There is an air of beauty, pathos, drama and hope in the latest film to be made in the Karoo. In many ways this short 15-minute film, Vloedlyn (Floodline) captures the dynamics of the Great Karoo. Loosely based on welknown artiste Antoinette Pienaar’s myths and legends of the Karoo, it tells the story of the Laingsburg flood at three different levels – before the flood, later in 1990s and lastly in the modern day, when two young travellers meet on a desolate road. Behind this production is highly-talented young musician and composer, Braam du Toit. “I love music, but I found it was becoming a lonely world, so I turned to film for expression,” says Braam, who wrote the script, musical score and raised funds to produce the film. It premiered in Braam’s hometown Swellendam, where his father Jan is a well-known artist. It was highly acclaimed by all who saw it and praised for being “proudly South African.” All the actors and highly-skilled camera man, Warren Smart, from Durban, are South African. Starring in the film are Nicol Holm, Michael van der Koff, Chris Thompson, Elmarie Kellerman, Tertius Kapp and Trudie Africa, who works in a Swellendam bookstore. “Trudie has never acted in her life, but she just had the look I needed, and she turned out to be a ‘natural,’” says Braam.


The ever-popular Fossil Trail in the Karoo National Park, outside Beaufort West, has been extensively upgraded at a cost of about R70 000. The trail was originally established by Dr Roger Smith of Iziko Museums, Cape Town, who with his team, locally collected most of the fossils on display. Over the years, however, the outdoor display cases were severely damaged by the harsh Karoo climate and thoughtless vandalism. The National Park has now upgraded the stone-paved pathway to facilitate better wheelchair access and built new, better and more weather-resistant display cases. Then, Cape Town palaeontologist Dr John Almond of Natura Viva, designed 23 new information plaques and added a number of new rock and fossil specimens and casts to the trail. “The aim is to use modern reconstructions and palaeobiological information to bring back to life the amazing extinct wildlife that thrived in ancient Karoo during the Late Permian Period some 255 million years ago,” says John. “At that time – about 35 million years before dinosaurs evolved – the first complex ecosystems appeared on land. A variety of rabbit to rhino-sized herbivores, lizard-like insect-eaters, and sabre-toothed super-predators are preserved in the Permian rocks of the Karoo.” The Karoo National Park is one of the very few places in South Africa where the remains of these marvellous prehistoric animals and contemporary plant life can be seen ‘in context.’ Together with the displays on Karoo geology and fossils in the new Interpretive Centre, the upgraded Fossil Trail provides an excellent resource for teachers, learners, and the interested public. For those keen to learn more about the wonderful fossil and geological heritage of the Great Karoo, John will lead two educational weekend excursions in the Beaufort West area on August 18 to 20 and 25 to 27. Cost is R1600 per person (sharing). They promise to be popular, so booking is essential.


The Leeu-Gamka Nursery encourages the planting of indigenous trees. It also sets the example by doing just that. “Some years ago, we decided to plant a variety of indigenous trees so that people could see what they looked like. We planted 39 different species and they have done extremely well. So, we are now in the process of planting more. We are setting an example by bringing as many indigenous trees as possible back into the Karoo. The project enables us to experiment and find out exactly which trees are most suitable trees for our climate and arid conditions,” says information officer Charlotte Bothma. “We invite travellers on the N1 to stop for refreshments and see our superb examples of indigenous trees.”


To some it may have appeared to be an early Easter bunny hunt. It was much more serious; however, it was a search for evidence of one of Southern Africa’s rarest terrestrial mammals, the riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis). A team comprising 15 people from the Northern Cape Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation (DTEC), two staff members of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine Rabbit Working Group (RRWG) and ten volunteers, took part. They scoured riverine areas near Fraserburg on foot and using two horses from March 6 to 11, after establishing a base on a vacant farm in the foothills of the Nuweveld Mountains, 40 km from the village and close to the Kleinriet River. Tents and solar showers were set up and river fountains provided clear, clean, fresh water. The extreme daytime heat was avoided by setting out at sunrise. After covering between 10 and 30 km per day (75 km in total) the group returned to the camp, dusty and exhausted, but excited by good survey results. Five to nine riverine rabbits were spotted on average each day, mostly in optimal habitat patches. In total 29 nine rabbits were counted on eight farms.


Excellent observation skills helped team members identify riverine rabbit habitat hollows in dense vegetation. Some of these shelters still had hair adhering to vegetation. These samples were collected and sent to the Evolutionary Genomics Group of the Department of Botany and Zoology of the University of Stellenbosch. Here DNA will be extracted from hair root cells for analysis and this will allow researchers to better understand the connectivity of the current population and genetic variation in different areas. “The information will also be used to develop adequate conservation strategies,” says Dr Vicky Ahlmann, chairman of the RRWG. Each rabbit sighting was registered on a Global Positioning System (GPS) and entered into the RRWG’s database. “Although extinct in many former distribution areas, riverine rabbits have recently been sighted in places where their occurrence was only assumed. They have also been discovered in totally unexpected areas. These seem to be core areas (‘hot spots’) for the species and need urgent attention. It is not clear to what extent rabbits migrate between these areas. Riverine rabbits now occur mostly on private land, so their survival lies in the hands of the farmers,” says Vicky.


A festival will be held in Gamkaskloof, The Hell, from October 27 to 29, to honour former residents of this historic valley. It promises to be a festival with a difference and will include outings, exhibitions and demonstrations, all honouring the valley’s rich, romantic history. In typical fashion of yesteryear, this festival will kick off with a true old-fashioned “social” – an open-air “boeredans” on an historic threshing floor. Allen Green and Marius Louw’s traditional “boereorkes” will provide the music and liquid refreshment will be available at a cash bar. Festival organisers say: “Once you have negotiated the winding road from the peak of the Swartberg into Gamkaskloof, it would be advisable to stay and enjoy the whole weekend with us.” They have organised hot air balloon fights for keen photographers and others who would like to see unforgettable views of this unique valley. There will also be donkey cart rides, competitions, wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, walks, hikes, rides and other outings into pristine wilderness places. Some of these secluded spots are quite breathtakingly beautiful. There will also be plenty of fun for the children.


The Leeu-Gamka Indigenous Nursery is the only one in South Africa that sells the endangered Aloe Chlorantha. This species derives its name from its unique green colour. “Green is an uncommon colour in aloes, but this colour that makes this species exceptionally beautiful,” said Charlotte Bothma, information officer at the nursery. The Aloe Chlorantha is only found on dry, rocky north facing slopes near Fraserburg in the Karoo. This small distribution area and its high susceptibility to damage by insects, make this species an endangered plant, say the experts. According to the Guide to the Aloes of South Africa, young plants are solitary, but may split into as many as ten heads as they grow. The plants have a tendency to grow along the ground and this makes them invisible. Aloe Chlorantha is an attractive plant which flowers in October. Flowers are small, up to 10mm in length and yellowish-green in colour. Buds are hidden by bracts, but open flowers are visible. Its bright green leaves tend to turn various shades of pink and purple when the plant is stressed by drought. “The Aloe Chlorantha needs frost protection and careful watering. The plants like full sun,” says Charlotte.


The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) celebrates its third anniversary in April. This anniversary will be marked by the organisation’s first partner’s conference on May 3 and 4, in the Old Mutual Hall at Kirstenbosch. During this conference SKEP’s initiatives will be highlighted and plans will be formulated for its role in the future. SKEP also aims to use this conference as a platform to strengthen and expand partnerships, raise awareness of the organisation, its policies and its functions and strengthen communications among key role-players, decision makers and all who have dealings with the organisation. The Klein Karoo, a Succulent Treasure, will be the subject of a talk given by Jan Vlok, Cape Nature Conservation’s initiative co-ordinator at Gouritz. Professor Guy Midgley, a specialist scientist in ecological conservation at Kirstenbosch Research Centre, will talk on climatic change. Other speakers include: Nicky Allsop, (Agricultural Research Council), Albert Mabunda, (Department of Tourism), Jorgen Thomsen (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund), Kristal Maze and Trevor Sandwith (SA Biodiversity Institute), as well as Professor Chris Brown (Namibian Nature Foundation) and Kauna Schroder, Namibia’s SKEP co-ordinator,


When traveling into the interior in the 1800s Heinrich Lichtenstein reported that the gouty and rheumaticky old men of the Karoo knew the value of buchu brandy. He found that medical folk-lore flourished as pioneers moved into the hinterland. “Once migrant farmers and explorers passed the Boland mountains, they knew medical help was very far away,” writes Edmund Burrows in the History of Medicine in South Africa. The seriously ill were left along the way with hospitable farmers and if they could not help these people simply died. This forced inhabitant of the hinterland to develop a knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants and wild herbs of the veld. “They quickly discovered which plants could be used as purgatives and which worked well as emetics, cathartics and diuretics. They found buchu leaves, steeped in brandy were good for rheumatic ailments and that this concoction also strengthened the stomach. Hottentots Fig was found to be good for dysentery. It was also used as a diuretic, for burns and as a lotion for sore throats. Dawidswortelje was a powerful cathartic and emetic. The protea bush yielded a syrup which was beneficial in the treatment of pulmonary disorders. So, as the colonists gradually expanded their horizons, their “boeren pharmacopocia,” also grew. Within two or three generations they were completely self-reliant. They were able to cope quite well until the Edinburgh graduates joined them after the 1870s,” writes Burrows. Buchu, as a medicinal herb was introduced to England and Europe by Joseph Mackrill, who came to the Cape in 1816.


Prince Albert Road, little more than a truck stop these days, has indeed seen better days. The tiny hotel, alongside what once was the exciting Cape to Cairo Road, seems to slumber in the sun, dreaming of better days. And, indeed, it has seen these. There was a time when many VIPs arrived at the railway station, now sadly vandalised. On April 19, 1947, a special train stopped there and none less than the British Royal Family alighted. Early that year hotelier David Levy, (who had lived at this isolated spot for eight years) was asked to cater for 30 people. The party he was told would include the British Royals and top local dignitaries. Bowled over by excitement, David instantly inspanned his wife, seven-year old daughter and relations, the Gessners, the only other people living at this far flung siding. (They had been there for 22 years.) Together they began to spruce up the tiny hotel, but as soon as word got out there were plenty of offers of help. When Arthur Markowitz arrived in June that year searching for stories on the Jewish community in the hinterland, David told him; “The country side for miles around was agog with excitement as soon as they heard the news. People for miles around watched the special train puffing across the plains of the Karoo and by the time it arrived at Prince Albert Road we were all hopping with excitement. We did ourselves proud that day and provided the best lunch we ever put on our tables.” Arthur enjoyed his visit to Prince Albert Road. In the South African Jewish Times of June 13, 1947, he wrote: “David Levy proved to me that a man living in isolation does not have to be ignorant. A subscriber to many newspapers and magazines, he is as well informed of world affairs as any city dweller. Locals say that there are times when he and Bennie Frank, the Jewish hotelkeeper at Fraserburg Road (Leeu Gamka), 20 miles to the north-east, meet and have extremely lively, entertaining discussions.”


The man who once was Judge President of the Free State and judge of the Supreme Court Appellate Division, had a curious nickname. Bloemfontein lawyer, Jan Hugo, discovered this. After reading Round-up No 30 March 2006, he turned to Ellison Kahn’s Law, Life and Laughter for more information on Sir Ettienne. Kahn states that he was affectionately known as “Oofy,” and that he once wrote to a friend: “My soubriquet, correctly spelt, is Ovie. It is a contraction of Ovid. In my junior matric class at SACS in 1889, I pronounced metamorphoses (quite correctly) with a long ‘O’ much to the amusement of the class. For days they called me ‘Ovid’s metamorphoses,” but that was too long for a nickname, so it became ‘Ovid’ and the diminutive of that in Afrikaans is ‘Oofy.’” Paying tribute to Sir Ettienne in 1991, Chief Justice E F Watermeyer said: “He was a member of what is probably the best-known legal family in South Africa. For the past 74 years (except for an interval of 14 days) there has always been a De Villiers on the South African Bench. At present there are three. Alas the brilliant future which seemed to lie before him was marred by tragedy, ill-health and disappointment. In 1903 he married Minnie Drummond, whom he had met as a student at Cambridge. Their marriage was a very happy one. She kept him in touch with the social world. She was also a source of spiritual strength and he was not merely attached to her, he was dependant on her. Unfortunately, she lost her life in the 1919-1920 influenza epidemic, when he most needed her help and assistance. ‘Oofy’ was grief stricken. His health failed. He became introverted. He seemed to be incapable of taking an interest in life. He retired in 1939 and spent the rest of his life in utter loneliness. Yet, in his prime Chief Justice, Sir James Rose Innes, described Sir Ettienne as ‘a genius possessed of the finest legal brain I have ever known.’”


In the mid-1650s William Robertson, an honest, God-fearing Scot came to South Africa to practise medicine. At the Cape he found quite a few fellow countrymen and thoroughly enjoyed their company over a “wee dram.” Then, in 1659 he overheard a plot to overthrow the fort, rob the locals, steal a ship and sail off “into the blue yonder.” This placed William in a tricky spot, but he knew he had to report the “treasonable conspiracy,” even though it might cost him a few drinking buddies. In fact, it cost him the lot. He reported to the Governor that he had heard men planning to seize the fort, grab all the valuables they could find, board a richly-laden vessel lying in Table Bay and escape “never to be seen again.” Among the 29 conspirators were some men from Dundee, his home town. These included Colin Lawson, John Brown, John Beck and Alexander Crawford. Peter Barber of Hamstead was also involved and so was Jacob Birn of Glasgow. The Governor sent soldiers to round up the schemers as well as all other English and Scotsmen at the Cape. Then, “to clear the place of mischiefmakers,” he banished them all to Batavia. William, of course, was exempted and given a 50 rixdollar reward. But, without his drinking buddies the Cape must have been a lonely place, because he left the following year.


Ian Smith who is currently researching a book on the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment needs information on the farm Slaapkrantz Farm in the Fouriesberg area. “I came across Round-up on the Internet and I wondered whether this farm was in the Karoo and whether any of your readers may be able to help. I have come across alternative spellings of the farm name – Slaapkranz or Slaapranse. One reference says it is 17km east of Fouriesberg and that there is a neighbouring farm called Verliesfontein. The farm is a key feature to the story of the Wiltshires, so I hope one of your readers may be able to help or at least point me in the right direction for finding information or perhaps even contacting the present owners.”

Accept your limitations and you will go beyond them. The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.

Brendan Behan, one of the most discussed playwrights of his time. Born into an English-hating Irish family he dropped out of school at the age of 14, to join the IRA. He was not the model of mental health, but he was a larger-than-life person of great wit. He lost his struggle with alcoholism in 1964 and died at the age of 41.