Ever wanted to find out more about Namibia? Well, here’s your chance. The Friends of the South African Museum in Cape Town are planning an eight-day natural history tour to south western Namibia from April 23 to 30. This tour, led by Dr John Almond of Natura Viva, will focus on diverse aspects of Namibian landscapes, geology, fossils and plant life. Plenty of time will be allowed for exploring the veld rather than simply sightseeing from along the roadside. “The trip starts and ends at the Namibian border and concentrates on the area between the Orange River, Keetmanshoop and Luderitz at the coast,” said John. “Highlights include bizarre Precambrian fossils, the Fish River Canyon, Kolmanskop ghost town, granite koppie walks, lots of lovely desert scenery and succulents. Participants must have high clearance vehicles e.g. a bakkie or combi, but not necessarily a 4×4. If at all possible, please share transport.” The cost is R6000 per person and this covers comfortable shared accommodation, as well as most breakfasts and evening meals. There will be modest extra costs for lunches, refreshments, border fees and entrance to reserves.


Work starts this month on South Africa’s second Bird Atlas. Way back in 1997 Bird Atlas No 1 was produced with the help of birders across the country. “Citizen scientists” participated by collecting material for this, the first project of its kind. “It was an exciting project and best of all it encouraged a new and wider interest in birding,” says Japie Claasen, editor of Witzie, the Witzenberg Bird Club Newsletter. “The atlas is designed to provide ‘snapshots’ of changing environments, so the time has come to again rally the ‘citizen scientists’ and appeal for their help in collecting material for an updated benchmark version, code-named SABAP2. Three organisations, the Avian Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town, BirdLife South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute, are collaborating on this huge project. It will provide the first opportunity to see how bird distributions have changed over the past decade. Mazda Wildlife Fund has donated a vehicle for field work and a website is being set up. Those who do not have access to the Internet will be able to discover more via popular publications. Notices are also being sent to everyone on the BirdLife membership database,” said Japie.


It was a man with ties to Beaufort West who managed to persuade Paul Kruger, the President of the old Transvaal, to open Johannesburg’s Park Synagogue. However, getting the president to perform this task was no simple affair. Beaufort West pioneer, Hyman Morris, the man responsible for starting the New Hebrew Congregation in Johannesburg, initially asked President Kruger to lay the foundation stone when work on the building began. Kruger agreed, with the proviso that he would be “allowed to say anything he pleased.” Disturbed by this and fearing that the President may make some political statements that could be hurtful to members of the community, Hyman gently explained that this would not be possible. So Kruger declined the honour. Months later, in September 1892, when the synagogue was built and ready to be opened, it again fell to Hyman to approach the President to do the honours. He did and this time Kruger agreed with no strings attached. Everything went well. There were no hitches at all, and it was with a feeling of relief that Hyman escorted Kruger and his party into a Presidential banquet in Bension Aarons’s cigar factory. About 120 gentlemen had been invited, and 100 of them were Jews. A hush fell as Hyman rose and called upon the President to say grace. Kruger stood and in Afrikaans, said: “Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ for what we are about to receive.” There was a deathly hush. Then Rabbi Wolfers rose and, also in Afrikaans, said: “Grace, now having been said for the Christian gentlemen, I will do the honours for the Jewish ones.” He cut a piece of the bread before him and proceeded to recite the words of the “Moutsi,” writes Ellison Kahn in Law, Life and Laughter.


He was buried over 350 years ago. Then, during a severe rainstorm in 1997 a Karoo riverbank collapsed, and his last resting place was revealed. Now, almost a decade later, researchers know a great deal about this little San hunter gatherer because his is the first burial site of its kind to be fully documented in the Central Karoo. “This 154cm tall Late Stone Age Man provided researchers with a wealth of information,” says Professor Alan Morris. “He was 50 years old when he died and, while that is a relatively old age, it is not exceptional. Those who survived childhood and young adulthood had a good chance of making it into the older stages of life. He had a broken leg, suffered from a dental disease and arthritis that probably caused him considerable pain.” The saga began after good and much needed rains fell in the Murraysburg district in April 1997. Next day, while patrolling his farm, Leeufontein, and checking for damage Flippie Conradie saw a human skeleton in an ancient grave about 1,5m from the top of the riverbank. “It was almost as if a huge knife had cut a slice from the bank and created a ‘window’ allowing me to look directly into the grave,” said Flippie. He reported his discovery to archaeologist David Morris of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, who travelled to the Karoo to inspect the site. David then notified the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town where Professor Alan Morris arranged for Debbie Constant, Vaughan Glover, Xolelwa Katiya, Nobuhle Mgidi, Kabelo Mophatlane, Chris Motumi, Tanya Peckmann, and Lenny Pillay to exhume the skeleton which became a 1998 student science class project.


“Excavation was of the “Leeufontein Man” was technically difficult because the riverbank was about two metres deep and the grave itself half-way down the eroded bank,” say the researchers. “A large cairn of at least 18 stones once marked the grave, but it was not possible to identify its original location because the collapse of the bank had caused the stones to fall into the river bed. No ‘grave goods,’ apart from a single sheep cervical vertebra, were found in the grave and we were unable to prove whether this was intentionally buried with the man or whether it simply fallen in.” The man was buried on his left side in a tightly flexed position. A large stone, placed on his head to prevent jackals from digging him up, had also fallen into the riverbed. The skeleton was painstakingly removed and taken to the University of Cape Town. “A fragment of right radius was sent to Stephen Woodbourne at the CSIR’s Quaternary Dating Research Unit (QUADRU) in Pretoria and results gave a radiocarbon age of 300 ± 60 years BP (Pta-9370), i.e. a range of possible dates between AD 1525 and 1667, with AD1649 being the most probable date of the man’s death. Researchers found the “Leeufontein Man’s” teeth were very heavily worn and that he suffered from a periodontal disease. “His teeth were healthy, but he possibly suffered from toothache because some roots were exposed, and several were abscessed. The “Leeufontein Man” also suffered from osteo arthritis in his back and he had an extra vertebra which caused him to suffer from Spondylolysis, or chronic backache. “We discovered many ‘personal’ details about him, but we could not draw links between his life and that of the broader community,” said Alan. His craniological features were interesting. They proved him to be of KhoiSan extraction. “To date fewer graves have been found in the Karoo than at the coast. This is because of development, dune erosion, the fact that coastal dwellers were more closely clustered and frequently buried in food middens. To date only 11 specimens have been found in the Karoo. These include a skeleton on its left side, found at Vigilant’s Dam, Victoria West and another at Rooival, near Richmond, buried in an old aardvark hole with ostrich egg shell beads and a fresh water mussel shell pendant. Yet another was found at Travalia, near Three Sisters, and one was also found at Kruidfontein near Prince Albert.


The “Leeufontein Man” enabled researchers to glimpse the people and the time immediately before European settlement when the Karoo. Way back then it was a marginal area for early pastoralists and most of the land occupied by hunters rather than herders. European intrusion in the 18th century was fiercely contested by San groups in what became an almost genocidal war. Many researchers including archaeologist, Garth Sampson, and historian, Nigel Penn, have reviewed the ‘taming’ of the frontier, and conflict between the San foragers and colonial farmers which resulted in a series of Commandos being called out. The 1775 Commando killed 503 San and captured 241 mostly women and children. The ‘pacification process’ lasted from 1820 to 1830 and during this decade between 3 000 and 4 000 San were killed, yet 9 000 to 12 000 survived and were acculturated as farm labourers. “It is tempting to try to link the modern ‘Karretjie People’ of the Karoo with the ‘Leeufontein Man,’ but this is not a feasible,” says Alan. “The present-day itinerant sheep-shearers who travel from farm to farm in their distinctive donkey carts are a phenomenon of the early 20th century rather than a preservation of any earlier pattern.


The 1815 Slagter’s Nek Rebellion and the families who were banished to Beaufort West is only one area of John Perfect’s vast research programme. While he is actually trying to find out more about 14 families, he’d love to learn more of the Bezuidenhouts of Beaufort West and hopes a Karoo reader will contact him with their background story. The families that are part of his research programme include: Perfect, Sanders, Cawood, Hulley, Pieterse, Dell, Rex, McMaster, Estment, Miller, De Koning, Anderssen, Emmett, Wessels Bezuidenhout and Le Roux. John recently created an electronic version of the book on the Le Roux family. It extends to 5000 pages. “Working on the Bezuidenhout family history is a fascinating project,” says John. “This family has never been researched as a unit, nor has its details been published as one family tree. Yet, it has a fascinating history closely woven into many of South African’s main historic events, starting with the Slagter’s Nek Rebellion, the Great Trek and firing of the first shot at Potchefstroom in the First Boer War. It is also closely woven into the colourful history of Johannesburg.”


Prince Albert’s ever popular annual festival has a new name. From this year it will be The Prince Albert Town Festival and it will be held from April 28 to 30. Emphasis will be on the town as a whole. The aim is to focus on the town, its people, its produce and its natural beauty. A great deal of work is going into ensuring the success of this new philosophy. For further details visit www.patourism.co.za


Charlotte Bothma at the Leeu Gamka Nursery and Farm Stall has discovered an interesting medicinal plant. “It is the wild camphor bush Tarchonanthus camphoratus and early inhabitants of the South African hinterland used infusions of the leaves and twigs for stomach trouble, abdominal pain, headache, toothache, asthma, bronchitis and inflammation. According to Medicinal Plants of South Africa they also inhaled smoke or fumes from the fresh or dried plant to alleviate asthma, headaches and rheumatism. The Khoi and San people are said to have smoked dried leaves like tobacco. This apparently had a slightly narcotic effect.” This shrub rarely grows more than six metres tall and it is greyish in appearance. Leaves are oblong with a dark green upper surface and pale grey lower surface. The plant has small whitish flower heads and woolly fruits.


The Honorary Rangers of the Karoo National Park plan to host a birding weekend from May 11 to 13. In addition to a great deal of fun birding, there will be a competition. Prizes will be presented at the dinner on Saturday evening. Interested birders can make up their own teams of three or four people, or simply let us know and we will place them in a team,” says organiser Maria Andela. For full details, and costs e.mail mtandela@telkomsa.net. or call 023 414 3615.


In 1973 Kobie van der Berg, owner of Towerfontein, near Murraysburg, decided to donate an old waterwheel found on his farm to Graaff Reinet Museum. This welcome gift sparked plans for a fully operational mill house, but six years passed before the project came to fruition. Firstly, a research project was launched to ensure that the type of mill and period were correct. Then, plans were drawn up for the construction of a mill house, but all was not smooth sailing. Building began in November 1977. During this time, it was discovered that the old wheel was too corroded to be functional, so it was decided to copy it. Geoff Palmer of Grahamstown offered to undertake this huge task. He chose Chamfuta wood from Maputo for its durability and the cost of timber alone was over R1 000, however, Geoff would accept no remuneration for his excellent work. The wheel was installed on May 10, 1978. Then, all interior components were assembled and installed by a Mr Brunette. Water turned the wheel for the first time in December 1978.


Ina Gustava de Jager, South Africa’s first woman newspaper editor, was born in Beaufort West in 1890. Educated at the Good Hope Seminary, she also completed a degree at the South African College in Cape Town, at a time when it was unusual for woman to pursue higher education. In 1902 she bought the Beaufort West Courier and, writing in Afrikaans, tried to use her excellent skills to foster better race relations in all sectors of the community. Her articles were popular, and she was also well liked. By successfully running The Courier for many years she also gave it a claim to fame. It became the first newspaper in South Africa to have a female editor!


An interest in a cave in Slovenia helped Sir John Charles Molteno see railways and mountains in a new light. In 1871, while on a European tour with his two eldest daughters, Caroline and Elizabeth Maria, fondly called Betty by family and friends, he decided to visit the Adelsberg Grotto, a spectacular cave near Postojna. “People from across the globe visited this cave, which had been a major tourist attraction for over three centuries. However, few came from Africa because getting there was difficult,” says Cape Town historic researcher, Steve Craven. “Then in 1841, the Viennese Government decided to build the Südbahn or Southern railway. It reached Postojna in 1856 and, of course, made getting to the village and cave much easier.” In a letter to her brothers, Charlie, Percy and Frank, written from Vienna on November 6, Betty mentions their intention to visit the cave. However, it obviously did not impress her because in future correspondence and in her diary, she never refers to it again. Caroline also never mentioned this visit, but Molteno enjoyed it. In a letter to his wife from Venice on November 18, he says: “The Adelsberg Grotto, where we spent nearly three hours, is truly wonderful.” He also described the river which vanished into the caves only to emerge quite a distance away. “The railway system also fascinated him,” says Steve. “Much of the terrain reminded him of the Cape and problems of getting the railway line across the mountains. He travelled by train across the mountains from Vienna through Gratz, Marburg and Laibach to Postojna (Adelsberg) and Trieste. He loved the tunnels, the viaducts and stone-walled cuttings. On December 8, 1871, he wrote to Sir Henry Barkly, from Suez discussing the Egyptian railways, which were constructed over easy, flat country. He also waxed eloquently about the Südbahn Line.” Solving South Africa’s railway problem became more urgent with the discovery of diamonds near Kimberley in 1868 and by May 1872, the House of Assembly appointed a Select Committee to report on the situation. Molteno attended every meeting.


A young woman, whose family had been connected to the Bank of England for generations, gave birth to a son on June 5, 1814. Her name was Caroline (Bower) Molteno and her son was named John Charles after Napoleon’s General Bernadotte, a man who at the time was causing a considerable stir in Europe and who four years later would become King of Sweden. His namesake was also destined to find his way into the history books, but he made his mark in South Africa. After doing very well at the Old Rectory School in Epsom, a charming Surrey Village, young John Charles discovered a love for the sea and ships. By the time he was 17 he had left home and come to South Africa, a place his mother considered a “quite barbarous,” in search of adventure. A job at the Cape Town library was too hum-drum for him, so he started his own business, but the economy of the day prevented it from flourishing. Then in August 1840 he accompanied a friend to Beaufort West where land was being offered for sale. “At the time there were no roads, the mountains had not yet been pierced and all rivers were unbridged,” writes his son, Percy. “It was a twenty-day trip by ox wagon, but that gave him time to develop a love for the Karoo and he purchased land near Nelspoort.” In this area he became a wealthy and influential man. In 1854 he was elected Member of the Legislative Assembly for Beaufort West. His service to this community earned him the epithet of Lion of Beaufort West. A champion of responsible government, he was re-elected Member for Beaufort West following the achievement of internal self-government in 1872. He became the country’s first Prime Minister on December 1, that year. Sir John retired in 1883, and died in Cape Town on September 1, 1886, doubtless content in the knowledge that he had done a great deal to assist the development of his adopted country.


She was born Anna Dunphy of Irish parents in Cincinnati, in the USA. Her early years are hidden in secrecy, but she worked as a journalist in London, married a French count and then left him, retaining his title. In search of adventure she came to South Africa and as Countess Anna de Bremont pops up at early Cape society and social events. The thrill of gold drew her to the Witwatersrand where she wrote The Gentleman Digger and The World of Music, both published in 1890. On returning to England in 1892 she wrote Sonnets and Love Poems. Then in 1895 she caused a furore by suing Sir W S Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullilvan, for criticising her writing. “From considerable wealth she gradually lapsed into absolute poverty,” writes Eric Rosenthal in Southern African Dictionary of National Biography. In 1919 she tried to resolve her parlace state by writing a novel entitled The Black Opal but, like its predecessors, it too was not a great hit.

Ours is a world where people don’t know what they want but are willing to go through hell to get it.

Don Marquis, who in his day was hailed as one of the best New York columnists. After completing his education at Knox College, he joined the staff of the Atlanta Journal. He was later appointed as an editor and writer for Joel Chandler Harris and his “Uncle Remus” Magazine.

Marquis died at the age of 59 on December 29, 1937.