Marthinus van Bart, specialist heritage writer of Die Burger, has placed slavery in South Africa under the microscope. In his recently published book Kaap van Slawe, which took a decade to research, he has dug up some startling facts relating to the little-known transatlantic slave trade in general and the role of the British Empire in particular. Few realize that British slave ships plied the oceans for well over 300 years causing unimaginable misery while amassing vast fortunes. The book reveals some critical errors and inconsistencies currently available on slaves, slavery and slave route in this country. And, as the veil is lifted it becomes apparent that even some great heroes, like Sir Francis Drake, were involved. The title, Kaap van Slawe is a clever and well thought out because in Afrikaans the word “kaap” means “capture and hijack” as well as “Cape”. The book is an eye-opener particularly because so many people in South Africa see slavery as something which came along with the Dutch East India Company in the mid-1600s and vanished away again when William Wilberforce and his supporters managed to have slavery abolished in the 1800s, but, Marthinus proves that this was not the case. He quotes the Reverend Thomas Clarkson, who in 1788, said it was “almost as though an impenetrable veil had been thrown over this traffic.” But Britain’s involvement with slavery goes much further back than even that. Marthinus proves that it started way back in the mid-1500s in the reign of Elizabeth I and rapidly developed into a thriving industry with ships and captains sponsored and supported by the Queen. This vast, powerful industry had tentacles that spread across the world “causing discord and anarchy, setting kings against their subjects and subjects against each other.” It caused much family misery in many countries and “established a general state of disunion and disrepair” wherever the ships went. This well-illustrated, 204 page, hard-cover, A4 book makes fascinating read. It is like an adventure story and the evils and horrors of slavery spring to life on its pages. As the tale unfolds the book becomes difficult to put down.

Note: This is Marthinus’s third book. His first Vir Vryheid en Vir Reg, a commemorative story of the Anglo-Boer War book, published by Tafelberg in 2003, almost instantly sold out. The next, Songs of the Veld and Other Poems, published by Cederberg in 2008, was also a great success. He also has copies of Wium van Zyl’s book, Hierdie Land Van Leuens. It covers secret articles written during the Anglo-Boer War by C Louis Leipoldt. Again, anyone who is interested should also contact Marthinus. This book costs R100.


A dress made from a “pebble” fabric “hatched” in Oudtshoorn has caught the attention of the fashion world. Launched at Fashion Week in New York late last year it was hailed as “innovative, stunning, and beautiful.” It captivated representatives of some major fashion houses, particularly the French luxury brand, Chanel, says designer Gavin Rajah. They loved it. Now, nominated as one of the most beautiful objects made in South Africa, it will be one of ten items competing at the Design Indaba is Cape Town early in March. However, when Gavin went to the Klein Karoo to have ostrich leather foiled, the locals thought he was mad, he told Biénne Huisman of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, he wanted some indigenous “bling” to turn heads when his models strutted down the catwalk, so he persisted. The shimmering dress made of the finest, softest, ostrich leather sewn onto mesh certainly had the result he was seeking.


William Shaw, the pioneer minister, hailed as the Father of Methodism in the hinterland, had many narrow escapes. He was the only official minister to accompany the 1820 settlers, states F C Metrowich in Frontier Flames – the others were ordinary immigrants and not stipendiary clergymen. “Even so, the Government’s official recognition of Shaw’s position was tawdry and reluctant. Colonel Bird, the Colonial Secretary, a staunch Roman Catholic, was firmly opposed to Shaw’s appointment.” Shaw, a man with a vibrant, strong, dynamic personality let such objections flow off his back and assured him of prominence and influence. Clad in homely sheepskin clothes, he constantly ventured forth to attend to the needs of his flock, fording swollen rivers, many times losing his way and often having to sleep in a tree. Nothing dimmed his zeal. “His first primitive church was a part wattle, part reed building partially screened off for a “lying-on hospital and maternity ward” and also used by government officials for distributing meat and flour.” writes Metrowich. The building had an earthen floor, no ceiling and “holes to let in the air and light”. Shaw stood on an ammunition box strategically placed behind another box when he preached. From this make-shift pulpit he delivered many a fiery or thought-provoking sermon. “He rested his Bible on his writing desk which he normally perched on a barrel of American flour. The congregation brought their own benches and stools. But, even then, the good reverend was not always safe. The building was infested with rats and they in turn attracted snakes. On one occasion a member of the congregation shouted out, “Sir, here is a snake between your feet!” Shaw quickly stepped aside as someone struck and killed the snake with a stick. Then, Shaw then stepped back, took a deep breath and proceeded with his sermon.


The Scottish settlers who arrived in South Africa had a tenuous link with Beaufort West. They were granted land confiscated from the rebels of Slagters Nek Rebels. Some of these people were banished to the then far flung district of the Nuweveld Mountains. Captain Harding, deputy magistrate of Cradock was one of the first to visit these settlers. He warned them always to be on their guard and never for a moment to relax, states F C Metrowich in Frontier Flames. Harding was amazed to find only a solitary dog among the party. This meant that the men had constantly had to build fires and keep watch at night. Reaching the far flung, isolated spot, granted to them by Sir Rufane Donkin, in the Eastern Cape, and on the upper reaches of the Baviaans River had not been easy. At one stage it took two days to travel three miles because the bush was so thick. “The Scottish party soon realized that they had been dumped into a wild desolate area into which only the hardiest of boer farmers had ventured, but they were made of stern stuff and they managed to put down roots. Yet, even their arrival in South Africa had been traumatic. Filled with enthusiasm they had rushed ashore on May 15, 1820, only to be rebuffed and told to return to their ship as the tents and supplies ashore had been designated for another party. “A full month passed before they were able to move inland where finding food was a problem. This mostly was because almost all of them were poor shots.”


A dreadful, fatal accident occurred on the railway line at Touws River on May 10, 1902. Described in detail in an eastern province newspaper, it was so awful that it left the villagers shocked and appalled. The newspaper stated that railway worker Carl du Toit met was instantly killed while repairing a stop-block on the branch line. While he was undertaking this task, some trucks were shunted. The engine driver had not spotted Carl and as the trucks rolled back, they pinned him between the buffer of the truck and the stop-block. The impact was so great that du Toit’s body was almost cut in two. He died on the spot. The newspaper also carried another horrifying story of a missionary who was killed by a crocodile. “This young man was on his way to Durban to be married, his heart was filled with happiness. However, while crossing a river he was attacked by a crocodile. He managed to free himself and make it to the bank, but both his hands had been torn off, and he had a terrible wound in his left side, extending from the abdomen to the knee. He lay undiscovered on the riverbank until noon the next day but died before he could be moved.”


During the Anglo-Boer war Lieutenant -Colonel E. T. Watchorn, the commander of the 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen wrote from Deelfontein on March 6, 1900 to an Australian newspaper, “to set matters right.” He said: “I wish to draw your attention to an error which appeared in your columns on Monday, January 20. You mentioned that two soldiers of this Contingent had distinguished themselves at the capture of Commandant Erasmus and two other Commandants. In fact, the men concerned were Quartermaster -Sergeant D. M. Lyne and Transport -Sergeant Coombe. Colonel Gorringe had called for volunteers to storm a kopje on which the enemy were known to be. Sergeant -Major Young, of the Cape Police, selected seven men, four of whom were Tasmanians. They instantly charged the kopje and found by the fire that a large number of Boers were ensconced there. Without hesitating they galloped right into the midst of the enemy and succeeded, in capturing three Commandants, as well as shooting and capturing other Boers. The Boers, thinking a large number of khakis coming, became disorganised, and fled. Sergeant -Major Young, on being interviewed, stated that if he had twenty Tasmanians he would go anywhere.” (A similar statement was later also attributed to Commandant Gideon Scheepers.) Watchorn underlined the fact that pleased as he was to have two sergeants mentioned in despatches, he did not want to detract from the other two men who had initially been mentioned. “They were equally as brave.” he said.


Not everyone likes the Karoo. This was quite apparent from a letter written in April 1900, by a Scottish nursing sister serving at The Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, at Deelfontein. She initially wrote to the Aberdeen Times, but the letter was later picked up and reprinted by The Nursing Record & Hospital World of April 21, 1900. It read: “The actual country here strikes me as being absolutely hideous – there is so much of nothing. All the ground is like a dried-up marsh, sandy, with vile, unhealthy greenish-gray, scrubby, tufty little shrubs. It is an absolute nightmare land, but oddly very picturesque and wild taken as a whole. I must admit that it has the loveliest air I ever breathed.” The vagaries of the Karoo weather bothered her, particularly the wind. “The dust is nasty and the sun mighty hot, but it is the wind and rain that cause havoc. One Sunday the wind kept steadily rising until 20 tents were blown down. This included our mess tent, where Miss Fisher got caught and was banged about. She had a few bruises, but fortunately she is none the worse for the experience. Also, the big tent which accommodates 20 nurses, their beds, bedding, etc, was flattened. Everything went flying rapidly towards the flat-topped hill, with dressers, doctors, orderlies and labourers in a wild pursuit. The rain is now soaking the exposed beds and now our bath tent too is flat.”


There’s a tale of an Aberdeen farmer who longed for nothing more than a magnificent Porsche. In time he was able to afford one, and indeed he bought it, bringing it proudly back to the village. “And that’s exactly where it had to stay,” says Aberdeen historian Wendy van Schalkwyk. “The farm roads were just too rough and rugged for such a car. So, the story goes that he drove his battered old bakkie to town, and once there drove up and down in his luxury vehicle to do his shopping and visiting. Then, when it was time to leave, he parked the car and trundled back down the rough, rugged, rocky farm roads in his trusty old bakkie.”


David J. Koma is one of the lesser known sons of the Karoo. Born in the Waterford district of Somerset East, 1881, he did not have the privilege of attending school, but he had such a keen desire for knowledge that he taught himself to read and write English. David moved to Johannesburg in 1899 at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War served on with the British troops. After the war he joined City Deep Gold Mine and worked there for twelve years. David married in 1906 and fathered seven children. He was a founder member of the Social Centre for Bantu Men which was set up in Eloff Street, in Johannesburg. It was a place where many found good company and music they understood and enjoyed.


Many thought “Plum” was an odd name for a man, but no one ever seems to have found out Plum Nash-Weber’s real name. He and his family that lived on Ludlow farm (now Arcadia) outside Aberdeen. His family were well-known Afrikander cattle breeders and top prize winners at the agricultural shows. “Mrs Nash-Weber donated an organ to the Aberdeen Methodist church on the understanding that she could play it whenever she wished,” writes Wendy van Schalkwyk in her history of Aberdeen. “In this way she was able to indulge her love of music and also to enrich the lives of the local community. Plum was perhaps the best-known member of this family mostly perhaps because he was multi-talented.” He had a wide range of natural talents. He seemed to instantly know how anything, and everything worked. He was a gifted musician and could play virtually any tune by ear on any musical instrument. He was also an enviable motor mechanic and without any training could strip and re-assemble an engine and fine tune it like few others, says Wendy. “He was an excellent carpenter and easily turned his hand to wrought iron work at will. Then Plum too, was an excellent, virtually unbeaten snooker player, but he did not particularly enjoy the game. He could handle a motorboat with skill and water ski, but again did not seem to enjoy either sport. And, he was an excellent shot. Locals said he would often polish off a bottle of cane spirit and then toss the empty bottle into the air and shoot it to shards, just to prove his skill.” He took up flying and again was so good at that that he became an instructor. When World War II broke out, he enlisted and served in Italy. Then, in search of further adventure, Plum left he Karoo and moved to the then Rhodesia. This brought tragedy. He was killed in a motor bike accident in that country.


Most early writers agreed that the eland loved the dryland. Lichtenstein said that the interior of South Africa was usually so dry that it appealed only to the ostrich, the eland and the rhino. The eland, the largest antelope in southern Africa, would be significant just for its size, but to the San (Bushmen) it was more than that. To them the eland was a sacred animal. An archaeologist\anthropologist, who once interviewed some San people, was told: “A long, long time ago, we, Bushmen, roamed the mountains of the interior, masters of the unpredictable ways of nature. We were nomads then, moving with the great herds of game and the changing of seasons. When the animals migrated, we followed, leaving no houses or roads to mark our presence. All we left behind was our story painted in the rock, in the shelters, the story of sacred animals, like the eland, and our journeys to the spirit world. These mountains once gave us shelter and the herds of antelope gave sustenance and meaning to our lives. For us, the eland is the animal with the greatest spiritual power. It is essential for well being, healing, beauty, peace and plenty. The eland takes us on journeys to the world beyond and connects us to God.”


Archaeologist David Lewis Williams explains that the eland has lots of fat and to the San fat is a very important commodity. In a sense they believe it has supernatural potency. “When an eland is pursued, it sweats more than any animal; this sweat, like the sweat of a medicine man, is considered by the !Kung to contain very powerful n/um. Brought to bay and near death, the eland trembles and shivers, its nostrils are wide open, it has difficulty in breathing and its hair stands on end . . . As it dies ‘melted fat’, as it were, together with blood gushes from its nostrils,” says Lewis-Williams. This fat was vital to many rituals. When the San painted an eland, they didn’t just pay homage to a sacred animal, they also harnessed its essence. By painting on the rock, they believed they opened portals to the spirit world. Through looking at this culture, and its relationship to the eland, I’ve tried to examine what the West lost long ago: an intimate, sophisticated bond with the animal world,” says Lewis-Williams. “I firmly believe that such research brings us closer to a better understanding of these people and the world in which they lived.”

Failure is success if we learn from it.Malcolm Forbes – Forbes Magazine