A prehistoric human skull, found in the Karoo, has proved to be a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle relating to human evolution. The skull, found in the mid-1950s in an erosion gulley near Hofmeyr, 70km north-east of Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, has only recently been dated and the information it provided caused ripples of excitement in scientific circles. It provided a vital “missing link” in the fossil record showing modern people originally came from sub-Saharan Africa and migrated to colonise Europe and Asia 30 000 to 40 000 years ago. “This 36 000-year-old Hofmeyr Skull shows that people living in Africa at that time looked the same as people then living in Europe,” Professor Alan Morris of the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town, who was part of the international team, led by Professor Frederick Grine of Stony Brook University in New York, that studied the skull. “It is a first critical piece of evidence to corroborate Man’s African origins. It is also the first piece of fossil evidence to support the theory, that all modern humans evolved in Africa and then migrated to Europe and Asia,” he said. “The skull is probably male and completely modern. If this man sat down next to you on a bus you would not react, apart from wondering where he came from. He would not look like modern Africans nor like modern Europeans, nor even modern Khoisan people, but he would definitely be recognised as a modern human being,” said Alan. He first saw the skull in the Port Elizabeth Museum in the 1990s. He later showed it to Professor Grine, who had it dated by a method developed by Richard Bailey of Oxford University.


“Anthropology is a field of hotly contested debates,” said Professor Frederick Grine, of Stony Brook University, in New York. “A favourite ‘hot topic’ is the evolutionary origin of Modern Man.” In an article in The Cape Times of January 12, 2007, he said: “Some genetic studies of living people indicate that modern humans evolved in Africa and moved to Europe and Asia between 65 000 and 25 000 years ago to colonise those continents. However, other DNA tests argue against Africa origin and exodus. They suggest that archaic, non-African people, such as the Neanderthals of Europe, made significant contributions to the genomes of modern humans in Europe and Asia. Until now, the lack of fossil evidence from sub-Saharan Africa has led to two competing genetic models of human evolution that could not be tested by palaeontological evidence. The Hofmeyr skull has changed that.” Once the skull had been dated in Oxford, it was studied by other team members at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Scientists there had expected the Hofmeyr skull to have close resemblances to the Khoisan archaeological record in South Africa. Instead, the Hofmeyr fossil was found to have a very close affinity with the fossil skulls of Europeans of the Upper Palaeolithic Period. It is quite distinct from Khoisan specimens.”


Dr John Almond of Natura Viva will be conducting a series of interesting educational natural history programmes this year. These include a two-day, self-catering, “Karoo Natural History” Weekend from March 9 to 11 at Rietfontein Private Nature Reserve; a three-day, fully catered “Introduction to Geology” Course from March 15 to 18, also at Rietfontein and an eight-day, self-catering, “Introduction to Namibia” Course from May 5 to 12. The last has a camping option and is likely to cost around R2 300. These multi-disciplinary, field-orientated programmes, all led by Dr John Almond personally, are proving to be popular among those who prefer an informal, didactic approach to such outings. “ We will be running some other interesting trips during the second half of 2007,” said John. “These will include: A tent-accommodation trip to the Gecko Rock Nature Reserve, south of Touws River in late August with The Friends of the SA Museum; a botanical/geological tour to the Niewoudtville area in mid-September with the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society and a natural history tour to the Red Hills area, near Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo from October 4 to 7 and again on October 11-14.


Lord Randolph was the first member of the spirited Churchill family to visit South Africa. He did so in 1891 at the invitation of Cecil John Rhodes, who was obsessed with Imperial expansion in Africa. Rhodes wanted Lord Randolph to visit Mashonaland. He took a pencil and drew a straight line from Fort Tuli to Pretoria saying: “This is the road you must travel.” Rhodes’s enthusiasm was contagious so, according to The Times of February 28, 1891, Lord Randolph decided to go. It was destined to be a disastrous expedition, Lady Churchill had wept copiously at his departure. “Both knew he was living on borrowed time,” writes Brian Roberts in Churchills in Africa. Nevertheless, the trip began well and shortly after arriving in Cape Town, Lord Randolph set off for Kimberley by mail train, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, Captain Gwynydd Williams, of the Royal Horse Guards, who had resigned his commission to travel to Mashonaland, and his shipboard companion, Sir Charles Metcalfe. Dr Hugh Hayer, a Grenadier Guards surgeon, was given special permission by the Duke of Cambridge, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to join the expedition. Their first night “up country” was spent at the little village of Matjiesfontein. “It was a curious settlement, established by an enterprising Scotsman, at the edge of the vast, arid, scrub-covered Karoo. It consisted of a single British-suburban-like street, complete with a row of ornamental lamp posts.” Lord Randolph considered it an excellent example of British initiative. “Remembering his promise to his constituents, one of whom was driving the train, he recommended the forbidding countryside to any young English farmers ‘with a small capital, good training and active disposition.” He said he considered it as likely spot as any in which to make a home and seek a fortune.” Before leaving Lord Randolph borrowed a hunting dog from James Douglas Logan, Laird of Matjiesfontein, promising to return it. “He, however, never did,” said Logan’s grandson Major John Buist. Not much after this charming little village pleased Lord Randolph. He found Kimberley a disappointment “after a grueling 24-hour train journey across the heat-hazed empty lunar landscape of the Karoo.” Fort Tuli was an anti-climax and, getting to Pretoria, arduous.


Lord Randolph’s “expedition” was placed under the command of 36-year-old Captain George Edward Giles, of the Royal Artillery. He was said to be the tallest and most handsome man in the British army. He was an acknowledged master of all “wrinkles in South African travel.” And, he was an excellent artist. Lord Randolph’s personal equipment for the trip cost £1 750. Captain Giles spent only £131 on his own equipment and Henry Perkins, the mining engineer, who accompanied them, completed the journey at the cost of a mere £15. From the outset Lord Randolph advised Captain Giles that he wanted the members of the expedition to be “equipped with everything they could possibly want.” His list of “essentials” included tables, chairs, washstands, baths, looking-glasses, mosquito curtains, gauze head nets to foil the flies, felt covered ebonite water bottles, which could be padlocked, to keep them safe from native servants. He also wanted pocket filters ‘of the newest kind,’ enameled iron plates, Punkah lamp shades, cork mattresses and air-tight tins. In addition to these luxury items Captain Giles arranged transportation of an unspecified number of 90lb portable fly tents, ordinary 100lb bell tents, specially designed saddles, saddlebags, holsters and an armory of revolvers, repeating rifles, big-bore elephant guns, deer-shooting rifles and shot-guns. The expense of all this was borne by the Churchill Syndicate. The trip was not a resounding success. “Rarely have the opinions of an outsider created more controversy than did those of Lord Randolph and not all of his opinions could be blamed on his ill-health,” wrote d


Bloemfontein’s German community were shocked one Friday morning in 1896 to learn that one of their members had died suddenly on a train journey through the Karoo. He was the 35-year-old young farmer, Gottlieb Emanuel Salzmann, the youngest son of Frederich Wilhelm and Emilia (nee Bornträger). He was on his way from Bloemfontein to Cape Town when he had an apoplectic fit at Victoria Road Station (later called Hutchinson) and died before anything could be done for him. He was survived by his wife Wilhelmina Johanna Israel, whom he had married on November 5, 1888, and their daughter Martha Wilhelmina. According to an article in The Friend of June 16, 1862, Gottlieb grew up on his father’s farm, Bruidegomspruit, near Bloemfontein. As a young man he had also farmed there. However, at the time of his death he and Wilhelmina were farming on Mosterdshoek, near Bloemfontein. Gottlieb’s body was brought back to Bloemfontein for burial. The Lutheran minister, Reverend Groskopf, conducted the service, which was attended by a great many church members, as well as many other well-known people of the town. His widow married H T D de Kock in Pretoria on July 27, 1912, says historic researcher Martie Venter.


There were eternal problems with men and horses on the Eastern Frontier. Farmers from Karoo towns and other hinterland villages were constantly called up for service or to assist Colonel John Graham in Grahamstown. Some presented themselves for duty, while others just ignored the commando call-ups and yet others arrived but did not stay. “I assure you, I have had so many tricks played on me by men of the commandos, that I have just managed to keep my temper and that is all,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Willshire, of the 38th Regiment and Commander of this frontier post at Grahamstown, to Anders Stockenstrom, magistrate of Graaff Reinet. “Willshire, an efficient and fair officer, strict and severe disciplinarian, known as “Tiger Tom” in Army circles, was a very different sort of man,” writes Ben Maclennan in A Proper Degree of Terror. “By the time he reached Grahamstown he was 30, but he had been in the army for 24 years. His father, an officer in the 38th, had purchased an ensigncy for him just before he turned six, by the time he was seven he was a lieutenant. At the age of nine, he had joined his regiment for active service in the West Indies. He returned to England two years later to attend school and then was off on active service again. He remained on active service until posted to South Africa, to take charge of the Cape Regiment and frontier post from Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brereton. He found horse sickness was rife and animals were dying all the time. In fact, it was problems with horse sickness that caused Captain George Sackville Fraser, “an uncommon fine lad,” to miss the Battle of Grahamstown in April, 1891. He discovered that horses belonging to the men of Tulbagh and Beaufort districts were suffering from sore backs and tender feet an that most were ‘totally unfit for service.’ He reported: “In short all people of these districts may be considered to be dismounted.” Detachments from Stellenbosch and the Cape were slow to arrive and when they did, they left a great deal to be desired. In one report from Willshire to Stockenstrom, he wrote: “I am sorry to say the Tulbagh men are by no means as effective as they ought to be. They have only brought 239 of the 300 men they promised, and most are Hottentots from the Roggeveld district.”


At one time, during the struggle on the Eastern Frontier, burghers from Beaufort, who were stationed at Junction Drift, refused to heed the commanding officer’s orders. They also ignored requests from Commandant de Bruin and Captain Maclean, to help track down a group of Xhosas who had killed two men of the 72nd Regiment. The burghers offered every conceivable excuse. They protested that their horses were sick, then that they lacked provisions or had run out of ammunition. When Maclean rejected all these excuses and threatened them with martial law, to his utter amazement and annoyance, they abruptly rode away. He later discovered they’d ridden straight back to Junction Drift and completely ravaged the outpost, ripping out every fitting and flattening a mud wall that had been constructed to help ward off attack. The burghers from George were no different, four of them absolutely refused to join the commando. Then, Commandant Van Niekerk of Stellenbosch had to send home some lands who he found unequal to frontier service. Sadly, however, he did this without first consulting Willshire and so enraged the Commanding Officer. In Graaff Reinet, Stockenstrom, was carefully counting his words, writes Ben Maclennan in A Proper Degree of Terror. Shortly after he had praised the “patriotic zeal” of the burgers, he found they were evading call-up, by feigning sickness, directly defying orders, or fleeing to the furthest outreaches of the Camdeboo. One Graaff Reinetter, Jan Jacobien, caused great dissention by complaining bitterly that the Uitenhage burgers were being paid for their services from a commando tax raised in the Western Cape. He called upon the men not to leave their villages on commando duty unless they too were as well supplied and paid. Fearing that this outburst would start a general, widespread insurrection, Stockenstrom had Jacobien arrested and thrown in jail.


Way back full bottles of booze constantly kept vanishing from the Bar at Graaff Reinet’s Drostdy Hotel. This mystery baffled the Serman family, owners of the Hotel at the time. Initially they suspected the barman, but he was able to prove his innocence. Then, by a dint of excellent detective work they “sniffed out” the culprit. They noticed that each day a cleaning lady would come into the bar armed with a bucket of water, dusters and other cleaning paraphernalia. “She busily bustled about, carefully dusted all the booze bottle racks. Then, ‘with enviable flick of the wrist,’ she would flip her duster across a selected bottle of expensive brandy or whisky, whisk it from the shelf under her duster and slip it into the bucket of water,” writes Andrew MacNaughton in Karoo Connections. “Humming merrily as she worked, she’d proceed to the gent’s toilet, at the corner of the bar. There she’d give the floor a good wash, then once she was sure she was not observed, she’d slip the bottle into a largish drain hole and fling the bucket of dirty water down the drain. “This rocketed the bottle out to the pavement furrow where an accomplice was always patiently waiting.”


Few realize that Plumbago, the attractive, popular ornamental shrub, so widely cultivated in South African gardens, is one of the country’s medicinal plants. Leeu Gamka Indigenous Nursery has chosen it as their plant of the month. “Plumbago can scramble up to a height of over two meters if allowed to ‘wander,’” says information officer, Charlotte Bothma. “Among its characteristics is a leaf stalk, which is winged at the base and clusters of sticky, pale blue or white flowers at the branch tips. According to Medicinal Plants of South Africa, powdered roots and leaves are used as snuff to relieve headaches, remove warts and treat fractures.”


A search for information on his grandfather took John Perfect on an exciting historic adventure. He found himself immersed in the thrilling world of gold mining on the Witwatersrand in the 1920s. He uncovered a tale of greed and intrigue, poor working conditions, bad management, labour unrest, protests, strikes and riots. It ended in an arrest, a death sentences, a meeting with a beautiful Suffragette and love. “The 1920s were extraordinary and explosive times in South African history and just tracing my grandfather’s story through all the excitement and tensions was exhilarating. I thought Round-up readers may enjoy the story,” says John. “My grandfather, Lawrence Murray Sanders, like most young men of his day, went off to the goldfields in search of fortune and adventure. He certainly found the latter. Soon after his arrival at the mines it became apparent that he was a natural leader. Within short he was attending trade union meetings and making rousing addresses. Before long he was elected to the 1922 Strike Committee, and this, of course, involved him in protest meetings, a series of failed negotiations and the inevitable riots which followed. The time is well documented, and it makes good reading.”


Over 1000 men were arrested during these riots, but only 46 were charged and of these 18 were sentenced. “My grandfather was sentenced to death for murder and treason on September 29, 1922, but he was not guilty. He appealed and the sentence was commuted to life in prison on November 13.” John discovered his grandfather’s story in Ivan L Walker and Ben Weinbren’s book 2 000 Casualties – A history of the Trade Unions and the Labour Movement in the Union of South Africa. “Tracing this book was a mission on its own because it was banned for years. However, in it I discovered that, considering that enough blood had been shed, the Strike Committee was in the act of raising a flag of truce when an unarmed policeman was shot and killed. My grandfather and Andries Willem Lategan were arrested, charged and convicted, yet both were innocent and horrified by the deed.” Eventually the truth was discovered, and they were released on May 19, 1924. However, during his tense and trying time in jail, a beautiful young Suffragette called on Granddad in the course of taking food parcels to the men. She was Christine Anderson Pringle, a young lady with high values and a sincere belief in human rights, particularly women rights. Grandad’s story held a special appeal for her and she saw him often. They fell in love. She brightened this dark time in his life, yet he waited until he was reprieved before he made a move to court her. Delighted to find his feelings reciprocated he proposed and on September 29, 1924, they were married. “Lawrence and Christine had a happy life together. However, he never discussed the riots, nor would he ever allowed politics to be discussed in his home,” says John.

NOTE: Andries Lategan was a member of an old South African family well known in the Cape and Orange Free State. He was awarded three medals during WWI. Lawrence Sanders came from Krugersdorp. It was at his father’s house that Eloff met with Dr Leander Starr Jameson during the Jameson Raid and ordered him to go back. Lawrence served in German West Africa, Flanders and Gallipoli from the beginning to within three months of the end of The Great War. At one time he was severely wounded. It was later proved that their death sentence had been passed as a result of the acceptance of mis-information by the court.


A Scottish agricultural pioneer, Robert Hart, became one of South Africa’s first successful exporters of merino wool. Born in Glasgow he first came to the Cape with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1795. In 1807, he returned to this country as an ensign attached to the Cape Regiment and was sent off immediately to defend the Eastern Frontier. He loved the area and settled near Somerset East in 1822. Here he became one of the top farmers in the area, a leader in many branches of agriculture and one of the first successful fruit growers. He was a highly respected sheep farmer and the first exporter of Merino wool.

“The road to success is always under construction.”

Arnold Palmer, hailed as “one of the most successful and exciting golfers in the world.”