SA FROGS LEAP INTO AN ATLAS
The first comprehensive survey of South African frogs will soon be available. A frog atlas, covering all frog species in South African, Swaziland and Lesotho is expected to be on sale within three months. This extensive conservation assessment represents eight years of research by skilled professionals and laymen working together under the auspices of the Avian Unit at the University of Cape Town. Funding came from The Smithsonian Institute in the United States. For this vast study the country was divided into blocks of 25 to 30 kilometres. Researchers and helpers spent many a dark, damp night combing vleis and riverbanks searching for frogs and recording their calls. Work in the Karoo was done by researchers Atherton de Villiers and Harold Braack as well as many farmers. “Obviously frogs are not related to birds, but as no one else wanted to co-ordinate the study it landed in the lap of UCT’s Avian Unit,” said a spokesman for the publication. “It has been a long time coming, but it has been a worthwhile project. Several new species were discovered, and much new material was recorded.” South Africa has between 125 and 130 indigenous frog species. England has only six. About 20 S A species are threatened or critically endangered. Fifty-seven percent are endemic, i.e. found only in specific areas, mostly in the South Western Cape.” Frogs have a 10 to 15 years lifespan. Many, however, do not achieve “a ripe old age” because frogs are the prey of so many other creatures. Yet frogs play a vital role in the ecology by controlling insects. Bullfrogs can live for 30 years and survive underground for seven. Herpetologists (those who study frogs and reptiles) eagerly await the new atlas.
S A FEATHERED RENAMED
Over 300 South African bird species are being renamed. This major change, the biggest in 100 years, will eliminate confusion and bring South African birding in line with international standards. “The move is essential because birding has become a major tourism drawcard,” said Aldo Berruti, director of Bird Life South Africa, the national umbrella body of bird clubs, in an interview with the Sunday Times of January 18, 2004. “This change, agreed to at a recent International Ornithological Congress, will eliminate confusion surrounding the use of bird names across borders.” Peter Ryan, an editor of Roberts Birds of South Africa said: “New reference and guide books scheduled for publication later this year will include the internationally recognised names. Some resistance has been encountered, but local birders are free to continue to use local bird names. In time these will simply fade away.” The wellknown Black Eagle, will be known as Verreaux’s Eagle because there is another black eagle elsewhere in the world. This raptor was named to honour French explorer, Jules Verreaux, who lived in South Africa early in the 1800s, and who identified it.
A DINT OF DARING DRIVING
At the end of the Festive Season the Arrive Alive Organisation announced it was contemplating lowering the speed limit to eliminate accidents. Some newspapers reported that a World Health Organisation (WHO) study warned road accidents would surpass HIV/Aids as the world’s leading cause of unnatural deaths by 2020. Pedestrians are often to blame, but this is not new. In Manna in the Desert Alfred de Jager Jackson repeats a tale told by Sir John Charles Molteno, first Premier of the Western Cape, when he dined at their farm one evening. Molteno said: “While driving up the street in Beaufort West the other day, I met a man so drunk he was walking on both sides of the road at the same time. By a great effort I managed to go through between him!”
NEW LIGHT ON THE OLD KAROO
The magic of the Karoo is not easily revealed. “You have to know where to look to find it. But, when you do, you discover a place which creeps into your heart forever,” said Rose Willis, when she shared her love of the Karoo and enjoyment of researching its unending stories with members of the Bloemfontein Branch of the ARP&P (Association of Retired Persons and Pensioners). “Moving to the Karoo started as a joke, but ended as an adventure,” she said. “We left Johannesburg telling friends we’d drive down the road till we found a house we liked, buy it and live there. They scoffed, but we did exactly that. This led me to discover a new world where time is counted on the ridges of koppies. I was fascinated by the facts revealed by fossils and how the creatures of pre-history could tell modern-day researchers so much about the ancient swamp that turned into the present-day semi-desert area now called the Karoo. Guided by experts I ‘met’ the San and Khoi-khoi and discovered a magnificent outdoor rock art gallery 40km north of Beaufort West. Next, I sped through history meeting premiers, princes and the other people who once lived in the area, once the last frontier of the old Cape Colony. My enjoyment of seeing them all once again strut across the stage of South African history is never-ending.” A blend of facts and fables of the old Karoo helped Rose to weave some of the magic of the Karoo into a Free State morning. She persuaded most that by dashing through the area at night they’d miss far more than the heat.
CALL BACK THE PAST
A former Bloemfonteiner, with a “thing for history” is researching and recording all South African news events since1652 for publication in a book. Former SABC announcer, Frikkie Wallis, claims never to read anything without noting down all interesting dates mentioned. This led to his publishing a comprehensive book on world facts and fables covering a thousand year period. He is now concentrating on South Africa. Frikkie says he has not yet dreamt up a title for his latest project, but he says he is hard at work gathering newsworthy material from across the country. Discussing his plans with Volksblad reporter, Liesl Pretorius, (January 19, 2004) he said stories on Bloemfontein so far had the edge because he had lived for so long in this city. A century ago the Free State capital was almost devastated in a flash flood, similar to the one that hit the Karoo town of Laingsburg in 1982. Sixty people were killed, 175 houses totally destroyed and over 3 000 people left homeless. The damage caused by this flood was over £250 000.
IN ON A WAVE OF ENTHUSIASM, OUT IN A CLOUD OF DISPAIR
A famous British general passed through Beaufort West in 1882 filled with enthusiasm. He fancied himself as a peacemaker. He hoped to quell unrest on the Eastern Frontier and in Basutoland. But, General Charles George “Chinese” Gordon was a disappointed man when he again passed through the village en route to Cape Town and England a few years later. Circumstances and the duplicity of Government officials had almost broken his spirit, yet the Karoo had made a great impression on him. He had travelled from Cape Town to Beaufort West by train and from there by Cape cart to King Williamstown. This man, who once restored power to the emperor of China and who also ruled a vast area as Governor of the Sudan thoroughly enjoyed the train journey through this arid zone. He said so in a letter to his sister Augusta. He had given his surroundings “the keenest” attention as the train sped along, he wrote. “The days are sunny, in fact, brilliant and the nights keenly cold, but not so cold when one has known the desert on a winters’ night. The rugged mountains, wild expanses and lonely homesteads along the way all tell stories of an independent pioneering people.” Gordon liked the Boers, says V C Malherbe in Eminent Victorians and, when he met the English settlers, he thought they too were “a fine people.” “Gordon was a patient man, who delighted everyone he met with his friendliness and charm. His self-abnegation won him a unique place in the Victorian world. He believed he had been sent to South Africa by Divine Will.” He had come as Commandant General of the Colonial Forces. He was sent to the eastern frontier, but his aim was to promote peace in Basutoland. He had offered his services in this regard several times. However, the general political situation in South Africa at the time mitigated against his success as a mediator. In a letter to Augusta he said he was not afraid to die in Basutoland, but this was not to be. Gordon and his garrison were massacred at Khartoum on January 26, 1885.
SAID TO BE THE FIRST, BUT HE WASN’T REALLY ENGLISH
An early Beaufort West land surveyor had a link to the man considered to be the first English speaking South African. In his journal land surveyor Charles Lennox Stretch records doing a great deal of work in the town and district of Beaufort West. He also worked in Graaff Reinet. Charles married Ann, daughter of Robert Hart (1776-1867) who is referred to as “the first English-speaking South African. He was, however, a Scot with rather a broad accent. He held the rank of Captain when he arrived in the Cape with the 98th Argyllshire Highlanders in 1795. In 1799 his company was sent to the frontier to suppress the Graaff-Reinet uprising. He fell in love with the Karoo. He fought in the 1799 and 1812 wars against the Xhosa. He was appointed adjutant in Colonel Graham’s Cape Regiment in 1807 and became one of the first residents of Grahamstown. When the regiment was disbanded, he was appointed superintendent of Somerset Farm. There he met John Baird, another man who was to leave his mark on Beaufort West. Baird was sent to fledgling village in 1818 as acting magistrate. Somerset farm was started as an experimental tobacco-growing farm in 1814 by botanist Dr Joseph Mackrill with the blessing of Lord Charles Somerset. It was closed in 1825 and Somerset East founded in its place. Charles and Ann were living in Beaufort West when his Stretch’s father died in Limerick, Ireland, in 1822. In 1825 Stretch’s mother Catherine requested a passage to South Africa on a Government vessel bound for the Cape. James Attwell, who had married Stretch’s niece, Susan, dashed down to Cape Town to accompany Catherine on her long journey through the Karoo and see her safey to Beaufort West, where, according to Stretch’s journal she arrived on August 15, 1825.
ON THE TRAIL OF EDGAR DREDGE
Nigel King is seeking information on his great grandfather. “His name was Edgar Dredge and I have traced him back to Beaufort West in South Africa where he lived and worked as an engine driver for the Cape Colonial Railways,” says Nigel. Edgar was killed in a rail accident on March 19, 1898. He is buried in the Beaufort West Cemetery. A marble memorial erected in his memory by his fellow workers and his loving family, mark his grave. Edgar was also a member of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of England and attended meetings at the Grimbeek Street Temple with other wellknown Beaufort Westers of the time. Among these were Dr James Christie and entrepreneur August Cohen. “My great grandfather married Minnie Rosina Harris in Port Elizabeth,” says Nigel. “I would love to hear from any one who has any further information on the rail accident or the Dredge and Harris families.”
THE AARDVARK A CUSTODIAN OF A STRANGE CUCUMBER
A story from South Africa stunned Kew Garden authorities in 1923. They were told of a strange underground cucumber that needed an aardvark to propagate it. They thought this a very far-fetched tale. However, it has been proved that the “invisible” C. humifructus owes its continued existence to the timid, secretive, nocturnal aardvark. This strange-looking animal, which has adapted to a diet of termites and ants has become the custodian of this weird plant. And, it is virtually the only vegetable matter for which the aardvark forages. The fact that C. humifructus grows and fruits 15 to 30 cm underground means that it needs an outside agent to “free” its seeds from the “prison” in which they develope. In an article on the plantzafrica website researchers from the University of Pretoria state that the fruit has a tough, water-resistant rind which can stay intact for months, perhaps even years. “It would thus be well-nigh impossible for the seeds to germinate in situ without the aid of an earthquake or flood. The only reliable agent, therefore, is an animal. The aardvark unerringly snuffles out the fruit, a delicacy in the aardvark world. It scratches out the seeds, eats the fleshy fruit, a nutritious jelly, which slakes its thirst, then, before moving on it covers the seeds with dung and soil. Several languages honour the aardvark’s role in the propagation of this plant. In Afrikaans it is called “aardvarkkomkommer.” The !Kung (San) name for this plant and aardvark dung is the same word. No one knows how the aardvark locates the buried fruit, nor why this creature forages almost exclusively for this plant. But researchers are concerned about the future of this unusual relationship. Aardvark numbers are rapidly declining due to loss of habitat and hunting. The species is listed as threatened. Will plant and animal survive, or are both sentenced to extinction?
WHO IS THE PHANTOM OF THE FILM SET?
An “invisible extra” has appeared at a Karoo film location. The producer, crew members and security guards working on Olive Schreiner’s “Story of an African Farm” have all seen a “woman of yesteryear” at Zoute Kloof farm near Laingsburg. When producer Bonnie Rodini first saw Zoute Kloof, she knew it was the perfect place to shoot her dream film, Story of an African Farm. She had first read Olive Schreiner’s book while still at school. It deeply impressed her. Last year, Bonnie visited the farm to plan various scenes. While taking photographs of the interior of the old house she was overcome by “a strange feeling.” She had just entered in the middle bedroom, perhaps an early guest bedroom, when her hair began to rise. She fancied she saw “something” in the corner. Bonnie called her partner, Kevin Otto to come and take a look. The feeling instantly vanished and there was nothing. But when she got home and examined prints taken that day she saw shadowy shape on the print of that room. A trick of the light? Maybe, but when the print was turned upside down Bonnie clearly saw a woman in a long dress with long hair hanging over her shoulders. Her arms were folded and she was staring straight into the lens of the camera. The woman had a tired, jaded, worn-out expression on her face. Once filming began others had similar strange feelings and some caught fleeting glimpses of a woman in the house. Then, one night the security staff were “treated” to a sight less fleeting. One night the front door suddenly opened. In the moonlight, framed against the darkness of the hallway, stood a woman staring out across the plains. Before they could react, scream or flee, all returned to normal. André le Roux and Annél Botha of Sarie were so intrigued they decided to visit Zoute Kloof, but the phantom declined to appear. “Who is the ghost,” asks André in an article in the February issue. Many say she is Louisa Margaret, beloved wife of Henry Green, Civil Commissioner of Colesburg. Louisa, aged 32, died here in the early 1800s. Tantalisingly her gravestone is broken and the piece that gives her date of death is missing. This only adds to the mystery. So does the fact that the farmhouse was built in the 1860s. Was there an earlier house? Is the ghost someone else? Perhaps we’ll never know. “What if she appears in the film?” asked André. “We’ll just write her into the script,” said Bonnie.
NEW SITE FOR KAROO TALES
Ghosts, history and Karoo stories have led Prince Albert writer, researcher and storyteller, Ailsa Tudhope to cyberspace. Already well known in the village for her Karoo stories, popular ghost walk and historical ramble through the village, she has also started a new website and monthly e.mail newsletter.
EARLIEST KHOI-KHOI STUDY, ALL GREEK
South Africa’s first acknowledged Khoi-khoi linguist was a student of classical languages. Georg Frederich Wrede, a student of Latin and Greek, made history in 1663 when he completed a compendium vocabulary of Dutch and Khoi-khoi. He wrote all the Khoi-khoi words in Greek script says Bill Malkin in his Book of South African Trivia: It’s a Fact. Wrede was drowned in rough seas off the coast of Mauritius in 1672.
FINE ACHIEVEMENT BY SMALL ISOLATED GROUP
Round-up reader Tiny Middleton recently found a tiny, yellow newspaper clipping in an old book belonging to her mother-in-law, Eve Middleton. Written in 1945 by The Wanderer, who says he seldom has space for remarkable achievements, it pays tribute to eight women members of the Nelspoort Farmers’ Tennis Club. “They ran a small ‘bring-and-buy’ each monthly meeting from December, 1939 until last month. Average meeting attendance was naturally small – 15 to 18 – but the stall was always there. They raised £1 000 and sent £447 to the Red Cross, £107 to the Merchant Navy and the rest to 17 other funds. A fine achievement by so isolated a group.”
“If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you”
(Said by T S Eliot, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. A superb playwright, critic and editor, American-born Eliot, who died in London on January 4, 1965, is considered the greatest poet of all time)