Exciting projects are underway on the 124-year-old, Swartberg Pass, outside Prince Albert. Among these is the restoration of the dry-stone walls, a feature of this world famous, 27-km long pass, which was designed by Thomas Bain. Considered his masterpiece, it is now a World Heritage site. Convict labour used to build this pass and after work began in 1881 the project was fraught with problems. It claimed several lives. The Swartberg Pass, often compared to the breathtaking Djaraleng Pass in Asia, was officially opened on January 10, 1888 and since then it has been a popular tourist attraction. The un-tarred route straggles up and over the mountain in a picturesque series of hairpin bends supported by unique dry-stone walls. The route offers spectacular views across the Great Karoo and into the Klein Karoo. These can be enjoyed at several popular viewing areas where the diverse plant life of the pass can also be studied. The Department of Public Works is thus also building a series of benches at these outlooks, as well as some discretely-placed toilet blocks. Then, to ensure that tourists are provided with quality “information-on-the-go” new, better and upgraded information boards will be strategically placed along the route. Not only will these projects enhance the tourism potential of the pass, but they will provide much needed employment for local residents of Prince Albert. People come from across the world just to drive over this pass. Many consider the winding gravel route an awe-inspiring, challenge, others simply come for the views and to visit Gamkaskloof, The Hell, a secluded valley, which can only be accessed from a road near the summit – 1 583 metres above sea level.


The dry-stone packed retaining walls of the Swartberg Pass are among its most fascinating features. They range in height from 1 metre to 13 metres high, and at one place, on the southern side of the route, the wall is 2,4 kms long. These walls have stood the test of time incredibly well. They were more than adequate until heavy rains in 2000 caused major damage. Modern-day road engineers then discovered that they were not all that easy to repair, and they then became involved in a major research project into the construction of the walls. They found that laws of friction and cohesion governed the pressure on these retaining walls. Bain’s original specifications gave “rule of thumb” measurements and clear instructions as to how many culverts, side drains etc. were needed, but he did not state how these were arrived at. So, further research was necessary. It was found that the bed (ledge, base or shelf) measures up to 1 metre plus and this decreases to about 300mm at the top. Carefully selected stone was used and laid with grain at right angles to the natural bedding line. The larger stones on the ledge bedding provided good drainage. The walls were battered (sloped inward) in a rise of 1:6. To illustrate the scale – the highest sections of the walls, at Boegoekloof, measures 13,1 metres vertically and the second hairpin on the north, 7,3 metres. Over the years pressure on the roadway through traffic compacted and secured the walls and roadway.


“Thank you for a most interesting Rose’s Round-up,” writes Peter Anderson, from New Zealand. “The bits about the swarms of locusts rang true from what I remember of my great, great, great grandfather’s journals. He was William Anderson, a missionary who served in Griquatown. I used information from his journals and letters, which are stored in the archives of London University’s School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), to write my book Weapons of Peace which was published in Hong Kong in 1995. Sadly, it is now out of print, but it was based on William Anderson adventurous life. What a wonderful surprise to find on the last page of Round-up a mention of my great, great, great grandmother Joanna Anderson (nee Schonken)! She was born in Stellenbosch in 1776 and William, who was to become her husband, arrived in the Cape from London in 1800. He was born in 1769.”


Well known author José Burman, who grew up in Jagersfontein, was 16 years old and in matric when he took a memorable trip through the Karoo to Cape Town with his parents. Crossing the arid Karoo in those days took both stamina and courage, however, getting home again in the unseasonal rains of 1933 was fearsome. By the time the Burman family reached Beaufort West on heir south-bound trip, they were exhausted from the long, hot drive. They decided to spend the night there. In his biography, The Man in My Boots, José states that his mother had decided to go to Cape Town to visit an aunt. “A national road had not yet even been considered. In fact, there was very little in the way of a road at all and, what there was, was not tarred.” The road was little more that a twisted track that wound its way around trees and rocks. Vehicles had to tortuously climb up and over hills, slithering and bumping down on the other side. “The rivers, except the Orange, were unbridged. Occasionally there was a low culvert, so it took long days of hard driving to reach Beaufort West. We decided to sleep over. Next day we faced an equally long trek across the Hex River Pass and Bainskloof. Eventually, we reached Cape Town, tired, but triumphant.” It took six days to get home again because of unseasonal rain storms in the Karoo. “Every river was in spate. The road was a lake of mud. Farmers waited at every river crossing with oxen at the ready to tow cars through at a price. We were towed through seven rivers before we got to Beaufort West and, once there, we found the direct route impassable, so had to go east via Graaff-Reinet and then up to Philippolis to get home.”


Edward “Eddie” Albert Stuart was a well known and liked professional footballer, who hailed from Middelburg, in the Karoo, where he was born on May 12, 1931. He spent the majority of his league career with Wolverhampton Wanderers (The Wolves), in Britain, where he won three league championships, writes Tony Matthews, in. The Legends of Wolverhampton Wanderers, but it was with the Rangers in Johannesburg that his professional career began. After winning the South African Cup with the Rangers, he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers, an English First Division side in January 1951. After spending time in the reserves, he made his senior debut on April 15, 1952, scoring the only goal in a 1-4 loss to Black Country rivals West Bromwich Albion. Sadly, a trip home almost cost him his career. He contracted a tropical disease that hospitalised him and put him out of action for over a year, but he was basically a strong young man and determined to get back into the game. He returned to the first team for the final months of the 1953/54 season that brought Wolves their first-ever league championship. He remained in the starting team over the remainder of the decade as the club added two further league titles. Two more seasons brought him a total of 322 appearances for the Wolves. He joined Stoke City for £8,000 in summer 1962. His first season with Stoke saw them win the Second Division championship, and he remained for their return to top spot. He moved to Tranmere Rovers for £4,000 in 1966, and later served Stockport County, where he won the Fourth Division title. He then had a brief spell in management and he became player-manager of the non-league Worcester City team in 1968. He retired from playing, club and team management in December 1971 and turned to hairdressing. He successfully ran a string of hair salons around the Wolverhampton area for many years.


Few modern-day people even see locusts. Most consider them in Biblical terms as one of the ten plagues visited upon ancient Egypt. Yet many early writers describe great swarms in Karoo “as a blanket drawn up over the sun.” Remembering his teenage years José Burman, wrote that on a clear day it seemed as if the sun had suddenly gone out. Myriads of insects covered the land as far as the eye could see. Flying swarms took up to half an hour to pass. When they landed they caused devastation. “But that was not the worst for they skipped over some areas in flight. The ultimate horror was caused by the voetgangers, the hoppers, who missed nothing. In some towns channels were dug across the streets in an effort to stop these ‘pedestrians’ from moving further. Some channels were left empty, others were filled with water. Men lined up at the edges of the channels with brushes, brooms and sacks, to sweep up and collect the creatures in when the touched down. As the black cloud rolled down, the beaters sprang into action hitting, tramping, beating, sweeping, but quite without effect. The advance guard of hoppers came to the water, hesitated, and were pushed in and drowned. Others followed in endless succession and soon there was a bridge of dead hoppers which allowed the others to cross. Paraffin was poured into the empty channels and ignited, but the hoppers put out the fire as their dead bodies piled up. And, still they came. Nothing stopped them. They destroyed the veld. They climbed over walls, stripped every garden and every tree of foliage. They ate every blade of grass leaving a wasteland behind them. The only happy creatures were the fowls. They rushed about madly gobbling locusts until they keeled over and just lay there – too full to move.”


After several locust plagues and a severe drought, Maj-Gen Dundas, in 1801, sent a commission into the Karoo to investigate the situation. Among them was William Somerville who recorded the trip in his journals, which have recently been published by the Van Riebeeck Society. A train of six large bullock wagons was readied for the trip. “They had sufficient strength to handle the badness of the roads, where there were roads,” said a member of the party. He added that those who knew only the annoyances of travelling on a jolting mail coach or the distress of waiting for post horses would be interested to know that preparing for such a journey was equal to outfitting a ship for a sea voyage. The party left Cape Town on October 1, 1801 and travelled for five hours to the farm Pampoenkraal (present-day Durbanville), where they obtained fresh oxen, 12 for each wagon. They trekked on again for seven hours to reach Middleburg, a farm near Paarl, where they spent the night. From there they headed to the Berg River, where a ferry helped them to cross. As a considerable time was spent transporting the wagons across, they were only able to reach Groenberg (near present-day Wellington) at the end of the second day. Next day they tackled the rugged Roodezand Kloof Pass. They found that the route over Witsenberg and Skurfte Berg (today’s Gydo Pass) totally unsuitable for wagons and spent two hours negotiating the difficult Tulbagh Pass to reach Gouda and Tulbagh, and the Bokkeveld. There on the fourth day the axle of one of the wagons was so badly damaged that they feared it could go no further. The route did a u-turn towards present day Worcester and then ahead lay the great plains of the Karoo. They knew “the worst of the trip still lay ahead”. They reached Karoo Poort on the eighth day and from then on they had to contend with sparse grazing and brack water. At the “briny Tanqua River”, they met Gerrit Visser, who had built a permanent residence, a better house than they hitherto had seen. Visser, who had travelled frequently to the Orange River, was able to give them a great deal of good information on what route to follow.


The commission travelled on through the Roggeveld where the drought had been so bad that water sources “hitherto reckoned on as constant” had dried up. The veld was bare, locusts had destroyed the grazing. Also an outbreak of horse sickness had taken its toll together with other plagues. Conditions were fearful and these worsened as they travelled. “the poorer inhabitants had lost so much of their stock and suffered the wages of heat and cold to the extent that they were totally destitute and without even bread.” Some were subsisting on a never-ending daily fare of mutton but had no salt with which to flavor it. After 13 days and about 100 travelling hours from Cape Town, the commissioners found it difficult to procure fresh oxen and the hooves of their animals were beginning to fail. At one spot, near the Riet River, a field cornet, who had promised nine teams of oxen, could send only two. It was October, yet the nights were cold. Hoar frost covered the ground, and travelling conditions was miserable as they neared the Nuweveld Mountains, near present day Beaufort West. By then they had been travelling for 18 days. They found some fish in the rivers, but once cooked it tasted muddy and foul. “The flesh was flabby and full of small bones. Because of the drought there was not much game, but they were able to find ostrich eggs and used these to supplement the menu. At times during this journey across the Karoo “there was not a tree of any description to be seen.”


The clean, pristine air of the Great Karoo could not keep it safe from the “Great Flu”. The death toll in this isolated area was considerable and even tiny towns, like Merweville, lost some loved and respected people like the dominee. South Africa was the fifth hardest hit country in the world and the Spanish ‘Flu claimed almost as many people in this country as it did in the United States. Out of a population of 7 million 1,6 – 3 million people were affected and over 140 000 South Africans died in seven weeks from September to October ,1918, but in total the epidemic claimed the lives of almost half a million. (An estimated 675,000 Americans died, ten times as many as WWI claimed). The Cape was hardest hit, 62 per cent of the S A victims came from the Cape. Many were Karoo residents. The Journal of American Medicine says the ‘flu began in pockets across the globe. “To begin with seemed as benign as the common cold, but in two years it ravaged the earth – one fifth of the world’s population was affected – 20 million people died. The ‘flu was most deadly for people aged 20 to 40. It was a devastating episode in South Africa’s history,” says Professor Howard Phillips in an article in the South African Historical Journal, of 1988. “Exact figures were difficult to calculate because record keeping in rural areas was poor. Estimates were eventually extrapolated from figures supplied by a government-appointed Influenza Epidemic Commission and the figures from the 1921 census. While the exact cause of the infection remains uncertain, its effects were not.”


Loxton- born Ena Murray is described as one of the “most read Afrikaans writers in South Africa.” She was a prolific writer and in a period of 33 years during which she wrote full time, 131 titles appeared from her pen. Many are romance novels, but she also wrote detective stories, espionage tales, general fiction and adventure novels for a wide audience. She wrote spiritual literature and produced a volume of poetry as well. Ena emerged as the most popular Afrikaans writer in a survey conducted by Radio Sonder Grense a few years ago. Many of her novels were semi-biographical, some appeared in large print, to assist the visually impaired and others were recorded by Pionier School for the Blind in Worcester, and in Braille by Bandhulp vir Blindes. This institution also recorded several. Two were filmed. One was a Christian film entitled Vrou uit die Nag and the other was set in a leper colony. She was hailed as an extremely professional researcher and in order to write this book, Plekkie in die Son, (Place In The Sun) she lived for a while in a leprosy shelter outside Pretoria. Ena was born in Loxton on 27 December 1936. She was the second of three daughters born to the local medical practitioner, Dr. Mans and his wife. She attended the little local school as well as a school at nearby Victoria West. After matriculating she worked as a nurse. Ena later married Boet Murray of Loxton, thus returning to the town of her birth, where she started her literary career in earnest. Her marriage lasted 20 years and then ended in divorce. After that she settled in the Wilderness. Two years later she married Jaques Mostert and 10 years later they moved to a retirement village in Mossel Bay.


Two prominent Karoo men, whose lives were interestingly interlinked, died within months of each other over a century and a half ago. Both were Voortrekker leaders; both had the same first name; both came from Graaff-Reinet and both were honourable, fearless, determined, intensely patriotic, but, obstinate, headstrong men. Both played vitally important roles in the colourful, eventful history of the mid-1800s and the development of South Africa. Both trekked to Natal and both ended up in the Transvaal. They quarrelled violently in 1842, and only became reconciled a decade later, in 1852, and then they both died of the same disease, dropsy, with six months of each. One was Andries Willem Jacobus Pretorius and the other was Andries Hendrik Potgieter, known to all simply as Hendrik. Potgieter, a well-to-do, wealthy sheep farmer at the time of the trek, showed himself to be a charismatic leader and astute military man. He spent little time in Natal, but it was there that Pretorius, a born leader, distinguished himself. He became a well-liked, highly respected, reasonably well-off man, but he refused to bow to Potgieter’s authority, and this led to their fierce quarrel, states an article in. The Sunday Tribune of April 7, 1963.


Pretorius went on to play a pivotal role in the history of Natal. In his prime, at the age of 39, Pretorius, a strong character with an imposing physique, demonstrated he could adapt himself to war as well as to peace and led the Commando that triumphed at the Battle of Blood River, he was the chief architect of Trekker settlement and an instigator of the short-lived Republic of Natal. However, in 1838, a commando, led by Potgieter was drawn into an ambush and it suffered a severe loss. The Natal frontiersmen blamed him for this defeat, and he was so deeply offended that he left the region and moved on to found the town of Potchefstroom. Pretorius tried very hard to have the independence of the people of Natal recognised, but Sir Harry Smith was adamant that the province would remain British, so Pretorius left and went to Rustenberg. He became Sir Harry’s chief antagonist. He took the bold, but unwise, step of urging Transvaal burgers to join him in his campaign against Britain. He was also a negotiator of the Sand River Convention; he raised a Commando, led it to Bloemfontein to evict the British Resident, Major Warden; but Sir Harry, a skilled and experienced soldier, defeated him at Boomplaats. When Sir Harry annexed the Free State in 1848 Potgieter was again criticized for refusing to go to Pretorius’s aid. Pretorius was proclaimed a rebel. The Cape government offered £2000 for his apprehension and as a rejoinder, he offered 2,000 head of cattle for the capture of Sir Harry Smith! Potgieter’s rough and dangerous life, eventually took its toll on his health. He died at Schoemansdal on December 16, 1852. Pretorius died at his home at Magaliesberg in July 1853. His remains were later re-interred in Pretoria, after a State funeral.

It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. – C S Lewis