The Succulent Karoo is one of the biological wonders of the world. “Its biodiversity and range of endemic plants is unrivalled among the arid zones of the world.” says Jonas Nghishidi, chairman of the Namibian Succulent Karoo Ecosystems Programme. “Of course, this makes it an ideal tourist attraction for those interested in ecology, so for quite some time now we have been working hard at creating an awareness of this area and stressing the importance of its conservation to all communities.” Now, to further these objectives the SKEP Namibian team is developing a range of educational materials, comprising booklets, videos and DVDs. The first two products, a booklet and DVD, were recently launched at Aus last month by Rev. Willem Konjore the Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism. The booklet, entitled The Sperrgebiet – Managing its Biodiversity, is aimed at promoting sound management techniques in a highly diverse hotspot of international importance. It provides baseline information, as well as good monitoring strategies for stakeholders involved in the management of the Succulent Karoo Biome. The second product, a DVD enticingly entitled Blood Finger, covers the visual splendour of the Namibian portion of the Succulent Karoo Biome, and includes footage of Namibia’s newest National Park – The Sperrgebiet. “It is designed to fulfil an educational need and to assist stakeholders interested in long-term conservation of the area,” said Jonas. Further details from Jonas Nghishidi at


Alfred de Jager Jackson’s special look at the Great Karoo of yesteryear has captured the interest of a major TV team. Manna in the Desert, a book which he wrote in the 1890s with such sincerity and depth of feeling, has encouraged the producers of 50/50 to send a TV crew to take a closer look at the Karoo he so loved. The book was reprinted last year by Alfred’s great grandson, Craig Elstob, who also has a deep and abiding love for the Karoo. “I was delighted to be able to show the 50/50 team the farms, Bakensrug and Kamferskraal, where my great grandfather was born, and where he spent the first 20 years of his life. I was also thrilled to be able to share his world and love for the Karoo with the TV team. The programme will be broadcast later this year.” Alfred de Jager Jackson wrote Manna in the Desert, when he was 60. It captures the essence of the Karoo, which he felt was such a special place that anyone would “find rest for a weary body and comfort for a troubled soul” there. His loved the Karoo’s “bewitching beauty” and its “isolation” as well as its “evil barrenness.” In Manna in the Desert Alfred brings the hardships of farming in this arid zone to life. He takes readers through the heartbreak of the Karoo’s harsh climate, dreadful droughts and periodic flash floods. He also shares the joy of its birds and animals with them.


Towards the end of 1959, 23 year old, Jacobus Hendrikus “Koos” van Zyl, then an employee of the Central Karoo District Municipality, was delegated a special task. He was asked to build a road to Gamkaskloof, The Hell. Undaunted and filled with enthusiasm he set off on his trusty Allis Chalmers machine to single-handedly perform this task. Fortunately, a few days later Titch Reilley from Oudtshoorn’s Roads Department joined him. Together, for the next two and a half years they achieved what many considered impossible. They made a road from the peak of the Swartberg Mountains right down into the heart of a secluded valley. At the age of 69 Koos published a little booklet, in Afrikaans and in rhyme, detailed his experiences. Uit die Pen van die Padmaker has 16 illustrations and it is full of interesting facts. It includes an article by Rykie van Reenen telling of the 21-gun salute that echoed round the peaks as Dr Otto du Plessis, after whom the road was named, officially opened the road by riding a distance down it on Willie Rossouw’s beautiful white horse, Venus. Koos van Zyl died in January this year, but his story lives on in this little booklet, which is available from the Fransie Pienaar Museum in Prince Albert, the town of his birth


Browsing through old family historical documents Brenda Riontini, who lives in the States, discovered some stories of her family’s travels by train and car when they lived South Africa. The family loved passes and managed to drive across virtually everyone in the Karoo, Cape, and Garden Route. “We seem to have inherited our love of travel from Grandpa Westgate who was a transport rider in the days of the old ox-wagon. Later, after the rinderpest he used mule wagons,” writes Brenda. “He must have had some great adventures in those rugged pioneering days when the transport riders played such a vital role in opening the country to expansion and development.” But he was not the only adventurer in the family. Brenda’s mother, Georgia Westgate Smith, born in 1910, also recorded memories of many exciting trips in the recollections of her life, written in 1990. In one she wrote: “Everyone loved a Tin Lizzie. Our family was no exception, but ours refused to climb steep hills so, instead of blindfolding her, we backed-up her up in reverse gear. She then went up just fine. Most early overland cars had to reverse up passes, like Koo Pass, built in 1877, because the road was so steep for the gravity feed from the petrol tank to get fuel to the carburettor. Before long everyone discovered that reversing up hill raised the tail of the car and allowed the petrol to flow easily. Early motoring had other ‘tricks’ which had to be learned. Some cars, like the little open Austin 7, had a switch under the dash. When you stopped you had to reach in quickly and switch off a cock on the petrol line. If you didn’t get that right and done quickly, the petrol all ran out!”


“Ford supplied ‘box bodies’ for use in the 1914 War in South West Africa,” wrote Georgia Westgate Smith. “These were the forerunners of jeeps and beach buggies. My Dad bought one after the war. This car did sterling service carrying children and teachers back and forth to school, as part of the Citizen’s League, when public transportation men went on strike. It also conveyed family and friends to Church and Sunday School. Later, the Model T replaced the box body. Hilarious episodes followed. This car’s lights only worked when the engine raced. One evening, a cow crossed out path when we were running slowly. No one saw it in the dim headlights. It is a miracle, but the cow and all of us survived unhurt. We were all pretty shaken up! Another time, after crossing some railway tracks, the Model T was purring along in self-satisfaction when we saw a loose tyre running alongside the car. We yelled out to Dad and sure enough it was our tyre. Somehow it had come off and we were running on the rim. I often wonder if the roads were so bad in 1916 that Dad hadn’t noticed. A turning point in that Model T’s life came when she was administered a gallon of Golden Syrup by mistake, instead of a gallon of Castrol. Her engine responded well for about ten miles, then we found every nut, screw and bolt coated with toffee. She needed major internal repairs after that.”


Many readers enjoyed Brenda Riontoni’s story of Freeman Cobb (Round-up No 42) and several wanted to know more about the coaches and the rinderpest. Cobb, who had spent his boyhood in the American “Wild West” was familiar with stage coaches, so when he came to South Africa and had to order coaches for routes travelled by his Inland Transport Company, he contacted Abott Downing, a company located in Concord, New Hampshire in the United States. In his specifications he called for vehicles suitable for journeys on “extremely bad and, at times, non-existent roads.” Abott Downing met these specifications by designing horse-drawn coaches with “bodies that swung free.” They reasoned that “heavy mountings of rawhide” would cushion the shocks and result in a comfortable ride. The design worked well and the coaches were a great success. Soon more operators entered the market; among them were D F Transport and Red Star Line. Sadly, they too, like Freeman Cobb were badly hit by the rinderpest epidemic. Most coaches on the inland routes were designed to carry 18 passengers – ten inside and eight outside. The seats inside were more expensive and generally “reserved for ladies and moneyed gentlemen” – a trip from the Cape to the Diamond Fields cost about £12. Those with smaller budgets and who did not mind the elements travelled outside. Each passenger was only allowed a small bag because the coaches were not designed to carry a great deal of much luggage


Lorna Begley is trying to find out more about the Fuller and Gibson coaches that carried people through the Karoo. My grandad used to drive for them in the 1800’s, so I would love to know more about the South Africa of his day and experiences he may have had along the route. I wondered whether anyone knows more about this company, its routes, and how long it was in existence. Perhaps one of your readers could guide me to a source. I hope to be in South Africa later this year to continue my research


Rindepest, a highly contagious and fatal cattle disease hit Africa like a belated Biblical plague at the end of the 1800s. It began in the far north of Africa in 1889 and it was spread by war. This killer disease was said to have been brought to Africa by the Italian Army when it came to fight in East Africa. Rindepest left a trail of bleaching bones on every road as it worked its relentless way southwards. Along every route vultures fluttered lazily, totally gorged and the smell of rotting flesh was said to be appalling. By 1896 this virus-spread sickness was raging in the Transvaal. The Free State set up a control line along the Vaal River to try to stave it off, but this was breached. The Cape erected a fence along the Orange River to prevent cattle crossing and for a while it seemed as if this would be successful. “But, in March 1897 a ‘touleier’ (leader of a team of oxen) on a transport wagon found a pair of trousers lying in the veld south of the Orange River near Burghersdorp,” writes Jose Burman in Towards the Far Horizon. “He donned them and went back to leading his team. Seven days later the two lead oxen were dead of rinderpest, and within days the disease was loose in the Cape. Herds everywhere began showing the classic symptoms of bloody diarrhoea and fever. Roadblocks popped up on every route and, at strategic ones, travellers were obliged to use disinfectants supervised by government officials. All animals were completely dipped. The effect of the rinderpest was crippling. Draught oxen died in their thousands and even though incomplete records were kept, the effect was alarming. Griqualand West lost 168 000 of its 176 000 head of cattle, the Free State lost 60 000, the Zeerust district of the Transvaal alone, 35 000 and the Cape Colony almost 576 000. Peasant farmers were wiped out and forced into the labour markets. It signalled the end of the road for ox-drawn transport, this crippled industry changed to mules, but still costs rocketed and prices of almost every commodity were affected. “The 1896 Matabele Rebellion, coupled to the rinderpest, had a devastating effect on the mail service,” write Eric Rosenthal and Eliezer Blum in Runner and Mailcoach. In May, 1896 the Cape Post Office announced: “No postal matter other than letters can be forwarded to any place in British South Africa north of Mafeking; all newspapers, book parcels, sample packets and parcels will be held at Cape Town until it becomes possible to resume a full mail service.” The service was only resumed towards the end of the year, when Dr Robert Koch’s inoculation programme began to curb the rindepest.


In 1848, Robert Grey, the first Bishop of Cape Town almost frightened his wife, Sophy, to death with tales of his travels “through the waterless Karoo.” In one of his letters he wrote: “there was in fact no “road”, not even a tract through the arid wilderness and, to save the exhausted horses we many times had to walk.” More than once, he said he had had to put his shoulder to the wheel to get his English wagon out of a sandy drift. Beaufort West’s Dutch Reformed minister, Colin Fraser and the local magistrate had sent word to all farmers along the route to supply him with horses, and they had done this. Nevertheless, the rough, rugged, stony, non-existent roads that had taken their toll. His cart had capsized more than once and a wheel had been broken. Under a cloudless sky and in the heat of a Karoo summer day he had had to trudge almost 25 miles to find a farm house. Once there had “fallen on his knees to drink water from a filthy pool like an animal.” But, on a more cheery note he added that “Beaufort West’s charming Scots predikant place his splendid church at my disposal to preached a sermon to the Anglican community.” He was immensely proud of having instantly raised £200 towards a church, writes Thelma Gutsche in The Bishop’s Lady.


The roads, such as they were, may have been hazardous, but the trains too had problems. Two days after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, an accident occurred at Three Sisters Station. In When the Journey’s Over, Lawrence Greene writes: “A south-bound train carrying refugees from the north ploughed into a stationery train at Three Sisters Station at about 02h30. Carriages overturned and coaches telescoped. One newspaper article dramatically stated: ‘Men and women of all nationalities and temperaments suddenly found themselves face to face with a painful death entangled and entrapped by a mass of twisted iron and steel. They were smothered by debris, splintered wood and broken glass. The night was cold and dark. It is thought that the engine driver, who had been on duty for 36 hours, fell asleep.’ Eight passengers were killed and many were injured. Some were trapped beneath the wreckage. Help was long in coming. The nearest town, Beaufort West, was 75 km away and travelling across open veld at night presented its own difficulties. Rescue teams only arrived at 06h00, three and a half hours after the disaster occurred. Uninjured passengers tried to assist the injured. They lit fires and by their pale flickering light searched the wreckage for bodies and for more injured individuals. The night was freezing and the injured were placed close as possible to the fires to alleviate as much of their discomfort as possible.”


Old hinterland cemeteries have fascinating stories to tell and Beaufort West’s graveyards are no exception. They are steeped in many poignant and some humorous stories. For instance, being carried off to your last resting place by six of your friends is fine, as long as you and your coffin don’t weigh too much, states a recent newsletter of the Beaufort West museum. Yet, the local Dutch Reformed church in Beaufort West once faced a truly weighty problem. Way back in the early 1800s a local resident died. Once placed in his coffin it was discovered that together they weighed in at over 500lb (230kg) – an impossible weight for the pall bearers to heft to their shoulders with any sort of dignity or even carry on a bier with decorum. Also, at the time the town didn’t yet have a hearse, so, there was nothing else to do but huff and puff along lugging this vast weight to the burial place. Fortunately, they did not have far to go as he was buried in the little cemetery behind the Dutch Reformed Church. The town’s first graveyard was just west of present-day Kinnear Street. The spot for this cemetery was marked by Jacob Le Clercq, shortly after he and his father started farming on Hooyvlakte in the late 1770s. He had no need to use this place and the little farm cemetery became the town graveyard in 1820, two years after the town was declared. The little cemetery was never fenced and sadly many years later as the town grew and developed some of the graves were inadvertently excavated. This led to all the bodies being exhumed and remains being reinterred in a new cemetery. By 1831 most people were being buried in the churchyard cemetery. It too was not fenced until stray animals began causing too much havoc. By 1835, the same Mr Pringle who had carved the church’s beautiful pulpit made a new carved bier so that the church would have a large as well as small version. The “old cemetery” at the end of Bird Street came into use in 1857. Today it is a marvellous source of historic information. The town acquired its first hearse in 1857. It was made of stinkwood, cost £75 and was donated by D G de Villiers. For quite some time the church had no horses to pull it and so for every funeral two were hired and draped in black. The stinkwood vehicle was used until 1935 when Beaufort West acquired its first motorised hearse. The old stinkwood vehicle was sold to Mr R Cooke of Tradouwshoek, near Barrydale. He turned it into a magnificent suite of furniture.


One of the most popular Afrikaans poets, A G Visser, was a son of the Karoo. Andries Gerhardus Visser, was born in the Fraserburg district in 1878 and he sent to school in the Daljosophat district of the Western Province. He qualified as a teacher at the age of 17. For several years he worked in the Carnarvon district before deciding to go to Edinburgh, in Scotland, to study medicine. He qualified in 1906 and immediately returned to South Africa to start a practise in Steytlerville. His medical career later took him to Heidelberg in the Transvaal, where he once again began writing poetry. He had shown a particular gift for this while at school. His first efforts were published in a children’s magazine, Ons Kleintjie. “His poems, especially Die Purper Iris and Die Rose van Herinnering, had instant appeal. The public so loved their imagery and deep sincerity that Dr Visser was launched on a new career which ended with him becoming one of South Africa’s most loved poets,” says Eric Rosenthal in the South African Dictionary of National Biography.


Wellknown South African mining engineer, Dr Hans Pirow, was born in Aberdeen, in the Karoo, in 1892. After attending school in this little village, he went on to study theology at the Theological College at Potchefstroom and later in Germany. His initial aim was to be a minister, however, he afterwards decided to change and moved to Johannesburg where he attended the then South African School of Mining and Technology (this later became the University of the Witswatersrand.) According to Eric Rosenthal’s South African Dictionary of National Biography, Hans Pirow secured a Government Research Scholarship in 1919 and this took him to England where from 1923 to 1926, he was engaged in studying safety in mines at the University of London. He returned to South Africa in 1826 to take up an appointment as Government Mining Engineer. He later joined the Corner House Group as a consultant. Dr Pirow died in 1945.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.

After considering a legal career, Abraham Maslow, who was of Russian-Jewish descent, decided to become a psychologist. He was awarded his Ph.D. by the University of Wisconsin in 1931. He became a very popular professor and founder of the “humanistic psychology” movement