Struik has just launched a magnificent new book on the Great Karoo. Written by tour guide Leon Nell, a Zambian by birth, and entitled The Great Karoo, it covers the geology, palaeontology, fauna, flora and cultural heritage of this vast arid zone, which the author has divided into 11 sub-regions or mini-karoos. The 256-page book, lavishly illustrated in full colour, but with black-and-white photographs to enhance the history sections, contains everything that anyone would ever want to know about the Karoo and much, much more. It discusses land evolution, the region’s transition from swamp to dryland, its geological and fossil heritage, the Khoi, the San and their rock art, fights, skirmishes, battles, the development of farming and the establishment of the towns and villages. Dams, rivers and water courses, rainfall, temperatures, the mountain ranges and the building of the major passes to open the hinterland, as well as small ones to link the low land to high ground are discussed. So is the architecture in towns, villages and farms. There are sections on wild life, the national parks, nature reserves and plants that have adapted to the harsh conditions of this dry land. Leon discusses their value in grazing, medicine and commerce. World famous tourist attractions, such as SALT (South African Large Telescope) at the Astronomical Observatory at Sutherland, the privately-owned village of Matjiesfontein and the Valley of Desolation, are also covered. There is a chart of the Origin of Humankind, a section on the region’s prehistory and many, many stories about the people who have made the Karoo a special place. Leon’s excellent photography – right from the first photograph of a rather exotic looking windmill to the last one of a snoozing Boergoat – totally captures the magic that is the Karoo. The book, which has a good map that enables readers to easily follow the text, is now available from booksellers and costing about R230 it’s an excellent buy.


SANParks chief executive officer, David Mabunda, recently nominated a Hanover farmer for the prestigious KUDU Conservation Award. PC Ferreira, who established the Karoo Gariep Conservancy, on his farm, New Holme, 8km north of Hanover, is extremely proud to have been nominated for this award, which is presented only to private individuals who make meaningful contributions to conservation. PC’s efforts date back to 2005 when he started planning to reintroduce hippos to the Zeekoei River which flows through his farm. His research revealed that these animals were once prolific in the area, hence the river’s name. He also established that the last hippopotamus had been shot dead in this vicinity in 1775. In 2007 he acquired three hippos – a bull, cow and calf. They settled well and soon became a tourist attraction, so PC enlarged the conservancy and registered it. He remains the driving force behind it and since its inauguration has opened two four-star guest houses – New Holme and Mieliefontein. These quickly became sought after get-aways, so he set up game drives, day trips and longer tours to interesting outlying areas, some as far away as the Gariep Dam. Now, in answer to a growing demand PC and his wife, Mariska, plan to enter the “special events” tourism arena and cater for weddings, honeymoons, and conferences. He also has plans to introduce buffaloes and rhinos. “I am honoured to have been nominated for this award,” he said. “It underlines the fact that my conservation efforts are being noticed. I look forward to a closer working relationship with SANParks and to introducing even more people to the Karoo, a very special part of South Africa.”


Dr John Almond of Natura Viva is taking a Botanical Society tour to the Hex River Valley, Montagu and McGregor in August. The scenic tour, which has a strong botanical emphasis, includes a wide range of information on natural history such as geology, fossils and landscape evolution. Departing from Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens on August 24, the first day focuses on the Hex River Valley and includes a tractor-train ride through the succulent Karoo and Renosterveld. Then, from the MontEco Nature Reserve, near Montagu, it explores the mountains, little villages and interesting back roads of the Breede River Valley before returning to Cape Town on August 28. The programme includes moderately demanding veld walks and costs R4 990 per person, sharing, including transport and meals.


Discover the Klein Karoo in October, Leipoldt’s “mooiste, mooiste maand,” (most beautiful month.) Dr John Almond is arranging two tours to explore Calitzdorp’s intriguing Red Hills area from October 6 to 9 and 16 to 19. The first is a dinner only tour while the second is fully catered. “Red Stone Hills Guest house is used as a base for the three-day programme which covers a broad range of local natural history, geology, fossils, landscapes and vegetation,” says John. “Tuition is through slide lectures, al fresco field talks, scenic drives and walks. Participants will have sufficient time to relax and unwind in the company of like-minded nature lovers, but they must all be sufficiently fit to walk comfortably in rocky veld. The “dinner-only” tour costs R2 000 while the fully-catered version is R2 400 per person.


The weathered dull reddish-grey hills between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp fascinate most visitors to the Klein Karoo. “This picturesque range, known as the Buffelskloof Formation, takes its name from a local farm,” says Dr John Almond. The hills were formed from coarse continental sediments deposited in an extensive, land-locked valley or basin during the early Cretaceous Period, about 120 to 130 million years ago. These sediments included a variety of conglomerates (with rounded pebbles and cobbles) as well as breccias (composed of angular rock fragments) and were previously classified as “Enon Conglomerates” by early geologists. The Buffelskloof conglomerates were laid down as water-worn gravels by rivers and streams while the breccias were largely derived from more local scree deposits. Most of the rock fragments are of (originally pale) Table Mountain Group sandstones and quartzites which built the mountain chains surrounding the Klein Karoo. The reddish hues of the Buffelskloof deposits are due to the abundance of rust-coloured haematite (an oxidised iron mineral) in the sandy matrix between the larger rock fragments. “Oxidation of iron in the sediment probably occurred in the Cretaceous Period when climates were generally much warmer and more humid than they are today,” said John. “In a sense these attractive ‘red beds’ are among the first truly African sediments since they were laid down as African continent was ‘born’ i.e. when it underwent its final separation from the ancient southern Gondwana Supercontinent.” In more recent times weathering caused the outer crust of these beautiful rocks to break and crumble forming small caves and sheltered overhangs. Some, such as those at Bakkrans near the Red Stone Hills Cottages, contain archaeological evidence of Stone Age occupation by humans over many millennia. Others have provided inaccessible nesting sites for endangered raptors. “So, ultimately these eagles and before them some humans owed their safety to geological events that happened over 120 million years ago.”


Take a closer look at indigenous plants at the Leeu Gamka Indigenous Nursery on September 10 this year. To celebrate the start of spring the nursery has arranged an Open Day and Bonsai Demonstration on that day. It will have some special promotions and bargains for indigenous plant enthusiasts.


Anne Lehmkuhl, a professional historian and genealogical researcher with over 20 years’ experience, has now set up an interesting blogspot. Many will remember Generations – the Genealogical Newsletter which Anne launched in April, 1997. She produced 30 issues, all of which were well received, but sadly cost of postage prevented her continuing. However, when she came back to South Africa from Canada she started a new genealogical Newsletter, Bygones and Byways. It too was packed with interesting information and also well received, but it also had problems. It was too big to download and when the second issue ran to over 30 pages Anne was forced her to look at other options. Finally she settled on a blogspot “because this will reaches an international audience, get more exposure, and can be easily updated.”


Personal webpages have become the in thing. Suddenly everyone is interested in having one, but few know how to go about setting one up in a cost effective manner. So, Struik is publishing a new book designed to meet the needs of all would-be personal web page designers next month. Entitled The Really, Really, Really, Easy Step-By-Step Guide To Building Your Own Website it is an excellent tool for people who don’t have time nor the inclination to learn HTML, and whose budgets are just to limited to hire professionals. These people will find this step by step practical guide immensely useful because it teaches beginners how to create their own website from scratch – and best of all, no previous experience is needed. Written by Gavin Hoole and Cheryl Smith this book covers every aspect of design, planning, registering a domain and updating the content whenever this is necessary. It also advises on how to attract visitors to the web pages. This book will be on booksellers’ shelves in August and cost around R110 a copy.


Established in 1863 Oudtshoorn was a poor village known as Veldschoendorp. About 20 years later the magic of ostrich feathers allowed it to blossom. Among those who came to town between 1888 and 1914 were a flood of Jewish families and this led to the town becoming known as “Little Jerusalem.” The Jews called it “Yerushalaim B’Doren Afrika.” The first Jew arrived in 1886. He was a Mr Rouff, but little is known about him. Hot on his heels was M Lipman, who opened the town’s first hotel. He was accompanied by his beautiful 22-year-old American wife, however, shortly after their arrival she took ill and died. She was buried in the local cemetery by the Anglican minister, Rev Morris, who spent some time working out a “suitable service because she was a Jewish lady.” Oudtshoorn, however, was not her final resting place. Mrs Lipman was exhumed four weeks later and taken to Cape Town by Rabbi J Rabinowitz who re-buried her there in the Jewish cemetery. More Jews trickled into town, among them feather buyer Louis Field, who established Field and King. Julius Ascher, later secretary of the Oudsthoorn Turf Club, followed him. By 1883 there were so many Jews in town that a synagogue was built in Queen Street (today Baron van Rheede Avenue). The Rabbi was Myers Woolfson who had arrived in South Africa in 1888 bound for Barberton, but Cape Town’s Rabbi Ornstein persuaded him to go to Oudtshoorn. He served this lively, mainly German Jewish community for over 50 years. Russian Jews also streamed into Oudtshoorn and many of them were extremely orthodox so, under the guidance of Samuel Lazarus and Herman Lewin, they built a synagogue in John Street, in 1896. British-born Rabbi Emmanuel Lipkin served the community until he died at the age of 39. A dear, gentle man, accomplished musician and composer, he did much to promote the arts and music in Oudtshoorn where, at one stage, there were over 300 Jewish families and almost everyone spoke Yiddish.


In those early days in Oudtshoorn there was one quaint custom that startled visitors. It was “The River Ritual,” writes Arthur Markowitz in the S A Jewish Times of August 29, 1947. Local residents never raised an eyebrow, but visitors were astounded to see a long row of stark naked Jewish men strung out along the Grobelaars River bank all washing, scrubbing and rinsing out their clothes. They spread these out on the bushes and then in their birthday suites sat down on the ground and waited for their clothes to dry. “These men were so poor that they only possessed one set of clothes,” wrote Arthur. “Times were just too hard for them to afford a second set and anyway most were saving up to bring their wives out from Lithuania. The upside was that every Friday night the little Shul was full of neatly dressed men all wearing fresh clothing, albeit smelling of Karoo bushes.”


Many say that the Oudtshoorn Jewish community gave South Africa proportionately more prominent men and woman than any other place in the country. Among these were people who made major contributions to the arts. Little Mabel Levin, for instance ended up as the famous opera singer Madame Mabella Ott-Penetto., a young boy who served behind the counter in his father’s store grew up to become the world famous sculptor Moses Kottler. His father, Joseph, was known as Japie Kottler to the locals and about 100 meters down the road from his store was a farm belonging to Stephen le Roux, father of famous author Ettienne Leroux. Interestingly enough the world famous actress Moira Lister’s grandfather was Morris Lipschitz, a famous Oudtshoorn feather merchant, who had 30 farms stretching all the way down to Montagu. Then there was Sarah Goldblatt, an amazing woman who strove so valiantly for the recognition of Afrikaans as a language that few realised she was Jewish. She was also the executrix of Langenhoven’s estate. And, almost no one knew that Miss Wenecke, who became a well-known missionary in the Dutch Reformed Church, was Jewish and hailed from Oudtshoorn.


When Isaac Kahn fled to South Africa in the 1860s he could neither read nor write. He wandered up to the Klein Karoo in search of a better life, staying alive by doing odd jobs and selling bits and pieces. He became a “smous” (pedlar) and, in time, gained a little spot at McClune’s Toll at the peak of the Swartberg Pass where he sold sugar, coffee and essentials to passing travellers and “togryers” (wagonneers). He felt he may do better if he had a “bit of learning,” so at this lonely, forsaken spot he taught himself to read, write and do arithmetic. It was tough going, but the nights were long and lonely and he had time on his hands. Next he wrote off to England for a London College Correspondence Course. He applied himself to this and passed all the exams rather well. This landed him a job as a general factotum at the local hotel in Oudtshoorn where he did any job on offer – from barman to bookkeeper. But even then, Isaac didn’t stop studying. In time he qualified as a chartered accountant and ran a respected practise in Oudtshoorn, where he was also the Justice of the Peace. This well-loved, highly respected man never left the Klein Karoo, he felt he owed the region a great deal and constantly “paid it back” by throwing himself into a number of meaningful projects. He is buried in Oudtshoorn.


The Centre for Development Support (CDS) at the University of the Free State plans to establish a Karoo Development Foundation. Their partners in this initiative are the Western Cape Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Pretoria. The CDS has also gained the support of several Karoo District and Local Municipalities. This Centre also manages the Arid Areas Programme, which annually sponsors post-graduate students. For this they receive funding that enables them to undertake research into current and future development prospects of the Karoo, Kalahari and Namaqualand, focussing in particular on the four “Karoo provinces” i.e. in the Western, Eastern and Northern Capes and the southern Free State. The driving force behind this action is Professor Doreen Atkinson. She said: “Our research has shown that there is an urgent need for a coherent and holistic Karoo development organisation. This vast area as a whole has many latent strengths, including agriculture and tourism. There is also much to learn from successful development projects in other arid areas in the world, such as the Australian outback, Arizona, India and Israel. We believe that the establishment of a Karoo Development Foundation, would make fund raising easier and strengthen developmental initiatives such as the registration and promotion of the Karoo as a “brand.” Several leaders in their fields have already been approached to serve on a Trust and an Advisory Board.


The Americans called them share-croppers, but that doesn’t quite describe the South African “by-woners.” The dictionary says “squatter,” but that’s not it at all. By-woners were people who lived on the farms. Some may have been family members or friends who were down on their luck, while others were handymen who could turn their hands to many things. By-woners were an interesting part of South African farming life, so much so that Wendy van Schalkwyk of Aberdeen recently, with the help of the Graaff Reinet Museum, did a lengthy radio interview on the subject. “It turned out to be a bit of a ‘poor white’ topic,” she says, “but by-woners were not that either. Most were well-loved and included in the family circle. I know of one who operated the farm mill, baked rusks, did the mending and often made clothes, mostly “broekies,” from the cotton flour bags. Many a farm child ran about with the name of the flour company printed on the back of their pants. The farmer and his family regularly visited this ‘miller-lady’ for years after she retired and had left their farm. Some by-woners had fascinating tales to tell. In 1938, a woman named Numeri Killian, a by-woner on Dr Rubidge’s farm, Wynlaagte, hit the world headlines by becoming the first woman to get married in the lion’s cage in the Aberdeen Zoo. On our farm, Hopsrivier, a cripple man, one of the by-woners, regularly came to turn the separator, accompanied by family members who peeled the vegetables. These were often brought from their own little vegetable plot and sold to the ‘big house.’” Some by-woners did well for themselves. Wendy says there’s a local story of a young woman, whose family were by-woners on a farm, but who worked diligently, saving every penny she could. “Then one day, say the locals, she rode down the road in a donkey cart with sufficient gold sovereigns under her seat to purchase a nearby farm for cash.”


Last October Richmond launched itself as South Africa’s first official Book Town. This year it’s planning to hold the Karoo’s first Book and Happenings Festival – A Celebration of the Karoo – from October 23 to 25. Organisers Darryl David and Peter Baker say: “Book dealers and publishers who have Africana or the Karoo as their themes, will be invited to the Festival, so will people who have written works on any aspect of Karoo life – as fact or fiction. Books on every aspect of the Karoo will be on show at stalls, shops, in guesthouses and restaurants in town. There will be art exhibitions in the Art Gallery on the Town Square as well as at the KarooZing Gallery. Interesting stalls will line the streets, there will be crafters markets, as well as beer, witblitz and wine tastings. Among these will be products from Karoo Sneeuberg Brewery and Kango Winery. And, the special Karoo water will not be left out. The Festival will include many traditional taste treats, such as olives, biltong, cherries, figs, dried and preserved fruits, and old favourites such as offal will be available at the special “town” stalls where tourist offices will promote their own particular specialities. We will offer a range of village tours covering points of local and historic interest to places such as Deelfontein with Dr Richard Dean and “crawling tours” to examine the Karoo veld and its mini-populace with renowned authority Dr Sue Milton. Many guest speakers, performers and story tellers will be in town. These will include Braam de Vries, Prof John Kannemeyer, Denis Becket, Melina Smit, Jurie Taljaard and Engemi Ferreira.

ALSO DIARISE: Prince Albert’s Annual Oktoberfest – October 17 and 18 – this year.

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. – Henri Bergson