Moordenaarsnek (R56)

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Scenery near the R56 Scenery near the R56 - Photo: Counter Balance

Moordenaarsnek (“Murderer’s Neck”) has a very unusual profile, in that the road rises and falls through a series of false summits over its full length of 12.3 km. The road had recently been refurbished at the time of filming in April 2017, and was in an excellent condition. As usual, hazards in this part of the Eastern Cape include pedestrians, livestock and slow-moving traffic. It is also not advisable to traverse this pass at night or in inclement weather, but if this is unavoidable, reduce your speed to below the posted speed restrictions and be prepared to brake suddenly at a moment’s notice.

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[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

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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 from the south, start off in Maclear at GPS coordinates S31.067181 E28.344601. Travel in a northerly direction along the R56 for 38.8 km to S30.839467 E28.543245, which is the southern start point. To approach from the north, start off in Mount Fletcher at GPS coordinates S30.691499 E28.505185. Travel in a southerly direction along the R56 for 11.4 km to S30.760863 E28.522714, which is the northern start point. 

Patrick FletcherPatrick Fletcher / Photo: Dennis Fletcher Collection

We have filmed the pass from north to south. The start point is where the R56 crosses a bridge over the Luzi River. Just after the bridge, there is a gravel road leading off to the right; this is the road which will take you through Luzi Poort, up Pitseng Pass, and ultimately over Naude’s Nek to Rhodes. It forms a convenient shortcut from this point to the small village, in that it is much shorter than the route via Maclear, and it is considerably more scenic.  

The road curves to the right, then climbs slowly towards the large mountain directly ahead of you. A long straight of 1.1 km splits into a double lane about halfway along this section, then changes back to a single lane as the road enters a shallow S-bend, first turning right and then left. The gradient flattens out, then straightens up for another 1.3 km as the road undulates gently between some rural houses scattered about on either side.  

The gradient kicks up once more as the straight comes to an end, and the road curves to the right. This leads into a gradual left-hand curve, then into a shallow dip followed by another left-hand bend. Safety railings protect you from the drop-off on the left, and a steep cutting is evident on the right-hand side. The road curves back to the right through a long corner of 120 degrees, the gravel cuttings giving way to stepped stone-packed retaining walls. A double lane is once again presented as the road climbs through a short straight to the first of the false summits along this pass.  

The next section is by far the most interesting and scenic part of the pass. The road remains flat for a short straight of 650 metres, then curves to the right through a fairly tight corner of 90 degrees and into a short descent. This leads into a S-bend with positive banking on both corners, the road first turning to the left and then back to the right. Another long left-hand corner comes to an end as the road crosses over a culvert built to accommodate the Lahlangubo River, which is reached at the 6.4 km point.  

The road starts to ascend very gently once more through a shallow right-hand curve between some very steep cuttings which block the view on either side. It then descends slowly through a series of corners leading up to another low point. Please heed the double barrier line throughout this section; because of the corners and the cuttings, it is difficult to see oncoming traffic, and you will not have much time to avoid a collision if you attempt to pass slow-moving vehicles. 

MoordenaarsnekNear the northern start of Moodenaarsnek / Photo: Mike Leicester

The road stretches out ahead of you in a long straight of exactly 1 km, before the next gentle right-hand bend is encountered. The climb continues through a shallow left-hand corner, then follows a fairly straight path up towards the low neck on the skyline. A sharp 90-degree right-hand corner leads immediately into a 90-degree left-hander, as the road dips down again to cross a small stream. The village which is visible at this point has the unusual name of Chevy Chase – whether this tiny settlement was named after the well-known actor and comedian or not cannot be determined!  

[Video cover photo by Mike Leicester]

The final push up towards the summit begins with a short straight of 350 metres, which leads into a shallow left-hand bend followed by a long and gentle right-hand-corner with a double apex. The actual summit is conveniently marked for you by a prominent bus shelter on the left-hand side. A massive cliff is protected by low retaining walls on the right as the road descends gently along the plateau through a shallow left-hand curve, then into the final S-bend of the pass which culminates in a low dip at the 12.3 km mark. 

Gabions holding back the cutting on the right Along the pass there are impressive staggered gabions up to eight levels high to prevent the cutting from collapsing / Photo: Mike Leicester 

The origin of the name of the small town of Mount Fletcher, located close to the northern end of the pass, is a good illustration of why the internet has both advantages and disadvantages, and of the inherent laziness that we as humans possess. There are numerous examples on the web where a “fact” is established by one website, then copied over and over again onto other websites until it becomes accepted as common knowledge. The problem occurs when the original information was incorrect in the first place.

Most internet sources state that Mount Fletcher is named after the Reverend John William Fletcher, founder of the first mission established in the area by British Methodists in 1882. This person did indeed exist, and he is relatively famous in the Methodist community, having written a number of books that are still used as reference works today. But the Reverend Fletcher never travelled to South Africa and he died in 1785, so it is impossible that he founded a mission station in the Eastern Cape almost 100 years after his death; it is far more likely that the mission was named after a mountain in the vicinity that already carried this name.  

So if not the Reverend Fletcher, where did the name come from? Some sources claim that the mountain was named after a Captain Fletcher that was stationed there at some point in history, but this cannot be verified. The most likely candidate is Peter Fletcher, who was born on the tiny island of Jura, Scotland, in 1827. He seldom used his birthname, however, and throughout his life he was most often referred to by his father’s name, Patrick. 

Sharp corners in abundanceMany sharp and blind corners present on the pass / Photo: Mike Leicester

Patrick started his working life as a civil engineer in Scotland, but as there was very little work of this nature at that particular time, he turned to teaching. He met Agnes Eaglesine, also a teacher, who came from Paisley, to whom he became engaged. In the 1850's Patrick emigrated to South Africa, and after teaching there for a while he was active in the founding of Stellenbosch University. He sent for his fiancée, and they were married in Cape Town in 1860. They both continued teaching until an opportunity arose for Patrick to become Surveyor and Mining Commissioner in Namaqualand, and it was here that their first two sons were born, Robert in 1865 and Patrick in 1867.  

Fletcher’s exploits in Namaqualand are well documented, where he was very involved with the copper mining industry. A detailed synopsis of his time in this region can be found on the Messelpad Pass page on this website, and perhaps one of his most famous legacies are the fine dry stone retaining walls to be found on this magnificent pass. When the government decided to build a section of the Hondeklipbaai road in 1867, Fletcher was transferred from Colonial Surveyor to Inspector of Roads in charge of the survey, design and construction of the work.  

In 1875 the Fletcher family moved to the Eastern Cape, and there is written evidence that Patrick was involved with various projects, including the road over Nonesi’s Nek near Queenstown and a weir on the Komani River. He was very well-known and popular in the area until about 1885, and it would have been during this period that the mountain was probably named after him. He then resided in Millwood near Knysna for a few years, before moving to Rondebosch in Cape Town, where he died in 1897. 

It must be pointed out that a certain amount of conjecture has been used to compose the above summary, lest we be accused of perpetuating the very same error referred to above. But multiple corroborating and reliable sources have been used, and the name origin proposed herein would seem to be the most likely scenario. 

Origins of the name Moordenaarsnek:

We have been contacted by Prof. Roy Lubke, who kindly contacted Fleur Way-Jones (Curator Emeritus of the Albany History Museum in Grahamstown) who supplied a number of theories as to how this pass might have got its name.


1. During the Pondomise Rebellion of 1880, Mr Hope was was killed and buried at Mbototwana in May 1881 "a spot over which the altar of the new Memorial Church is to be reared"  p 10 Adonis, Rev S. "The Murder of Mr Hope" in Pondomisi War of 1880 ed Alan Gibson. 

Henry Hope was the Resident Magistrate of the Qumbu District.  

Umhlonhlo was the Pondomisi Chief who "professed the greatest loyalty to the Government" (p 45) and was assisting the British against the Mataliela Basuto.  

Place; Northeast of the Diocese towards the Drakensberg p 45. 

This is the description: 
Mr Hope is buried at the head of the Sulenkama valley by the side of the main road which leads from Qumbu to Maclear. The spot is marked by a pile of stones and climbing roses and one large upright headstone, on which is traced a cross. 

Another account said that Mr Hope and three others Warrene, Henman and were stabbed to death with assegais by Umhlonhlo's warriors. Davis (Clerk of the Court called Sunduza - the "pusher" went with the Chief.


Excerpt from the Cape Argus, 25 October 1880 corroborates the above version:


“Yesterday morning, at half-past six o’clock, the Rev. Stephen Adonis, native deacon with Umhlonhlo, arrived here with the sad news of the murder of Mr Hope, the magistrate with Umhlonhlo. The chief had given many ostensible proofs of his loyalty, offering 500 men to assist in relieving Mr Thompson, magistrate at Gatberg. Mr Hope, accompanied by Messrs Warrene and Henman, Civil Service clerks at Umtata, pitched his camp at Umhlonhlo’s great place a few days since, and waited for the chief to collect his men. Mr Adonis, whose station was a few miles off, rode into the camp every day. One day, at noon, while on his way to the camp, he met two men, who threw him from his horse, and one of them raised his “kerrie” to kill him, the other rescued him, and told him to return, and that the magistrate and the two strangers from Umtata were killed. Two of the station people soon after confirmed the news. Hope, Warrene, and Henman were sitting watching a war dance, and were gradually surrounded, when the warriors suddenly rushed in and stabbed them.” 

2. One of the St Augustine's preachers' sons, Matthew Lutshaba was killed carrying dispatches to Maclear, "his bones never having been found to this day." (p 11)  

3.The killing of the teachers and missionaries at the spot in Mbokotwana where the Pondomisi killed 7 of Headman Anthony Sokombela's Fingoes:  

  • Daniel Sokombela
  • Klass Lutseke, catechist
  • Joshua or Josoph  Mabengwena teacher
  • James Sokombela communicant 
  • Bassi Radebe communicant
  • Dadeni
  • Mlonyeni 

[Text & video footage by Mike Leicester]

Fact File:


S30.760863 E28.522714


S30.824786 E28.540708


S30.839467 E28.543245














12,3 km




10 minutes


60 - 80 kph


Tar (R56)






Mount Fletcher (22 km)

Route Map:

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||Click to download: Moordenaarsnek Pass (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)


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