PEEL BACK THROUGH THE AGES
Tim Sale’s one hour ten-minute-long film, Layers of The Karoo, is must see for all who love the vast, limitless, open spaces of the Great Karoo. It starts about 280 million years ago, when huge, strange-looking creatures, ancestors of modern mammals, lumbered across the land. From there, the layers are peeled back through various extinctions, like the dinosaurs, to the earliest hominids and right up to homo sapiens. The story continues, taking a close look human development; through the lives of the Bushman, the Khoi and early European settlement. Some emotional subjects, such as predator control are tackled, along with good and bad vegetation and threats to farming, states an item in Karoo News, Summer Edition. DVD’s cost R120.
THE BAIRD AFFAIR RE-VISITED
Even in its day the dismissal of Beaufort West’s first deputy magistrate, John Baird was a controversial event. Hard as he tried to clear his name, he could not. Then, almost two centuries later, his great granddaughter, Lindi, published his story as A Reflection of My Past. Not totally satisfied she continued her research and found enough information to give the biography a major facelift. This story, which includes much more information, details of the time, background on unsolved mysteries of the first book and information on some shady property deals, is now available as A Time to Remember
THE PLACE TO BE
The Prince Albert Olive Festival, an extremely popular events and always a winner, turns 21 this year. Organisers say that this year’s event will the best yet and report that accommodation bookings are already coming in fast and furiously. The festival, being organised in collaboration with the Swartberg Hotel, the Showroom and Lah-Di-Dah, is scheduled for April 25 to 27.
FOR THE ENERGETIC …
The Mediclinic Fernkloof Trail Run is scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 28. Bookings have already opened for this popular 16km scenic, single-track run. The route includes challenging rocky terrain, climbs, descents, hairpin bends and breathtaking views of the Swartberg Mountains. It starts at Fernkloof Wines on the R407 outside Prince Albert at 08h00. Entry is limited to 100 runners. The fee is R280 and this includes three bottles of wine. Cut-off date is June 25.
… AND THE HISTORY BUFFS
The SA National Heritage Symposium is to be held in Richmond in the Karoo from October 16 to 18. The programme, which features many interesting walks and talks, will focuses on historic homes, museums, the cultural history and interesting people of the Karoo. Richmond has one of only two Saddle horse museums in the world – the other is in Kentucky in the United States. Funds will be raised for the maintenance and care of this museum is during the seminar.
FOLLOW UP ON THE KARABUS SAGA
The story of the Karabus family (February Round-up), has now been updated Professor Cyril Karabus, who was unable to do this earlier because he was in Toronto, Canada, meeting the latest addition to his family. Cyril’s father, Isaac, had two brothers, Joe and Charlie. Joe, lived in Beaufort West, worked at the Karoo Trading Company and had three children – Ann, Morris and Ruby, who played wing for the Beaufort West ‘dorp’ rugby team. At the time Beaufort West also had a railway rugby team, said Cyril. “Morris studied pharmacy in Cape Town, married Marsha (not Erica) and now lives in Johannesburg. Isaac’s other brother, Charlie, ran Karabus Motors, the Ford agency in Victoria West. His daughter Ethel married Milton Rink, a keen golfer, who worked at Karabus Motors. Their daughter Cynthia now lives in Australia.” Charlie’s son, who was also called Morris, married Erica and moved to Beaufort West to manage Karoo Trading Co. He was a keen bowler, president of the Lions Club and quite involved in the dorp’s social life. Cyril said: “I have happy memories of Beaufort West. I was born there and lived in the town until my family moved to Cape Town in 1949. I have recently come across letters between my Dad, who bought Karoo Trading Company in Beaufort West in 1921, and Charlie, who took over Karabus Motors in Victoria West in 1942. Charlie’s other daughter (my late cousin Ella) had a daughter Patsy who married to Michael Bagraim – the lawyer who was very active in my case while I was incarcerated by the Arabs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”
LADY OF THE DRYLAND
Annie Frances Harding, daughter of an 1820 settler, was born and bred in Dortrecht. On her mother’s side, she was related to Dick King, hero of the famous ride. In time she met and married Thomas (later Sir) Cullinan, DSO, first chairman of the Premier Diamond Mine, after whom the Cullinan Diamond was named. Lady Annie was more than a wife and mother to their ten children. She was Thomas’s greatest friend and companion. Physically and mentally strong, unpretentious, courageous and understanding, she was eternally ready to face any hardship or challenge. She was a charming hostess and always at his side with a ready smile. Like Sir Thomas, she was a commanding figure. She always held herself erect. She had a delightful sense of humour and was dearly loved by family and friends. Sir Thomas claimed Annie was a constant source of affection, moral support and wise counsel. She died at the age of 97 at her home in Johannesburg on December 23, 1963. She was survived by four sons, four daughters, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her obituary in the London Times, of January 3. 1964, stated she had been associated with Johannesburg from the earliest days and “was held in great esteem, respect and affection by all who knew her.”
A HEARTREAKING TALE
The Summer Edition of Karoo News has a beautiful picture of Le Bleu, a young blue crane, was found on his back under power line spans in the Karoo, last November. “Volunteers did all they could for four days while his parents flew daily over his enclosure. Sadly, Le Bleu did not recover from a punctured lung. The volunteers were heartbroken because this is the second attempt by this pair of blue cranes to rear chicks at a nest site near Eskom spans and the second year that they have lost their chick to the power lines,” said Marine Beale, Nama Karoo Foundation information officer.
NEW ROUTE TO EASE TRAVEL IN THE INTERIOR
In July, 1902, The Cape Argus reported, that there were some new ways of travelling to the hinterland. “The Cape Government Railways has extended the line from Sir Lowry’s pass to Caledon, from Klipplaat to Willowmore and from Cookhouse to Somerset East. These lines will be opened for all descriptions of traffic on August 1 and should ease travel as well as shipment of goods in the interior,” said T R Price, general manager of the railways. He added that fares and rates would be the same as those charged over the Malmesbury – Mooreesburg route and that these were set down in the Railway Tariff book on pages 224 to 226.
MAGICAL PUPPETEER OF THE PLAINS
Gawie de Wet spent a carefree boyhood on sheep farm outside Beaufort West. His father, one of the labourers, carved primitive puppets in his spare time and, to amuse his children, family and friends, operated these by strings which stretched from his hands to his big toes. While the puppets were crude, they opened up a world of pure magic for young Gawie and led to him becoming a pioneering puppeteer in South Africa. Gawie soon mastered the art of manipulating these figures and before long he too was entertaining family and friends. He, however, was more gifted than his father. His stories and shows were more dynamic. Before long, his fame spread throughout the region and his audiences mushroomed. In time he introduced music and played the guitar to make his puppet shows even more appealing and to “extend the magic.” Gawie’s fame spread rapidly and he was soon invited to performance at the platteland agricultural shows, school concerts, church bazaars and other entertainments. He happily obliged, extended his repertoire and sub-contracted a friend to play the guitar. The depression of the 1930’s hit hinterland farms severely and forced Gawie and his family to move into Beaufort West. It was there that Gawie first saw his first Punch and Judy show. He was totally captivated, and a new world opened up for him. Soon audiences were enchanted see his puppets dancing, chatting and performing to special, personally written scripts.
PUPPETS BECAME TEACHERS
Later while training to be a teacher Gawie learned to make better and more sophisticated puppets and to use these as teaching aids. He developed his own material because he was convinced puppets in the classroom helped children relax, concentrate and, where necessary, discuss their problems. He experienced great success in this area. When he got a job teaching English as a second language in Van Rhynsdorp and Elsies River, he gave regular puppet shows above his kitchen stable door. These were a hit among the local children. Gawie also give special English classes to local children at Retreat and once again effectively used puppets as aids. Gawie then decided to further his studies and took a year’s Art Course at Hewat Training College. He later worked as an art specialist at Windemere and gave weekly puppet shows at the college and the school. They were such a hit that he began to encourage students and helped them to make the characters, design and create the sets. He taught them how to do lighting and backstage work. This was the birth of Gawie De Wet’s Puppet Theatre.
A TRAVELLING THEATRE
During the 1980s Gawie’s travelling theatre gave many performances across the Cape and Cape Flats. He and his wife, Rose, once toured the Boland with wooden puppets, performing to packed houses at mission churches, school halls and childrens’ wards in hospitals, such as Karl Bremer. In 1964, Josef Contrÿn visited Stellenbosch University with the aim of starting a puppetry course. Gawie met him, the two became lifelong friends corresponded regularly and Gawie was invited to attend a month-long course at the German Puppet Institute in Bochum. He enjoyed every minute and travelled twice to Germany for follow-up courses.
DOGGED BY ILL HEALTH
Sadly, Gawie was not a well man. Illness dogged him and by 1991 he was forced to retire to his home in Maitland. It became more and more difficult for him to lift his arms to manipulate the puppets. For a while his beloved wife, Rose and a young devotee, named Stanley, stood at his sides holding his arms and supporting him while he worked, but this became too exhausting and too painful. Despite his suffering he proved that he was a master of the art and managed to manipulate a tortoise, dog and snake most convincingly, but the pain became too great. He was forced to give up using, teaching and making puppets as pain overcame the magic. His character-rich collection was donated to Actor Joseph Mitchell. Gawie, received an award for his work on April 20, 1991. He died on September. 16, 1994.
NO LIVERISHNESS IN THIS BLOCKHOUSE
Thanks for another interesting issue of Round-up writes Richard Tomlinson. “I can certainly confirm the use of Eno’s during the Anglo-Boer War. It seems it was used to combat dyspepsia in some of the blockhouses. In 1980 I was excavating the remains of a British masonry blockhouse on Cable Hill, on the north-west side of Pretoria, and unearthed the glass stopper of an Eno’s bottle, with the name embossed on the top. It would have dated from about 1900, as the British forces occupied the city in June and started building the blockhouses later that year,” says Richard.
MIRACLE OF THE DEPRESSION
The South African hinterland was severely hit during the Great Depression. Seeing the misery around him, the pastor of the Apostolic Faith Church in the little Karoo town of Molteno called the women of his parish together and handed each one a half-crown. Before they could be offended and think that this was a charity the pastor read out the passage from the Bible which calls for people to increase their talents. Ouma Greyvenstein took the message to heart, states Reader’s Digest booklet What’s in a Name. Soon after leaving the church she used her half-crown to buy ingredients to make rusks. As soon as she got home she fired up her little wood-burning stove, baked a few batches, dried them and she returned to town to sell them. They were so delicious that she was soon inundated with orders. Rather reluctantly she found herself in business.
EXPANSION WAS A ROARING SUCCESS
The success of Ouma’s rusk-making enterprise presented the Greyvensteins with a slight problem. Within short they were making too much money and they had no idea how to use the tremendous capital reserves they had built up. They had no clue know how to expand. So, in the 1950’s Ouma sent her three sons overseas to visit the food fairs and see if they could come up with an idea. Her sons, Leon, discovered potato crisps were a popular snack in Britain and on the Continent. He made a thorough study of the manufacturing process, priced the machinery and suggested his family move into chip making. Everyone agreed and very quickly a production line was set up. But what to call the product? It was Leon’s idea, so they thought of “Lion”, but that name was being used for beer and matches. So they decided on “Simba”, the Swahili name for lion. Again, the business was a roaring success. While the Greyvenstein’s did not invent the chip, they were the first to add flavours to their products. Until then only hand-salted chips had been available states What’s in a Name.
MEET THE BOERS
During the Anglo Boer War many British soldiers tried to give family back home an idea of what the Boers were like. In Volunteers on the Veld, Stephen Miller quotes Frank Charge, 16th (Worcester-shire) Imperial Yeomanry, who wrote: “The Boers are a peculiar race. Mostly he has very little ready money. He likes to barter. He never milks his cows, but lets the calves suckle and keeps on multiplying. All his wealth lies in his stock. As each son grows up and gets married the father gives him so many oxen and the bride’s father does the same. The son then gets a grant of land contiguous to the old man’s piece and so the farm grows bigger and bigger and the old patriarch can say: That ground is my son’s, that my nephew’s, that my grandson’s and so on. Their farms extend for miles.”
THE ART OF MOUNTING A HORSE
One day Lord Chesham noticed a man leading his horse. The next day he saw the same man doing the same thing. He thought the man was saving his mount because its back had been hurt by the saddle. His lordship rode over to congratulate the soldier on his thoughtfulness. “His back ain’t hurt,” said the man. “I’ve just lost me left stirrup. Totally astonished Chesham said: “Well, mount from the other side.” To which the man replied: “Get along with you! I’d be facing the wrong way!”
Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor – Sholem Aleichem – often referred to as “the Yiddish Mark Twain”
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways …
A true South African love story
Submitted by historian and author Roger Webster
The earthly remains of George Frederick Shaw, an Irish born soldier who came to South Africa to fight during the Anglo-Boer War, lie in the dusty old Ventersdorp cemetery. Initially, George, as part of the British Army, was posted to the Western Transvaal under Lord Methuen. While there the unthinkable happened. He met and fell in love with Martha Engelbrecht, a young Afrikaans girl. Then, Lord Roberts captured Pretoria and when it became apparent that the Boers were not going to surrender, he issued a proclamation to burn down Boer homesteads and inter the women and children in camps.
As fate would have it George was given the job of burning down Martha’s home. The troops arrived and gave the three women, who were living there because their men were away on commando, the customary ten minutes to pack up their personal belongings, before the farm would be torched. Martha ran out and fell on her knees at George’s feet and with tears streaming down her face, asked: “How can you possibly burn my home? We have had such good times here. The home is filled with such precious memories, how can you possibly do such as thing?” He couldn’t. He turned his back, ordered his men back to camp and left the homestead untouched.
George’s commanding officer was furious. An argument ensued and during this the commanding officer said: ”If that’s the way you feel about the Boers, why don’t you go and join them?” He did. That night George stole out of the camp, buried his uniform, and joined the Boers. He was given a job as an unarmed transport rider. He went to live with Martha to take care of her and her three friends. Then, one fateful day, when George was in town, he was captured along with some Boers. Oddly enough the British troops did not recognize George as he had grown a beard and was wearing civilian clothing. It was, however, the fact that he was a trained soldier that led to his arrest.
On that fateful the British soldiers were handing out rations to people being readied for transport to a concentration camp. When their sergeant yelled: “ATTENTION!” none of the Boers reacted, but George did. He snapped to attention as he had been trained to do. The game was up. The British soon found out who George was and arrested him, He was tried as a deserter, found guilty and court marshalled. He was marched him off to the cemetery, given a pick and shovel and told to dig his own grave, before facing the firing squad. In typical fashion of the day George was blindfolded, tied to a chair, (which is to this day remains in the Leask family) and shot.
Unbeknown to anyone Martha, who was pregnant with George’s child at the time, was hiding in a nearby thicket of trees. From there she witnessed the death of the man she so desperately loved. She was devastated, but life had to go on and so, within short, she married George’s best friend, John Fleisher, who adopted her son when he was born and gave him his own name. That could have been the end of the story, but it was not.
Suddenly, early every Saturday morning a fresh posy of wild flowers appeared on George’s grave. The townsfolk began to enquire and the cemetery attendant said that they were placed there each week at about three in the morning by a woman. And, for 40 years this pre-dawn ritual happened – the flowers magically appeared on each and every Saturday until Martha died.
At her funeral the Dominee said: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods ever drown it, for love is as strong as death, and jealousy as cruel as the grave.”
Over the years this statement confused many historians and historic researchers. No one could figure out what the Dominee alluding to. Then, two historians, Roger Webster and Rob Milne, decided to dig deeper. They found John Fleisher junior, living on a farm just outside Ventersdorp. He was 101 years old and being looked after by Tannie Susie Deneker. When they interviewed him for BBC Channel 4 and so the story was revealed and asked about the flowers. Old John was not very keen to discuss the flowers. He knew his mother had put them on George’s grave, but he felt that it was very wrong of her to have done this, especially since John Fleisher, snr, had given her (and him) a good home and a wonderful life.
After the interview Old John drew a map to show the exact spot where Fleisher and his mom had brought him up. Since Roger and Rob were in the area they decided to visit this spot and see if there was more to discover. To their astonishment there was. They I found the remains of an ancient wattle and daub dwelling, near the house where John was raised. They took some photographs, but only when they had these developed and were able to examined them in detail back home did the final piece of the puzzle finally fall into place.
The pictures revealed the answer to the Dominee statement at the Martha’s graveside. Behind the house was the remains of an apple orchard, and on each side, alongside the house, was planted a single tree – a pine tree (on the left) and a pepper tree on the right. These were exactly the same trees that flanked George’s grave in the old Cemetery.
Roger and Rob then found the final piece of the puzzle in the Bible – in Song of Songs they discovered the following:
“In the Apple orchard I awoke you;
Take no love to yourself but mine;
Set me as a seal upon thy heart;
For love is as strong as death;
And the coals thereof are the coals of fire;
Which has a most vehement flame;
Many waters cannot quench love;
Neither can the floods ever drown it.”
After reading this verse puzzle pieces fell into place for the two researchers. They understood that Martha fully realised life was for the living and that it must go on. Yet, while she shared her love with her second husband and her son, she never forgot her first love – that gentle, romantic, loving man from that far off land who first awakened love in her heart and who sacrificed so much for her. Did John Fleischer, snr, help her plant the trees? Did he realise their significance? We’ll never know. We can only hope he was a big enough man to help her to honour her memories. It would seem so.
John Fleisher Junior passed away on October 16, 2001. He was 103. He was also the last remaining link to this poignant and almost legendary South African love story.
Note : The old dwellings where this love story played itself out are now in the care of the Simon van der Stel Trust thanks to the efforts of Rob Milne.