The search for an isolated South African village with tourist appeal finally took German TV producer Mark Kaczmarczyk to Murraysburg in the Great Karoo. He loved it all – the town, its people and the area. It reminded him of Arizona in the US. So, with a cameraman Robert Leithner and sound engineer Alexander Seidel, from Tango Films in Germany, Mark spent two days capturing the spirit of Murraysburg for VOX Television Network in Cologne, Germany. The edited footage will form part of an hour-long documentary for their highly-rated, popular, weekly VOX Tours travel series. This prime-time show, now in its eighth year, offers over two-million viewers a fascinating look at unusual tourist destinations around the globe. It is broadcast in Germany every Sunday and simultaneously beamed to the rest of Europe via satellite. “The show is no ordinary travelogue”, said Mark. “Each broadcast features five or six stories focussed on people. It introduces viewers to a country’s geographic beauty, wildlife, cultural history and developments through their eyes. The programme is representative, objective, varied and uncritical. Every story has its own air of authenticity”. Murraysburg’s magic mountain and fountain enchanted the crew, who filmed a cross-section of people from students to the oldest resident, Miekie van Rooyen, who is over 100. With an old friend, Etta Oosthuizen, she reminisced about “the good old days”. A splendid sunset, a late organ recital by Hermien Botha and a braai at the home of Oskar and Elsie Smuts, with old-fashioned “sing a-long” to strumming guitars added the finishing touches.


Herman de Witt, a man who ceaselessly worked to develop and promote the Central Karoo, died at the Panorama Clinic in Cape Town on February 2, 2001. He was 74. He served on committees of many institutions in Beaufort West, the region and the province, and tourism was one of his major interests. He supported its development at every level. He was chairman of the Regional Tourism Organisation, and for a time served as a member of the Western Cape Tourism Board’s Marketing Committee. He was also chairman of the Beaufort West Tourist Bureau. Mr De Witt is survived by his wife Hilda, son Pierre, daughter Elsa Tromp and two grandchildren.


The Karoo National Park stole the heart of President Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zamele when they visited there on December 30, last year. “This was our very first time in this park, and what a wonderful experience. Here will grow and develop one of our country’s best national parks, teeming with plants and wild animals to whom the Karoo belongs. Then should we all return, not to intrude, but ourselves to become part of the stark and unforgiving beauty and the haunting tranquillity of the erstwhile home of our ancestral Khoisan. We are proud of those who exercise such loving guardianship over this national heritage”, the President wrote in the visitors’ book.


The dry air of the Karoo has long been praised for its medicinal properties. Now, it seems, it can also save books. According to a recent SA Garden and Home article on old and rare books, they are under severe threat and some are even on death row. Books published in the 100 years between 1870 and 1970 were printed on paper made from wood pulp with short fibres and a high acid content. At best, the cheaper versions of this will only last for another 20 years, perhaps even less due to the high level of acid pollution in the atmosphere. Antiquarian booksellers, however, agree that the dry air of the Karoo is an excellent preserver of books. Paul Mills, owner of Clarke’s Africana, said: “Of course, not all books will turn to dust. Some were printed on superior paper. And, no matter how many times the prophets of doom predict the end of books, it will never happen. Nothing can replace the joy of owning a good book, nor the compulsion of book collecting as a hobby”.


A fire, thought to have started in a piece of electronic equipment, almost destroyed the 150-year-old Swartberg Country Lodge in Prince Albert at the height of the festive season. According to owner Blackie Swart “it seems to have started in the office in the early hours of December 16 and spread rapidly, consuming historic photographs, paintings and irreplaceable antiques. Only the prompt action of the local police service prevented it from gutting the building. No one was injured in the blaze, but sadly Elizabeth ‘Dippies’ Ockers, who had been in the hotel’s employ for over 25 years, suffered a fatal heart attack after arriving at the scene”. He added that the hotel would be closed indefinitely so that damage could be assessed and repairs undertaken. The Swartberg was first opened in 1864 by John Dyson junior. It has changed hands many times but has always been central to Prince Albert tourism. Beaufort West has also lost one of its landmark hotels. The Royal Hotel, which first opened in 1871, closed at the end of last year. The hotel is to be sold.


Prince Albert’s new tourism information officer, Raylene van der Berg, 27, has deep roots in the Karoo. Her family’s links with the area stretch back to the turn of the last century when her paternal grandfather, Ishmail Roberts, decided to explore the hinterland. He was an Indian and had arrived in Cape Town by ship from St Helena. Ishmail wanted to know what lay beyond the mountains and set off into the interior. On his adventures he met and married a lovely coloured lass from Prince Albert. “Sadly, Ishmail’s family disowned him, but my grandparents’ love for each other and the Karoo carried them through. My mother’s family, also Prince Alberters, spent many years in Beaufort West. “While growing up I visited them often and learned much about that area”, said Raylene. “A born and bred Prince Alberter, I have inherited my grandparents’s love for the Karoo and enjoy nothing more than sharing my knowledge gained over many years with visitors. All I want is for them to experience the beauty of the Karoo as I do”. Raylene is no newcomer to tourism. For the past four years she worked at the Prince of Africa and as a receptionist at the Swartberg Country Lodge. She is married to Phillip and they have two children, Phillipa,7 and Ryan, 5.


The picture of a cute papier maché pig, striped like a zebra, captivated Yvonne O’Brien, of White River, as she read the accompanying story on Murraysburg in the November issue of Country Life. She is a keen collector of papier mâché, pigs and zebras. So, Yvonne absolutely had to have the striped pig. However, Judy Butterworth and the staff of Grootplaats farm, who make these items, had already consigned the precious pig to a sales point. A string of ‘phone calls found him still languishing on a shelf at Three Sisters Farm Stall. Then, an orchestrated chain of “by hand” deliveries eventually saw the zebra-like porker off by post on his journey northwards from the Regional Tourism Office at Beaufort West. He was only one of the items the Murraysburg crafters sold after the magazine article appeared. There was quite a demand for christening dresses, stained glass work, pottery, knit wear, embroidery and “bliktrommels”. A man from Gauteng could almost not believe “people still hand knitted socks” and ordered several pairs for winter.


Die weer in die Karoo is heerlik en internasionale besoekers volop. Onlangs het ‘n Panorama-toergroep van 27 Hollanders vir drie dae in die Karoo Nasionale Park oorgebly om nadere kennis te maak met die gebied. Hulle was dit eens, dit was ‘n wonderlike ervaring. ‘n Hoogtepunt van die besoek was ‘n uitstappie na die blokhuis op die noordelike kant van die dorp. Daar het almal tot bo geklim om te sien presies watter uitsig die Britse soldate oor die spoorlyn en aangrensende terrein gehad het. Tydens die Anglo-boereoorlog was daar ses blokhuise in Beaufort-Wes. In Hooyvlakte skryf Wynand Viviers dat een op “Plantation Square” gestaan het, waar Gamka-Oos kerk vandag is. “Daar was ook blokhuise op al die koppies, en op die ou Hans Rivierpad is ‘n hout uitkyktoring gebou. Op die hoek van Donkin en Kerkstraat, voor die Ou Stadhuis (die museum, vandag) is ‘n sink en hout blokhuis gebou en met sandsakke gestut. Toe die Vrede in 1902 gesluit is het die Raad vyf blokhuise gesloop en net die klip een langs die treinbrug gehou”. Die eerste trein brug hier is in 1882 gebou. In 1908 is dit volgens planne van Cochrane en Kie in Dudley, England, versterk. Die ou gietysterpilare is in 1932 met betonpilare vervang en die brug is herbou. Daar was ‘n ontsporing op die brug in 1944 en die leunstut is beskadig. Die brug en pilare is in 1962 verleng toe die spoorlyn verdubbel is.


A Welsh railway enthusiast recently combined his holiday in the Karoo with an exploration of the railway lines and old stations. “I have read much about the early South African railway system as one of my ancestors worked for the Cape Colonial Railways in the 1800s”, said Emlyn Evans. “My research reveals there were several accidents in the Karoo. Seventeen people were killed at Matjiesfontein in l898, and a year later nine died at Three Sisters when the second section of a train ran into the first. There was a serious accident at that station two days after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War according to Lawrence Greene’s book When the Journey’s Over”. Greene writes of a train carrying refugees colliding with a stationary train at Three Sisters station and quotes a dramatic report in the newspaper, Black and White: “Coaches telescoped on impact and carriages overturned. Men and women of all nationalities and temperaments suddenly found themselves face to face with a painful death, entangled and entrapped by a mass of twisted steel and iron and smothered with debris of splintered wood and broken glass. The lights went out. The night was cold and dark. It was thought that the engine driver, who had been on duty for 36 hours, fell asleep. Eight passengers were killed and many injured. Some were trapped beneath the wreckage. Help was long in coming as communications were slow. Rescue teams from Beaufort West arrived three-and-a-half hours after the accident. By then uninjured passengers had built fires and by their light searched the wreckage for the injured”.


Die nuwe Beaufort-Wes kleur brosjure is deur almal met lof bekroon. Dit is ontwerp om die natuurskoon, kulturele- en argietektoniese-erfenisse van die dorp uit te beeld. Twee rooi-hartebeeste op die voorblad geniet die meeste komentaar. Hulle is net so, met neuse teen mekaar, in die Karoo Nasionale Park afgeneem deur Oudtshoorn fotograaf, Hans van der Veen. Dié bokke is die vinnigste in Afrika. “Hulle spring vinnig weg op ‘n mooi gallop, maar weens hulle nuuskierigheid hardloop hulle gewoonlik net ‘n kort entjie voor hulle weer gaan staan”, sê toerismebeampte Sydney Witbooi. “ Die bokke eet uitsluitlik gras en kan lank sonder water klaarkom. Hulle is gewild onder toeriste omdat hulle eienaardig gevormde horings, lang gesigte en glansendende rooibruin kleur pragtige fotos maak. Rooi hartebeeste is swaksiende, maar hulle kan goed ruik en hoor. Hulle weeg tussen 105 en 180 kg en hulle verwagte lewensduur is 13 jaar”.


The editor of an international website covering the ghosts of the world has discovered the spectres of the Karoo. D W Hauck emailed Regional Tourism officer Rose Willis for more details. A keen ghost hunter herself, Rose was able to supply several snippets on the ectoplasmic side of tourism. She will from time to time keep them supplied with new material. So, if you have a good ghost story and would like to share it internationally or with local researcher Sian Hall, please let Rose know.


Ecologists searching for eagles in the Karoo found instead a pair of rare warblers who’d chosen a curious place to live. “These cinnamon-breasted warblers, among the most elusive birds in the Karoo, were building a nest in the lowest leaves of a short-stemmed aloe microstigma”, said Rob Martin, who, with his mother Elsie, and fellow researcher Dawn Tyler, was combing the Karoo for booted eagle nesting sites. “We saw warblers on a hillside near Hutchinson Station. As we watched one flew to and from the nesting site carrying beaks full of plant down. It later diligently searched in the crevices of a rocky outcrop apparently collecting spider webs”, wrote Rob. Japie Claassen, editor of Beaufort West’s William Quinton Wild Bird Society’s newsletter Die Drawwertjie said: “What makes this exciting is that cinnamon-breasted warblers are very difficult to spot”.


Toe Japie Claassen, sekretaris van die William Quinton Wildevoëlklub, verlede jaar van die “baie’ watervoëls by die Leeu Gamkadam hoor, het hy gedink dit was “maar ‘n relatiewe begrip”. Maar toe hy daar aankom was hy uiters verbaas. “Daar was letterlik honderde en vele verskillende spesies. Ek het tussen 300 en 400 skoorsteenveërs geskat”, sê hy. Skoorsteenveërs is algemene voëls in die Karoo en kom veral by damme en rivierpoele voor. Die meeste in die Sentrale Karoo is laas jaar by Beaufort-Wes rioolwerk se voëlreservaat getel. “Die vyf soetdoringbome wat in die water by Leeu Gamkadam staan was vol neste. Ek het 208 getel. Die meeste was van skoorsteenveërs. Later het ek 88 skoorsteenveër-, 14 rietkormorant-, 10 veereier-, drie lepelaar- en twee bloureierkuikens gering. Daar was nog baie kuikens in die boonste neste maar ek kon nie by hulle uitkom nie omdat die doringhout te vrot was. Baie interessant vir my was hoe goed die voëls weet waar die water eerste gaan opdroog. Kuikens in neste na aan die inloop het uitgebroei en kon al vlieg toe neste nader aan die wal het nog net eiers gehad het”. Japie het ook swartkopreiers, sowel as talle voëls wat nie normalweg met die Karoo geassosieer word nie by hierdie dam gesien.


It now emerges that the mysterious doctor with the silver cigarette case also treated the legendary Gideon Scheepers. Professor J C ‘Kay’ de Villiers has unravelled more of the mystery surrounding Dr FBC whose cigarette case ended up on an antique auction in Canada. (Round-up 83 and 84). “As Dr Elizabeth van Heyningen found out his name was Frederick Burke Carron and he qualified in England in 1898”, writes Professor De Villiers, “Dr Carron obviously came to South Africa as a civil surgeon during the Anglo-Boer War because he is mentioned in Gideon Scheepers’s diary where his name is spelled with an ‘e’ instead of an ‘o’. On October 19, 1901, Scheepers wrote that he was taken to hospital in Beaufort West and treated very well by Captain Evans, Dr Carren and Matron Johnson. One assumes this was at No 26 Stationary Hospital, established on May 3, 1901. There is little doubt that the nurse (? matron) was Sister G Johnson, the only nurse of that name known to have worked in that hospital. The captain, Percy Evans, R A M C, was awarded a DSO in France in 1915. After completion of his contract, Dr Carron must have opted to stay on in South Africa because he registered to practise in this country in 1902. The1913 Register of Medical Practitioners in the Union of South Africa shows Dr Carron’s last address as Brockville, Ontario, Canada. This then must be the route the cigarette case took to Canada. Mr Berkowitz may try to find out if Dr Carron registered to practise in Canada. Their medical registers will reveal this. Mr Berkowitz may also be able to locate an obituary which would tell us more of Dr Carron’s life”.


Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town, Professor Andrew Smith, has taken issue with Dr Cyril Hromnik regarding shrines linked to Dravidian Indians in the Karoo. “Professional archaeologists simply do not accept this idea. We are all aware of Dr Hromnik’s theories, but we are not inclined to believe that these structures were built by people with Indian connections. They would rather seem to be hunting hides, schantzes or shepherd shelters”, he said.