I am on the move again. This time to our family farm, Chez Nous – which means home – 60 km south of Bloemfontein. There my youngest sister and I have built a lovely, two-bedroomed wooden cottage and hopefully will be living in it towards the end of January, with sheep, cattle, and donkeys as our nearest neighbours. Preparing to go has not been easy as we have had to pack up the memories of all who lived in this huge old family home. Everyone who has ever been part of this house seems to have left something behind. What to keep, what to throw away, sell, pass on and dispose of has, at times, posed problems. Finding long forgotten items in the back of cupboards has been like meeting old friends as memories come flooding back. Nevertheless, it will soon be done and a new chapter will begin.


A new, entertaining look at history is now available at reputable bookstores. History Matters is a selection of stories captured over four decades by Bill Nasson, professor of history at Stellenbosch University. The publishers claim that the book resembles “a pudding of spicy plums,” and say it is perfect for anyone interested in South African history. “Nasson is the kind of historian who keeps us honest,” said Archie Henderson who reviewed this book for the Sunday Times and warned, “unless we are careful, our history will be hijacked again.” A prominent member of the South African History Project, Nasson is considered to be one of South Africa’s most popular and highly respected historians. He has been hailed by reviewers as the enemy of nationalism in any shape or form, the slayer of holy cows, a satirist and minor Hollywood star. The latter refers to his role as a Victorian-era speaker in the House of Commons in the movie, The Deal. One reviewer claimed that Nasson’s recollections of this “experience” – as recorded in the book – “are a lot more entertaining than the movie itself”. History Matters is a lively, entertaining compendium of witty pieces covering a vast variety of subjects all of which underline Nasson’s excellent sense of humour and fine irony. Chapters cover political biographies, the Anglo-Boer War, both World Wars, cricket, District Six, education, schooldays, high days and holidays. Copies cost of about R280.


“Graveyard tourism” is a growing pastime in South Africa. Nowadays many travelers of the highways and byways pause to wander through farflung graveyards in search of long-lost relations or interesting snippets of information. Often, they are rewarded. For instance, in Cradock, there is a tombstone remembering Harry Potter. Another interesting gravestone in that cemetery remembers the British physician and polar explorer Reginald Koettlitz and his beloved French-born wife, Maria. They died in the local hospital on the same day. A man with a link to the stars is also buried here. A simple, now crooked and half-sunken gravestone remembers Harry Edwin Wood, astronomer. Harry was an English astronomer and one time, director of the Union Observatory in Johannesburg. But more than that, Harry was also discoverer of several asteroids and minor planets. The international Minor Planet Centre (MPC) credits him with the discovery of 12 numbered asteroids between 1911 and 1932. Among them were ones called Transvaalia, Pretoria, Pongola, Tanga and van den Bos. His wife, Mary Ethel Greengrass, a physics graduate, keenly supported his work. Both she and Harry came from Manchester and qualified at the local University there. Harry died in Mortimer, near Cradock in 1946. The asteroid 1660 Wood, which he discovered with colleague Jacobus Bruwer while working in Johannesburg, is named in his honor.


Newspaper publishing in South Africa dates back to 1800, when the Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser made its appearance on August 16. Its editors were two Scottish slave dealers, Alexander Walker and John Robertson. Initially this publication was popularly known as The Cape Town Gazette and it was published in English. The title was changed briefly in 1803 to De Kaapsche Courant when the Dutch took over the Colony, but when the British returned in 1806 the English title was restored. The public complained about the price of the newspaper and said that the owners overcharged for advertising, yet the newspaper lasted until 1826. Basically, it was a government mouth-piece. The first non-government newspaper was The South African Commercial Advertiser, owned by George Grieg. It appeared in Cape Town on January 7, 1824. Four of its eight pages carried advertisements. Its editors were also both Scotsmen, one was the poet, Thomas Pringle and the other John Fairbairn (or sometimes Fairburn), an educator, financier and politician. Fairbairn had studied medicine and “at the same time acquired more than passing knowledge of classical languages and mathematics”. He did not graduate and, in 1818, turned to education, and taught for more than five years. A member of the Literary and Philosophical Society, he was persuaded by Pringle to emigrate to the Cape in 1822. Pringle sustained an injury to his hip as a result of being accidentally dropped by his nanny when he was three months old. He used crutches throughout his lifetime because the injuries he sustained were not timeously treated. Because his injury prevented him from following the family tradition of farming, his father sent him to Kelso Grammar School and Edinburg University, where he became interested in writing. He did not complete his degree, but immigrated to South Africa, where with Fairbairn, he opened a school before moving into the newspaper industry.


Pringle and Fairbairn had a long history of contentious writing. Two months before moving to The Commercial Advertiser they had been publishing The South African Journal and Het Nederduitssche Zuid-Afrikaanse Tydschrift with the Reverend Abraham Faure. The first edition of The S A Journal, which was reluctantly printed by the Government Press, appeared on March 5, 1824. It was instantly unpopular with the authorities and by mid-May Pringle and Fairbairn were warned to stop criticising officialdom. Pringle refused to do so and The Journal was closed down. Because of their reputations and anti-establishment ideals, The South African Commercial Advertiser was regularly banned by the then Governor, Lord Charles Somerset. Nevertheless, these two were major role-players in obtaining press freedom in South Africa. The first Dutch newspaper, De Zuid-Afrikaan, published on April 9, 1830, was started by advocate Christoffel Joseph Brand in opposition to The Commercial Advertiser. Despite the fact that it managed to raise its readership to 3000 across South Africa, it closed down in 1904. The Cape Argus, established in 1857, became one South Africa’s most influential newspapers and was the first to use telegraph facilities.


Newspapers to serve the small towns and villages mushroomed across the hinterland. Several served the Grahamstown area. The Graham’s Town Journal, founded on December 30, 1831, was followed by the twice-weekly newspaper, Grocott’s Mail, the oldest independent newspaper in South Africa. It was founded by Liverpudlian, Thomas Henry Grocott. This publication started in May 1870 as Grocott’s Free Paper. Two years later it changed its name to Grocott’s Penny Mail and in 1920 Grocott’s Daily Mail. The first African language newspaper, Umshumayeli Wendaba, was published in 1837 by the Wesleyan Missionary Society, and the first Afrikaans newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot, in was published in Paarl in 1876. Initially it was a magazine with 50 subscribers, but it became a newspaper two years later. The Beaufort West Courier, the second oldest independent newspaper in the country, was first published in 1869, to serve the Central Karoo region. Its reports focused on happenings in Beaufort West, Prince Albert, Leeu Gamka, Merweville, Nelspoort and Murraysburg. Many other newspapers sprang up. These included The Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, Cradock News, De Aar Echo, Richmond Echo, Victoria West Messenger and Prince Albert Friend, which faded away, but was revived to serve the community many years later.


Those intending to visit Prince Albert in 2017, should diarise the dates of the 2017 Moonlight Markets. These are scheduled to be held on March 10, June 9, September 8 and November 3, 2017. The very popular evening markets are filled with true Prince Albert hospitality – fun, music and a variety of good food.


Grocott’s Mail, the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa was started in 1870 by Thomas Henry Grocott He began his apprenticeship under Randall Hopley Sherlock, proprietor of the Liverpool Mail in May 1854. Ten years later, he was persuaded to emigrate to South Africa by Richard William Murray, proprietor and editor of Grahamstown’s Great Eastern Star. Thomas joined the staff of the Eastern Star and worked there for several years and then, in 1869, he went into partnership with J G O’Brien, but this lasted for less than a year. He then started his own printing works on Church Square, and it was from here that he printed the first edition of Grocott’s Free Paper – An Advertising Medium for Town and Country, on May 11, 1870, It was a great success despite the fact that five newspapers, including The Grahamstown Journal, were already being published in the town. The first editorial declared that the newspaper would “be published every Wednesday, and distributed freely all over the City, on the morning market”. It also stated that the newspaper would be available in several other frontier towns. It asked readers “to accept the paper, read the advertisements, and to make large purchases.”


Steam power machines, introduced in January 1872, led to a name change and a bi-weekly publication, Grocott’s Penny Mail, from January 2. The first editorial stated the change was “the outgrowth of the Free Paper and a move to allow it to take its stand as a regular newssheet.” It continued: “We comfort ourselves that other papers have had just as humble beginnings and they succeeded.” By January 1875, the Grocott’s Penny Mail was being distributed throughout the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, the Transvaal Republic and to missionaries in Kuruman, Bamangwato and on the Zambezi. The paper adopted the motto “Liberty and Progress” and claimed that “everything would be done to record important happenings.” By July 1882, Grocott’s was published tri-weekly. It also became the first newspaper in the country to publish serialised stories. In August that year, Thomas assisted in the founding of the National Press Union and served as president from 1902 until his death in 1912. During the Anglo Boer War, besides the daily edition, Grocott’s Mail produced a Weekly War Summary incorporating telegraphed reports from its 18 war correspondents in the field. These editions were in high demand in London. December 1899 saw the establishment of the Christmas Cheer Fund to support widows and orphans of the First City Volunteers.


Thomas married Eliza Jane Miller, daughter of the Reverend William Miller, co-founder of the Baptist Church in South Africa. They had three children, Ida, Emma and William Ellington, who in time married a Welsh woman, Katherine Hughes, whom he met while on an extended overseas tour which took him to the United States, Canada, Europe, through the Mediterranean, and down the East Coast. Neither Ida nor Emma married. They lived in the comfortable Grocott family house for their entire lives.


Many other newspapers were printed in Grahamstown. The Cape Frontier Times and The Echo made their appearance in 1840, hot on their heels was Het Kaapsche Grensblad, which appeared in 1844, but was suspended in 1852. Only three issues of The Intellectual Reflector, were published in 1850 and during the same year The Colonist appeared. It lasted until 1859. The year 1851 saw the appearance of The British Settler, but it only lasted only one year. Then came The Anglo-African – from 1853 to 1870 – and Het Grahamstads Register en Baeren Vriend (founded in September 1853). It is not known how long this paper lasted, says Heather MacAlister, who researched the early newspapers. The Standard Encyclopeadia of South Africa states that The Eastern Province Mercantile Gazette (1860-63) followed, also The Great Eastern (1863-68) and the Grahamstown Advertiser (1869-70) which was amalgamated with The Eastern Star, which moved to Johannesburg and became The Star. The Advertiser, was published twice weekly from 1886 to 1889, The Local Opinion, from 1911to 1917 and The Grahamstown Observer, from 1933 to 1935.


These early newspapers keenly followed the news, from hatch, match and dispatch to unusual sightings. The Cape and Natal News of August 30, 1861, reported a monster mushroom had been found growing at Sir Lowry’s Pass. “It is three feet seven inches in circumference and three inches thick in the centre,” stated the report. “The stalk is two and a half inches thick, and the weight two pounds thirteen ounces.”


A gift of red veldskoene set the feet of the Prince Albert Vastrappers, rieldans troupe, a-tapping. The shoes came from the Tour of Ara cyclists, who visited the village and were most impressed to see this group in action. Then, the local community raised sufficient funds to send the group – 20 children, ranging in age from 8 to 15 – to the finals of the ATKV Rieldans competition. They came home inspired and determined to take part in the 2017 competition. According to some they have already set their sights on winning.


The rieldans is the oldest form of dancing in South Africa. Some say it is quite likely the oldest dance form in the world. It derives from the ritual dancing practiced by the First South Africans, the Khoikhoi and the San. Once widely practised, it went into decline, but, in recent years has been revived again. The dance was not originally known as a “riel”, this term was borrowed from a Scottish folk dance, called “the reel”. The term was adapted because the original Khokhoi, San and Nama people spoke Afrikaans. Among the Nama people the dance was also known as !khapara, states columnist Max du Preez. The “riel”, explains Max, is a high-energy circular dance with very fast and precise footwork, imitating animals like baboons, ostriches, snakes and the meerkat. This kind of dancing, often around a fire, was the ancient Khoikhoi and the Bushmen’s way of celebrating a good hunt or a joyous occasion.


Vasco da Gama, is said to be among the first Europeans to witness a ‘riel’. He saw some dancers in action near present-day Mossel Bay in 1497. Then, in 1661, on a expedition to the interior, Danish doctor, Pieter van Meerhoff, witnessed such a dance and, in his diary, wrote: “Between 100 and 200 fine persons arranged themselves in a circle, each holding a hollowed reed in the hand, some long, some short, some thick, some thin. In the middle stood one with a long staff, and he sang while the others blew into their reeds and danced in a circle, making many beautiful movements with their feet.”


Hot air balloons will be floating over Prince Albert from February 1 to 14. These special Valentine flights, organized by Karoo Hot Air Ballooning, can accommodate three or four couples per day. On a sunrise flight, the ballooners will be able to watch the balloon being inflated and then drift across the town and the Great Karoo. Champagne will be served on landing and there will be breakfast at a Prince Albert restaurant.


The 2017 Swartberg100 Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo gravel bike races will take place in Prince Albert on April 29 this year. Entries are now open, so this friendly little Karoo village is calling upon all bike racing enthusiasts to bring your families along for a weekend of fun. “Ride the race of your choice,” say the organizers. “There will be lots of entertainment on offer in Prince Albert over that weekend.”


The Karoo is a curious land of droughts and flash floods. After a dry period in 1861 there was a sudden story in June, the Cradock area and the heavy rain lasted for almost two full days. This caused the dam to overflow and the post cart to be washed away. The local newspaper reported that at the mail cart was washed down into a small ravine between Cradock and Somerset. There were two passengers in the cart at the time and when they felt the vehicle becoming buoyant and the horses beginning to drift down stream, they leaped from the back of the cart and into the water. Fortunately, the two managed to catch hold of some projecting bushes and got out safely. They proceeded to the farm of Mr van den Fyfer on foot and there “every attention was paid to their comfort.” States the Cape and Natal News of June 3, 1861. The cart was found on the following morning badly battered and turned upside down. Amazingly the horses were still alive. The mail bag was also found a few meters away.

And, as we move into 2017 remember – Years are only garments, and you either wear them with style all your life, or else you go dowdy to the grave. – Dorothy Parker