DROUGHT UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

This year’s Arid Zone Ecology Forum will focus on drought. “Drought as a Driver” is the theme and, during meetings at the Dutch Reformed Church Hall in Sutherland, from September 10 to 13, many physical, ecological and socio-economic effects of drought will be examined. The programme has been divided into six sections covering climate change, hydrology, and the effects of drought on vegetation, fauna, humans and the economy. The session on climate change will review planning and management, as well as moisture sources and precipitation. One paper entitled “Is the Karoo drying up?” will evaluate the incidence and impact of drought on this arid zone over the last 200 years. The influence of water courses, such as streams and rivers and moisture sources, such fog and dew, will be assessed in the hydrology session, during which an attempt will be made to try to understand the effects of climate change on areas such as the Sandveld. The effects of drought on animals, birds and the ecology will be highlighted in the fauna and flora sessions. On Day Two human response and adaptation to drought, its effect on the economy and tourism as an alternative livelihood will be examined. There will be talks on livestock and grazing, crows, rodents and rangelands during the afternoon sessions. Land use, rehabilitation and monitoring will be discussed in group sessions. The programme for the final day, entitled “Social and Ecological Dimensions of Economic Change: Where Nature meets Nuture,” will include a workshop led by Professor Doreen Atkinson. Kirsten Fourie will host a Farmers’ Day and there will be field trips to the ephemeral pans, led by Dr Richard Dean, to see the effects of drought on the veld and plants, led by Dr Sue Milton, and a visit to South Africa’s largest telescope at the S A Astronomical Observatory, on the outskirts of town.

OKTOBERFEST AND FLOWERS

Prince Albert is planning its sixth German Oktoberfest. “Scheduled for October 27, it promises to be better than ever before,” says organiser Bodo Tolstede. So, if you enjoy German-style beer festivals, don’t miss this year’s event in the Great Karoo. And, if you’re going to be in Prince Albert at that time try to also take in St John’s Anglican Church’s Flower Festival on October 27 and 28. It’s a beautiful way to welcome Spring.

IN SEARCH OF OLD FARM GRAVEYARDS

Graveyards are excellent sources of historical and genealogical information. Yet, very often people scouring hinterland cemeteries, in search of “twigs” for their family’s trees, hit a blank because the person they are searching for has been buried on a farm. Researcher Ralph Anderson, says, “In the early days farmers and many of their relatives were buried in tiny cemeteries on private land, but there seems to be no central register of these and accessing such information can be difficult. Sadly researchers, sometimes travel great distances in the hopes of finding information only to be disappointed by not finding a grave in a village cemetery. Almost never is there anyone to tell them that the person is buried on a nearby farm and even if they do manage to find this out, they seldom know how to proceed. All too often they find the farm has changed hands and the current owners know little or nothing of people buried there. So, I was wondering if you, through your excellent journal, could appeal to the farming community to record the information on any headstones on their land and send it you, or preferably to the local authorities so that researchers, passing through an area could more easily be able to find relevant information. Who knows, in time such a register could perhaps be published for general information. I personally am looking for data on the Weebers and the Blyths who farmed in the Beaufort West district on Sunnyside, Elandsfontein and Windsor. Perhaps whoever lives on these farms now would be kind enough to let me know of any graves with these names on their land.” Anyone seeking information on the Anderson family should visit the Griquatown Andersons Website which is maintained by Ralph’s son who lives in Toronto, Canada. It is a huge website and includes much fascinating information.

CURIOUS EATING HABITS OF THE OLD KAROO

When Carl Peter Thurnberg prepared to travel to the Gamtoos River in 1772 he took more than food, clothes and guns. He packed sufficient shoes to last him four months. Walking in the African veld, he said, took its toll of footwear. The uppers wore out with walking and the soles were cut to pieces by the sharp stones. On this trip he discovered castor oil for the first time in his life. He found locals “boiled the seeds in water,” skimmed off the oil as it rose and “took a large tea cup full for a gentle purge.” Professor V S Forbes, who edited his manuscripts, for publication by the Van Riebeeck Society, said “surely this was a drastic overdose.” Perhaps the translators erred. Thunberg’s original text was written in Swedish. He also discovered some curious customs and strange eating habits on his travels. Farmers near Saldanha made butter every day yet fed the “excellent buttermilk” to calves and dogs. Further inland people baked bread without an oven by laying the prepared dough in the embers and covering it with coals. “The heat soon baked the bread, but it was covered with ash that had to be scraped before it could be eaten.” Wild iris bulbs, roasted, boiled or stewed in milk, tasted much like potatoes, he said. Along the route he encountered friendly and hospitable farmers who often gave them parcels of wheat, biscuits, loaves of bread and, sometimes even a little dish of butter. One slaughtered a large sheep, salted the carcass, then sewed back into its own skin so the meet would remain fresh until the travellers were able to cook and eat it.

FLYING OVER AFRICA FOR FUN

At the turn of the last century “Darkest Africa” held great appeal for most Europeans. For years after Sir Pierre van Ryneveld and Sir Quinton Brand flew from London to Cape Town in 1919 men dreamt of following in their footsteps. Such trips were considered among the world’s greatest and most romantic adventures. In 1925 three men set off on a similar flight from London to Cape Town and back to survey Air routes over Africa and honour the importance of commercial flight for Imperial Airways. They plotted a course across part of Europe, over Egypt, down the Nile, across the heart of Africa and on to Cape Town. What made the flight unique was that it was the first to be filmed from start to finish. Pilot, Alan J Cobham, flew out of Stag Lane Aerodrome, in Croydon, on November 16, 1925, bound for Cape Town, with A B Elliott, an engineer who’d once accompanied him on a flight to Rangoon and B W G Emmott, a cameraman from Gaumont Film Company. Details of the trip are recorded in Alan Cobham’s book, My Flight to the Cape and Back, published in 1926. It was an exciting adventure. They landed on 27 airfields, flew over the Victoria Falls and were entertained at a variety of tribal festivities. Their equipment included “a great many cameras,” emergency rations in the form of compressed food, aluminium water bottles, mugs, and cooking utensils, consisting of a very light aluminium kettle, pots and frying pan. Their personal baggage, (20 pounds each in small suitcases “measuring 20 inches long by 14 inches wide and 6 inches deep”) included “light alpaca dinner jackets and evening accessories, just in case …” Their route took them across France and The Alps, over the Mediterranean to Egypt, down the length of the Nile, over the entire African continent to land at Pretoria, Johannesburg, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Beaufort West and Cape Town in South Africa. They had to get used to operating cameras in the air. They also had to be careful about taking aerial photographs over some European countries. Generally, this was not allowed, but once over Africa “everything was possible.” The Beaufort Westers treated them to a sumptuous lunch on the “down flight.” On their return trip they left Cape Town at 06h45 and arrived in Beaufort West at 10h00, just in time for hot coffee and sandwiches. “The locals pressed so many baskets of fruit and grapes on us that it was impossible to carry them all,” wrote Alan. “The homeward-bound trip turned into an “impromptu race” against the Windsor Castle, which sailed out of Cape Town bound for Southampton, on the same day as we left.” Oddly enough he mentions “a great deal of money changed hands,” but does not say which of them won.

A WAGON RIDE, AT LAST

In 1901, just as the Anglo-Boer was ending Bishop Alan G S Gibson set out from Cape Town to check the well-being of Anglicans in the hinterland. He undertook an incredible journey from the Mother City to Luanda totally without transport. Initially he had hoped that Mr Cleverly, the magistrate of Walvis Bay and a Cape Town minister, Rev A R Hoare, would accompany him, but in the end, they were not able to make the trip and he could not afford a wagon. Undaunted, however, he set off, placing his trust in the Lord and “any conveyance he may find along the route.” When he reached Ceres, a young Coloured man, Isaac Domain, decided to join him. These two found “The farmers of the interior more than hospitable.” They were never at the loss for a ride and always well accommodated. The bishop appreciated this, but he did not like the Karoo. He found it “monotonous and uninspiring.” He wrote: “Of course it has the real and powerful charm of the open veld, but it is doubtful whether it has any other attraction.”

PRINCE ALBERT-BORN MAN BECOMES A MINING GIANT …

A Prince Albert farmer’s son grew up to be wooed by armament manufacturers, emperors, Wall Street bankers and concessionaires. He was John Ballot, an Afrikaner of Scottish descent, and he made his fortune on the South African mines, but fame came to him in America. There he developed a way of extracting cheap copper, lead, molybdenum and other metals from ore and because of this he is hailed as being largely responsible for the Allied victory in World War I. The discovery of diamonds and them gold lured Ballot out of the Karoo. Like many young men of his day he rushed to the Kimberley diggings to find his fortune. There he met and befriended Cecil John Rhodes. They remained close friends until Rhodes death. From Kimberley Ballot went Barberton and then on to the Witwatersrand where he soon became “a close personal friend of President Paul Kruger,” writes Eric Rosenthal in Stars and Stripes. At one time, while when he was a director of the Messina Copper Mines in the then Northern Transvaal, Ballot employed Herbert Hoover, a man destined to become President of the United States. Hoover was highly respected in mining circles throughout the world as he had worked in Canada, Australia and China. Like Rhodes and Kruger, Hoover too became a lifelong friend of Ballot. In 1888 Ballot wrote a ground-breaking pamphlet on the geology of the Witwatersrand, which correctly foretold the value of the deep levels. Then, on behalf of the Globe Drilling and Prospecting Syndicate, he imported the first diamond drill to be used in South Africa. But, the clouds of war were gathering, and the mining industry was like a powder keg. In l899 as war clouds began gathering for the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, Ballot tried to mediate between the two sides. His attempts failed and this disappointed him to such an extent that he left for England. There he founded Minerals Separation Limited and put into practise his own ideas on the treatment of refractory ores.

…AND HIS RESEARCH PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN THE ALLIED VICTORY

Clearly John Ballot’s path to fame lay outside the borders of South Africa. In the Minerals Separation Syndicate laboratories, he was able unlock many metallurgical secrets using technical knowledge he had gained first at Barberton and later on the Witwatersrand. His processes were so successful with American copper deposits that he set up a subsidiary in the United States with himself as president. He soon realised that the dumps of American and British mines alone “contained enough copper to pay off the entire National Debt of Great Britain and to build two more Panama Canals.” Ballot had some great ideas. Within short he developed “The Golden Bubble Process,” a system for recovering metal from ore based on “the selective attraction of oil for metals.” With this system he was able to boost the recovery of copper from ore to 90%. The previous best record was 66%. Ballot immediately patented the system, and enormous law suits followed. Rights infringements were cited. However, when Ballot won all these actions his name became known across the USA. He rocketed to fame and an even bigger fortune. Within short over $7m had rolled in from royalties. His system went into use throughout the mining world and in Australia alone 12 million tons of low-grade ore was turned into a hefty profit. Ballot settled permanently in New York in 1915, but he never became an American citizen. He died in New York on April l, 1922.

BEHIND EVERY SUCCESSFUL MAN …

John Ballot married a widow, Elsie Bester. She was ten years his senior, but she was devoted to him. Elsie was the daughter a Boer pioneer in the Orange Free State. Her father was said to be Sir Harry Smith’s right-hand man and it is claimed that he was responsible for laying out the town of Harrismith. Her first husband was Alexander Robertson of George and with him she farmed at Wolfontein in the Amersfoort district. Their eldest son, A G Robertson became administrator of the Transvaal. She married John after Alexander died and with him went to America where she became a leading philanthropist. Once Ballot had made his fortune, he and his wife toured the world. She was an expert photographer and took many excellent pictures in all the countries they visited. But, despite her wealth Elsie never forgot the hardships of her early life and the difficulties of growing up in the settler communities in northern Natal. She was born in Ladysmith in the days when there was no school in the village, nor any easy way of gaining a reasonable education. As soon as she had money, she set up educational grants and bursary schemes. When John died, she returned to South Africa and settled in Durban. Once again, she threw herself into a round of philanthropic work and setting up scholarships, bursaries and benefit funds. She donated £20 000 to Amersfort for the building of a church and hospital. Those who knew her said she had a strong character and a good heart and that she was a good wife, mother and home-maker. She was remembered as a generous person, always sympathetic to those suffering from poverty and hardship. The Elsie Ballot Bursary Fund for poor children was one of her best-known benefactions in South Africa. Elsie maintained a close friendship with President Hoover and his wife, throughout her life. She died in Durban in May 1928 at the age of 80.

HOSPITABLE TO A FAULT

In the mid-1800s farmers of the hinterland were said to be “hospitable to a fault.” They loved nothing more than endless talk over a pipe and mug of coffee, writes Eric Anderson Walker in The Great Trek. These farmers were related to the people of the Peninsula by blood or marriage, but they “were less touched by outer influences, less versed in book learning, much easier going in a land where it was always afternoon and more limited in their ideas and interests.” They had no interest in England, Europe or India. They never went to Cape Town unless they had to. The 30-mile journey across the sandy Flats was arduous and they considered the people of the Mother City lived at a “flighty pace best shunned by God-fearing people.” Self-containedness was the mark of Karoo farm life. Up to 100 souls could live on one under the care of a patriarch, assisted by slaves and servants. They only looked to the outer world for a few luxuries and raw materials. Life in the little villages or “dorpies” was much the same. Their community leaders were the Dutch Reformed Church minister, the schoolmaster and the magistrate. It was a lovely, laid back life-style, but the very rules and regulations which they’d moved inland to avoid slowly followed them. And by 1835, after dreadful droughts had taken their toll on the land, many of these men were off again. A year before The Great Trek began a Beaufort West farmer reported that there’d been no rain for four years. Another farmer told an English traveller that his boreholes had dried up, the river was so brackish that the water was undrinkable; the alkaline soil had killed his garden, and his third attempt to grown wheat that season had only produced a crop in patches. His cattle were dying, lions had just carried off two of his horses, he had had no bread for several weeks. Also, he had no ammunition, so he was unable to shoot game. “He said all this in such a matter of fact way, taking it all as a day’s work,” said the English traveller. “So, I assumed that there were scores of others just like him.” Further west in the forbidding Roggeveld conditions were far worse. “Hyenas, leopards and wild dogs played havoc with horses and stock. Beside these wild animals, there were also wild men. This was Bushman country,” wrote Eric Walker.

KAROO MEN CALLED TO HELP

Once the Voortrekkers got to Natal, they found themselves faced with great problems and immense hardships. They long journey had taken its toll of their stock and many of their horses were emaciated. They needed help and they sent a three-man delegation back to the Cape to enlist aid. Charl Celliers rode to the Hantam, then in the district of Colesberg, Willem Jurgens Pretorius went to Beaufort West where he was well known, liked and respected and F Hattingh rode to Graaff-Reinet. The response they received was, however, not overwhelming. By then most men who wanted to leave the Cape had already gone. At one stage 30 wagons left Beaufort West with 62 families from the Baviaans River. “Among those leaving Beaufort West were families whose had once been banished there after the Slagter’s Nek Rebellion,” said Eric Walker.

KAROO FARMER INVENTS A FABULOUS COOKING POT

A Bloemfontein man remembers a Karoo farmer who once invented an amazing cooker. Neville Hewitt, who travelled for Nashua in the l950s, often stopped in Beaufort West for a chat with Jack Norden. “His amazing pot was rather like a pressure cooker,” says Neville. “It seemed to cook faster and better than conventional pots.” This was enough to intrigue Rose Willis, so she appealed to Pieter Lund, of Bleakhouse, for help. He remembered Jack Norden and began a search to try and find out what happened to him. “Jack seems to have invented this waterless cooker that truly impressed South African housewives, when he lived in the Middelburg district where he and his wife, Cecily, owned a huge sheep farm,” says Pieter. “Many farmers in that area still remember him well. It seems he sold this farm in the early 1950s and moved to Beaufort West with his second wife, Leone. They set up an intensive, but much smaller sheep farming unit near where the smallholdings are today and close to where the drive-in cinema was later set up. From here Jack conducted a concerted, and it seems highly successful, marketing campaign on his waterless cooker. From all accounts it was quite an innovation in its day. He advertised it regularly in popular magazines such as The Farmer’s Weekly, Landbouweekblad and The Outspan and apparently it sold well. I have been trying to find out more about Jack and his family, with little success. Those who remember him are not able to fill in any details on the cooker. Jack and Leone eventually left Beaufort West and moved to Cape Town Both have since died and so has his daughter. His son, André, apparently still lives in the Cape, but I have not been able to locate him.” Round-up would love to hear from anyone else who remembers Jack and the Norden Cooker.


Be careful what you set your heart upon — for it will surely be yours.
James Baldwin one of the most important voices in Black culture in the United States and one of the most powerful voices of the Civil Rights Movement. eHh He was born in New York, but went to Paris when he was 24 to write his first book, “Go Tell it to the Mountain” a powerful autobiographical novel.