Matjiesfontein has been chosen as the site for the first deep space ground station in Africa. This announcement was made towards the end of 2022 by NASA and the Department of Science and Innovation. “Dry air and clear skies make this area ideal for a ground station,” said Raoul Hodges, managing director of space operations at SANSA. “The aim is to establish a sustainable station on the moon, land the first woman and first person of colour there by 2025 and prepare for missions to Mars and beyond.” Construction is scheduled to start early in 2023. The Matjiesfontein Deep Space Ground Station will be one of three Lunar Exploration Ground Sites [LEGS] placed around the globe to ensure space tracking and communication between astronauts on NASA’s Artemis spacecraft and those who will subsequently work on the lunar surface. “These ground stations function in a similar way to cellphone towers,” said Raoul. “Just as a cellphones tower sends and receives signals, so the communication antennas at the deep space ground stations will ensure a near-continuous communications network. The deep space network will enable NASA and others to explore the furthest points of the solar system, communicate with satellites, probes, rockets and even other planets. At the start about 64, will work at this site, however, almost 100 people will ultimately work there.


The scientific world celebrated a milestone in the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO) project when a new phase in the development of the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescopes began on December 5. In time it is expected to unravel some of the most profound mysteries of the universe and of astrophysics. This complex instrument, hosted in South Africa and Australia, is expected to reveal events dating back to the cosmic dawn when the first stars and galaxies were formed. The telescope will be managed from the SKAOs global headquarters in Manchester in the United Kingdom. The SKA-precursor MeerKAT, outside Carnarvon, has 64 dishes which have already delivered phenomenal images of stellar nurseries and the supermassive black hole 25 000 light-years from earth. Now, 133 parabolic dishes, expected to be operational by 2030, will be added to form a mid-frequency instrument. The instrument in Western Australia, a low frequency telescope, will consist of an array of 131 072 antennas, each 2 m tall, and shaped like a Christmas trees.


A gold medal was recently presented to Professor Franco Frescura in recognition of “a lifetime of contributions and work in heritage conservation.” Much of this was done in the Karoo. These annual awards, made by the Heritage Association of SA, honour people who by example encourage communities to nurture and conserve their legacy. Franco’s. Franco’s has done much meaningful in the Karoo. His doctoral research, which covers indigenous architecture and settlement patterns, is widely regarded as a leading work. He has written also widely on the history of architecture, town planning, housing, religion, anthropology, art history, education and social history. He has conducted impact studies in Uitenhage, Uniondale, Oudtshoorn, King William’s Town, Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort, Adelaide, Bedford, the Kat River Valley, Shiloh, Goshen, Hertzog, Healdtown, Mgwali, St Matthews, De Rust and Calitzdorp; and lectured in SA, the USA, Canada, America, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Iran.

FLOODS! – Farmers in the Tanqua Karoo were urgently advised to move their stock to safety and evacuate their farms when the Doring, Bloed and Touws Rivers came down in flood. Damage was considerable, wrote Amelia Genis in on December 12. Farmers reported that the infra structure had been badly damaged by the most rain they had seen in 50 years.


A man born in Australia became an internationally recognised authority on the aloes of South Africa. He was Gilbert Westacott Reynolds, who was born in Bendigo on October 10, 1895. He was 8 in 1903 when he arrived in SA with his parents Henry (Harry) Thomas Reynolds, and his wife, Harriet Sarah (nèe Westacott), who was awarded an MBE for her in the Witwatersrand Soldiers Institute. Gilbert’s father opened one of SA’s first optometry practices in Eloff Street, Johannesburg – 73 years later it became the Adler Museum. Gilbert qualified as optometrist and joined his father in 1921. He developed a keen interest in South African indigenous bulbs and succulents and spent hours studying and cultivating these plants. With this came a passion for aloes which took him on many journeys across the hinterland. He is estimated to have travelled over 170 000 km collecting plants. Twenty years later he had extensive data on 133 species. He wrote many articles and books on aloes among them The Aloes of South Africa. General Jan Smut, also an avid collector and experienced botanist, wrote the foreword for this thoroughly researched book. Gilbert was honoured in July, l951, by the SA Association for the Advancement of Science and made a fellow of the Linnean Society. In 1952 the University of Cape Town bestowed an honorary Doctor of Science on him for his outstanding contribution to botany. Many species bear his name and so does a gate at the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens.


When Myer Silverman married Golda Nathan in Pearston it was such a great occasion that the town fathers declared the day a public holiday The bride looked exquisite. She was dressed in white Bengali net trimmed with real lace, fresh orange blossoms, ostrich feather plumes and a long train. The two bridesmaids and seven flower girls were dressed in lemon silk covered with white chiffon. Thy wore lemon and velvet mortar-board hats trimmed with plumes. All wore magnificent gold brooches given to them by the bridegroom. At the huge reception over 200 presents were on display and over 150 telegrams read out. Documents in the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Archives state that a grand bill was presented to Golda’s father at the end of the evening. Next morning this couple’s honeymoon trip began with a rather alarming experience. When they arrived at Molony’s Drift they found the river running very strongly. However, they were anxious to catch their train at Cookhouse, so they persuaded the driver to cross. When they vehicle reached the middle of the river, the cart was caught in a very strong current and the horses panicked, but nothing could be done. They all drifted away until they stuck on a huge boulder where the cart became stuck. They could not move for fear of dislodging the vehicle and once again being carried away. The water was surging all around them and Golda was screaming hysterically. Providentially this caught the attention of some workers who raced to the river dived in and manage to carry the couple to safety on their shoulders. The horses were unhitched and allowed to swim. Fortunately, they reached safety further downstream.


Williston-born Kobus Geldenhuys, a highly acclaimed, internationally known scriptwriter, translator, book editor, proof-reader, and corporate trainer, wanted nothing more than to join the circus when he was at school in Cradock. His dream was to be an acrobat, but he was a bit too clumsy, so settled his ideals on becoming a clown. Fortunately, his parents talked him out of that and, because his strengths lay in languages, encouraged his to move in that direction. Yet oddly, as a young boy he hated reading and normally tackled the first and last chapter of a book, he told the Afrikaans magazine Vrouekeur He now translates books and manuscripts, children’s and young adult literature from and into French. German, Dutch, Afrikaans and English. Within four years he received three top awards from the S A Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (ATKV). He has translated J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books, C S Lewis, Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, David Williams and Cressida Cowell into Afrikaans. Also, J R Tolken’s Lord of the Rings became Heerser van die Ringe under his pen. He has translated at least two Afrikaans novels into English, several radio dramas, film scripts and also some of the works of Tove Marika Jansson, a Swedish-speaking Finnish author, painter, illustrator and novelist. Yet this extremely talented man, who was born in 1958, almost didn’t make it into this world. After his mother went into labour she suffered three serious complications and a doctor had to be flown in from Cape Town.

INTERESTING SNIPPET: Johannes Gotlieb Brink was magistrate at Jagersfontein from 1881- 1900, and during that time was also headmaster of the local school. He was then transferred to Koffiefontein until 1910 and later worked in Philippolis until his death in 1916. His son also served as magistrate, but it was his grandson, Andre Phillipus, who gained wide visibility as an author and member of a controversial group “Die Sestigers”.


They say every picture tells a story and this is certainly true of an old, framed photograph in Prince Albert’s Fransie Pienaar Museum. It features Jacobus Johannes “Asja” Murphy, the great-grandson of an Irishman who fell in love in these surrounds and married a local lass. Born in 1887 to Philip Murphy and Tilly (née Delport), Asja had an enquiring mind and was keen to learn everything he could. He started working on Vyevlei, a farm that belonged to Piet Basson, MP for Beaufort West and there acquired many skills, Then, Mr van Oodt, a German motor mechanic at Gert de Vries’ bicycle shop, took Asja under his wing when he proved to have a great affinity for motor and cycle repairs. Piet Basson then helped Asja establish his own business. He learned to drive and often acted as a chauffeur for MP Basson, even driving him to Parliamentary sessions in Cape Town. On one occasion Senator C J Langenhoven was his passenger. A highlight his business was the complete restoration of a Rolls Royce, states Prince Albert historian Ailsa Tudhope. He then built a trailer for Dirk Kruger’s bus which transported goods over the Swartberg Pass. He was also a skilled builder and carpenter, so he assisted with the building of the NG Mission Church in 1903.


Asja’s son, Johnnie, also became a mechanic, but he had an exceptional ear. If a motorist had a ‘knock’ or ‘whine’ in his vehicle Johnny asked them to drive it round the block while he stood on the pavement keenly listening to the “engine note”. When they drew up, he’d say: “I know exactly what’s wrong,” and proceed to fix the fault. He was often called out by farmers to deal with mechanical problems, and this meant he would get home after dark. His children kept a look-out for his car lights as he travelled towards town at night. “Sometimes we would see only a single light in the veld towards Beaufort West. We knew that was not Pa, it was the ghost light, the “Oog!” (the Eye). Pa said he often saw this light racing across the veld. However, that was not the only ghost that Asja encountered. He once took a load of grain into Gamkaskloof, The Hell. On his way home, noticed smoke rising from the outspan at Teeberg. He thought it was probably some hungry traveller enjoying a braai and some bush tea. However, when he reached the spot there was no-one, not even coals, signs of a fire or even a sprinkling of ash.


Several tiny hamlets and railway sidings were named after men who played important roles in South African history. One is Rosmead, named in honour of Sir Hercules George Robinson, Lord Rosmead, who was governor of the Colony from 1880 to 1889. Another is Merriman, named for John X Merriman, the last prime minister of before the formation of the Union. Then, there is a tiny Eastern Cape railway siding named in honour of Guybon Damant Atherstone, son of the well-known and highly respected medical practitioner, naturalist, geologist and MP, William Guybon Atherstone. Born on June 20, 1843, Guybon attended St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown and King’s College in London where he qualified as a civil engineer. On returning home he joined the Cape Government Railways as an engineer from 1873 to 1896. During this time, he was responsible for the building of the railway line between Alicedale and Grahamstown (now Makhanda). While working on this project he lived in a house also adjacent to a stone arch railway bridge which he had also built. On completion of the railway project Atherstone’s house was converted into St. Cyprians Anglican Church, which was dedicated on November 29, 1893. This church is part of the Diocese of Grahamstown.


The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, the eldest son and second child of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, visited South Africa from July to September 1860 while serving as a midshipman on board HMS Euryalus. His tour took him through the Cape Colony, Eastern Cape, Natal and the Orange Free State. On route to see an agricultural settlement he visited a beautiful little Warm Bokkeveld mountain village which was being created. Its founder was Johannes Cornelis Goosen, from Klein Drakenstein, who had bought the farm Wagenbooms Rivier from George Sebastiaan Wolfaard. He was busy measuring out plots when the Prince visited. Goosen decided to name it in the Prince’s honour. However, according to local resident, Johan du Plessis there is a legend that says the Prince he felt there were enough places named after him, so had it named to honour his horse called Hamlet. Who knows? But it’s a cute story. In 1861 the first school was established with 42 pupils under Schoolmaster Strobos. The building, which was called “The House of Sticks”, also served as a church. By 1906 it was decided that a new church was needed. To ensure its construction each member had to donate a load of bricks and each family later bought its own pew.


The San were the earliest inhabitants of the land beyond the great river they called “Gariep”. Then, came nomadic Koranna groups, which formed an integral branch of the Baroe Nigritians. They called themselves Kora or Koraqua which was said to mean “sandal wearing men”. They divided into various tribes of which the Kharemaukeis and the Khuremaukeis were the most important, says genealogical researcher, Denzil Kruger. They settled in had many movable hamlets along the banks of the Great River. They were found in the territory which extended for several days’ journey up the Yellow River or Ky River on land fit for pastures. Their area extended at far as Litakoo – where it joined the territory of the Bechuanaland. Later came some small black tribes, among them were the Baramokhele, the Bathlakoena, the Bakwena (who settle along the upper reaches of the Caledon River), the Batlokua (near present-day Harrismith), the Bataung (between the Sand and Vet Rivers) and the Baputhing (south-east of Thaba ‘Nchu). The earliest part of the 19th century was a time of turmoil caused by the mfecane, an Nguni word that means “crushing” or the “great migration”. It affected an enormous area from the Cape to Malawi. By 1819 adventurers, hunters and explorers crossed the Orange River and returned to the Cape with wagon loads of skins, horns and ivory. They also caused much unrest.


In 1820, Moshoeshoe succeeded his father, Mokhachane, as chief of the Bamokoteli, and rose to become a great statesman, said Kobus Dreyer, during a talk on his life. Then came he Mfecane, also known by the Sesotho names Difaqane or Lifaqane, meaning “hammering” or “shattering”. This annihilation war, caused by the need for land, population growth, as well as Shaka’s military and expansionist strategies, was one of the most significant historical occurrences in the early of South Africa. It lasted for 20 years from 1820 to about 1840 and during this time the tribes became widely scattered or almost wiped out. Moshoeshoe then gathered the remnants and formed them into the Basuto nation. Into this chaotic world came farmers in search of grazing as a great drought was gripping the colony. Stock theft became rife, border disputes seemed never-ending.


In 1823 the London Missionary Society set up a mission for the San in the south and, in 1824, Dr Philip founded a mission at Philippolis. Griquas under Adam Kok II settled there. The drought worsened and 1825 saw even more farmers streaming into Transorangia. They came from Beaufort West, Graaff Reinet, Cradock and Colesberg and they moved as far north as the Modder River. The endless search for grazing, water and land caused constant strife. Then between 1830 to 1840 Voortrekkers moved into the area. Farmers bought ground from the San, hired land from Adam Kok, and moved into the Caledon River valley. J J Botes, from the Nuweveld, settled at Zevenfontein, near Beersheba, with 14 or 15 families. By 1834 about 1 120 families were estimated to be living in Transorangia. In 1833 French missionaries came to the then Basutoland. In May, James Archbell and John Edwards reported that, while looking for a site for a new Wesleyan Mission, they “found the Modder area denuded of inhabitants and infested with lions.” By 1836 the Republic of Winburg was established and incorporated on a federal basis under the Volksraad (National Council) of Natal.


It was at this stage that the British decided to step in and send a resident magistrate to maintain law and order. Harry Smith declined the job, but Captain Sutton, of the Cape Mounted Rifles (CMR), accepted the post. In October 1845, he moved to Philippolis, but by the end of the year, resigned because he was not getting the support he expected. Then, former governor, Sir Benjamin D’urban, said he knew just the man for the job. He strongly recommended Captain Henry Douglas Warden, also of the CMR. He said Warden was a good, calm, reliable soldier, albeit without administration skills. He had “experienced much contact with indigenous people and emigrant Boers and both groups were inclined to trust him. Also, he had been married twice, both times to Dutch women and his children were being raised as Afrikaners.” (Warden’s first wife, Antoinette Cornelia Hugo, came from Paarl. She died, shortly after their son was born. He then married Susanna Elizabeth Minnaar, from Graaff Reinet. She bore him ten children.) He did a good job until he was chased out by Andries Pretorius.

Sources: The Orange River Sovereignty by John Franklin Midgeley, Major Warden by P J Nienaber, The Lords of Stalplein by H W J Pichard, The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith edited by G C Moore Smith, The British Presence in Transorangia edited by Karel Schoeman, The Bloemfontein Diary of Lieut W J St John edited by Karel Schoeman

History is a tumble weed and it rolls through our dreams – Etienne van Heerden, A Library To Flee