (also commonly referred to as Magato), king (kgosi) of the Bafokeng nation from 1834 to 1891. His real name was Mokgatle, and today he is hailed as one of the most visionary and influential leaders of all time. During his reign, he started buying back the land that the Bafokeng had occupied for centuries from white colonists. Thirty three years after his death, a part of the reef containing the world’s largest deposit of platinum was discovered under Bafokeng land. Owing to Mokgatle’s foresight in purchasing the properties, the Bafokeng were eventually able to claim substantial royalties from the platinum mining industry.

Today called the Royal Bafokeng Nation, a sovereign wealth fund was established as an investment entity in Johannesburg, which is responsible for overseeing the growth and maintenance of the community’s income streams. It is considered to be Africa’s most progressive community investment model, with total assets under management of approximately $4 billion.

Mokgatle’s story is inexorably linked with that of Paul Kruger (1825 – 1904), who lived in the area on a farm called Boekenhoutfontein. By all accounts, the two were long time acquaintances, perhaps even friends. During the 1st Anglo Boer War, the Bafokeng were ordered by Kruger to remain neutral, and after it was suspected that they had supplied the English with provisions, Oom Paul went to visit Mokgatle, together with his son Piet and a few men. The incident that followed has become legend, but the details of the story depend entirely on the narrator thereof.

According to Kruger himself, his party was stormed by the Bafokeng, whereupon one of his men put a rifle to Mokgatle’s head and threatened to shoot him if they did not retreat. Other accounts state that Kruger was overpowered and was about to be dispatched with a battle axe, but was saved in the nick of time by Rev. Christoph Penzhorn, a missionary living with the Bafokeng at the time. Either way, it was eventually sorted out, and Kruger obtained two horses from Mokgatle for a journey to Heidelberg, as well as an assurance that the Bafokeng would stay out of the war from that time onwards.

[Research and text write-up by Mike Leicester]

Fact File:


S25.638593 E27.124206


S25.634574 E27.138984


S25.632966 E27.146460














2,4 km




2 minutes


100/120 kph


Tar (N4)






Rustenburg (16 km)

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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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