The Environmental Wildlife Trust (EWT) has appointed Petro Botha, to co-ordinate a challenging project – the rehabilitation of riverine habitat areas along seasonal rivers of the Central and Upper Karoo. Degraded and eroded patches between habitats will be re-vegetated to slow erosion. Petro is passionate about conservation and excited about her new post at the EWT Regional Office in Loxton. She obtained her degree in Zoology in 1998. After completing an Honours Degree in Wildlife Management, she represented Africa in an International Programme at Walt Disney World in Orlando, in the United States. She then moved to the National Zoological Gardens of SA (a facility of the National Research Foundation), and while there received a tertiary education bursary which helped her completed her Masters Degree in Environmental Management, specialising in pollution and rehabilitation. “This new and unique project in the Karoo’s riverine environments is immensely important because it will focus on habitat connectivity, the improvement of the natural environment and the conservation of the biological biodiversity of South Africa’s largest eco-region,” she said. “It will also help increase soil fertility and moisture levels. Landowner co-operation is essential, and we are delighted that so many local farmers are working closely with us. We hope the project will also contribute to training, capacity building and information networking. Its social benefits include eco-tourism and community upliftment.”


The Bateleurs, a South African organisation primarily made up of pilots and people interested in environmental protection, helped the EWT-RRWG identify almost 200 habitats for rehabilitation. This mission was flown by Etienne Oosthuizen, an experienced pilot, capable of flying low and slow. The flight plan was drawn up by Habitat Rehabilitation Project Coordinator Petro Botha and EWT-RRWG Manager Vicky Ahlmann, using 1:250 000 and 1:50 000 maps and including GPS (Global Positioning System) data of 11 major rivers and 17 confluences. In total 1065km were flown in 9 hours over 2 ½ days over an area within an 80 km radius of Loxton. Over 300 aerial photographs were taken of 186 fragmented sites of degraded riverine habitat patches and areas infested with alien invader species. All data will now be analysed so that priority rehabilitation sites can be selected. “These river courses and riparian zones have an important biodiversity function and economic role to play in the Karoo,” said Vicky. “The dense vegetation along the rivers is an important refuge for several species as it functions as a buffer zone for livestock during drought periods. From the air we could see clear evidence of degradation and, as these large, bare, denuded areas will never recover naturally, active intervention is essential to avoid desertification. Last year the importance of protecting dry-lands, which cover more than 40 percent of the earth’s surface, was emphasised. One in six people, mostly the poorest of the poor, depend on these fragile ecosystems for survival. They will be badly affected by desertification, which will intensify such problems as poverty, malnutrition, starvation, epidemics and environmental destruction. We hope to establish nurseries to cultivate plants for this rehabilitation project. We trust that these will develop into community projects,” she said.


Sue Milton and Richard Dean, authors of The Karoo Veld: Ecology and Management, are in line for a top award. They published this book with Karen Esler, of the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University. According to the Succulent Karoo Eco-system Programme (SKEP) E-newsletter of June 2007, they are now finalists in the Science Communications category of the 2007 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) awards. The aim of this category is the encouragement and promotion of science and technology. It focuses on raising public awareness and the creation of job opportunities. “This book, which is available in English or Afrikaans, is popular in rural and urban areas and has proved people are looking at ways to manage their land more effectively,” says the newsletter.


At a recent meeting held at Vanrhynsdorp under the auspices of the Succulent Karoo Eco-system Programme (SKEP), Dr Emma Archer, from the University of the Witwatersrand, discussed climate change and what it would mean in the Knersvlakte and Bokkeveld areas. She has done extensive research in the Succulent Karoo and Southern Bokkeveld into environmental change, drylands, livestock/grazing, GIS/remote sensing, human-environment, food security, and similar topics. She is currently working in the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor. She said: “Climate change is happening right now. It will affect the whole country and temperatures, particularly in the Western and Northern Cape, will rise as rainfall patterns change. The Succulent Karoo will perhaps be worst off as some species will die out, because of their inability to change fast enough.” A follow up meeting will be held in Oudtshoorn in November.


Top speakers will address the Heritage Symposium in Prince Albert on August 10 and 11. This symposium, hosted by Prince Albert Cultural Foundation and co-ordinated by local palaeontologist Dr Judy Maguire, will be opened by Len Raymond, Chairman of Heritage SA. Poem Mooney, patriarch of the Attaqua and head of the local Khoisan community, will discuss “Watermeide”, the myths and meanings of the Karoo’s “mermaid” drawings. His cutting-edge attempts at salvaging and revitalising the culture of this community have been widely acclaimed. Then, Jeremy Hollman, a rock art specialist and an authority on the customs and beliefs of the !Xam Bushmen will talk on The origins of the ‘Mermaid and Myth’ and the meaning of the mermaid paintings. Jeremy has published several articles on these ‘swift people’ and on bird symbolism in hunter-gatherer rock paintings of the southern Cape. Annelize Mouton publisher of Village Life magazine will discuss the Preservation of Heritage from the Household and emphasise the importance recording family and oral history. “Sadly, many museums no longer accept family documents, so new repositories need to be found,” she said Local author, architect and environmental planner, Derek Thomas will talk on Cultural Imprints on the Prince Albert Landscape. After this, delegates will visit two art exhibitions, Oral Heritage: Making Intangible Tangible and ‘The Riddles of Gamkaskloof: A Bygone Tradition – Words and Images of a Displaced Community, under the guidance of artist Christine Thomas and her team. Then, Mary Anne Botha will conduct a walking tour of Rooikamp. At the official dinner Ailsa Tudhope and other local storytellers will entertain guests. On Day Two “The Question of Culture” will be discussed by Professor Crain Soudien, Director of the School of Education of the University of Cape Town, whose interests cover the sociology of education, race, class and gender; policy shifts in education, as well as in museum and heritage education, and Zane Meas, well known across the cultural spectrum through his roles on television. In the afternoon historian Dr Taffy Shearing will lead a tour to Anglo-Boer War sites at Klaarstroom and surrounds.


Circus owner William Pagel loved Beaufort West. The reason? Beaufort West loved the circus. Analysing his life on the road, he once said: “On the Witwatersrand people tend to spend freely in good times, the Cape spends its money generously, but shrewdly, even in poor times, Natal always watches the pennies and the Free State spends only when the mealie price is high. The Garden Route is always worth a go, but railway towns, not only in the Karoo, but all over South Africa tend to be poor circus goers and audiences can be quite ‘thin.’ The exception is Beaufort West. There the circus is always packed out. They love to watch it arriving and setting up. They come to see the animals and they always seem sad to see us go.”


Soon after Reverend John Whaits came to Graaff Reinet as a railway clergyman, he found a new hobby. He became an amateur fossil hunter and he was good at it. “He had a good eye for fossils and wherever he went he collected treasures, writes Eve Palmer in The Plains of Camdeboo. Many of his best finds came from the Beaufort West and Graaff Reinet areas where he spent a great deal of his time spreading the Word of God. He found searching around fossil fields peaceful and believed there was nothing to beat the excitement of finding a good specimen. At the time of the Van Riebeeck Tercentenary, Dr S H Rubidge, stated that hunting for fossils was a sport similar to shooting or fishing. It required much the same temperament of persistency and patience. Yet the thrill experienced by the angler who hauled out a large fish could scarcely equal in intensity the excitement fossil hunter experienced when he hauled out evidence of an extinct reptile., wrote Dr Rubidge. The fisherman was merely repeating what others had done before, catching a fish similar to those others had caught, but the fossil hunter had the immense satisfaction of knowing he had discovered a lasting remnant of a creature hitherto unknown and unseen by mankind, he said.


In the 1800s people from Europe flocked to South Africa mostly because of poor living conditions in places like London. Today people often wonder just how bad these conditions were. In Portrait of a Killer Patricia Cornwell explains: Throughout the day coal fires burned inside virtually every house since England stopped using wood for fuel in the 17th century. The word ‘smog’ had not yet been coined, but fires nevertheless belched black smoke into the air, causing the worst pollution in the city’s history. This damaged everything. Limestone buildings and decorative iron work were steadily eaten away. Skies were grey and sodden. Streets were carpeted in soot. People walked about with burning eyes and lungs constantly holding handkerchiefs over their faces. Respiratory diseases were rife. Most people wore dark clothing because by the late 1800s a thick, polluted, sulphurous mist hung permanently over the city. The stench of raw sewage was overpowering. Water courses, dating back to Roman times were so foul that they had to be filled in. An 1889 public health report declared that London was polluting itself at such a rate that engineers would have to fill in the Thames because it had become so fouled with excretement. Approaching visitors could smell London long before they saw it. The East End, in particular, was a foul place. There people killed by simple infections and diseases such as tuberculosis, pleurisy, emphysema and pneumoconiosis. Starvation killed, so did cholera, whooping cough and cancer. Parents and children, weakened by malnutrition and surrounded by filth and vermin, did not have immune systems capable of fighting off non-lethal illnesses. The common cold and ‘flu were killers. They became death sentences as they quickly turned into bronchitis and pneumonia. Living conditions were crammed and crowded. People were often scalded or burned to death by pots accidentally falling off of stoves.” A new country with plenty of sunshine and fresh air must have sounded like heaven.


The founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, called London “a raging sea of misery” in his 1890 report. “Out of London’s population of about 5,6 million, 30 000 are prostitutes, almost 32 000 are in prison, over 160 000 have been convicted of drunkenness, 2 300 committed suicide and 2 200 were found dead on the streets, in parks or hovels. Slightly less than one-fifth of the population are homeless, in workhouses, asylums, and hospitals or ravaged by poverty and near starvation. The London Hospital is to be avoided. Most people believe that to go there is to get worse. Many say that being touched by one of their doctors is a death sentence.”


In 1851 Meyndert Noome and his family left Holland full of hope for a new life in a new land. Several tragedies, however, were to overtake them. On boarding the South Africa-bound ship on May 6, they discovered that he, his wife, Grietjie, and their six children had to share a 4,4m by 4,9m by 2m high cabin, with Mr Blockhuizen, his wife and seven children, as well as Mr Ferburg, his wife and three children. How six adults and 16 children managed in this confined space remains a mystery. About five days before the ship docked in Cape Town Grietjie died and was buried at sea. Meyndert stepped ashore with five children and an ailing baby, Simon, just over a year old. The long sea voyage and the loss of his mother were too much for this little boy and he died shortly after coming ashore. By November, Meyndert decided to go to Graaff Reinet and so boarded a Port Elizabeth-bound ship. In this town he found lodging for himself and his five children at the princely sum of £1 a day. It was expensive, but the best he could do. He tried to have his children’s shoes resoled in that town, only to find no shoemaker capable of this task, so he had to buy new ones. This distressed him and in his diary, he mentions that more tradesmen should come to South Africa where they could earn a good living – at least five shillings for a 12-hour day. His troubles weren’t yet over. He still had to get to Graaff Reinet by ox wagon. He and his family landed up in a vehicle driven by a drunken man whose efforts at coping with some of the Karoo’s worst thunderstorms were nothing less than hair-raising.


Leeu Gamka Indigenous One-Stop Nursery and Farm Stall has chosen the pomegranate (Punica granatum) as its medicinal plant of the month. “The dried fruit rind of this thorny, deciduous shrub, or small tree of about 3 meters in height, was used by early residents to treat diarrhoea and stomach ache,” says information officer Charlotte Bothma. “Root and occasionally stem bark and leaves were once a well known treatment for tapeworm.” The pomegranate, which originated in the eastern Mediterranean, is said to be one of the first fruit crops cultivated in the Old World. Records date back several centuries BC. The plant, introduced into South Africa before 1700, soon became a popular as a hedging shrub in the early Karoo.


Many people complain of crime today, yet, even the small communities of yesteryear, were not crime free. As each new town was created the jail was established long before the church. When Barrow passed through Graaff Reinet in 1797 he mentions the town consisted of 12 families living in little rather ramshackle mud huts. “Other miserable little huts did service as offices and a jail. Termites infested the outsides of these buildings and inside there was a constant danger of lights being doused by bats. Locals thought the jail secure, but soon discovered this was not so. A thief incarcerated there simply carved a route out through the thatched roof and was never seen, nor heard of again.


Beaufort West’s William Quinton Karoo Bird Club thoroughly enjoyed its recent visit to Rietfontein Private Nature Reserve, east of Matjiesfontein. “We saw a total of 125 species in one weekend,” reports chairman Japie Claassen. “We recorded 63 species within the nature reserve itself and among these were 15 ‘new’ species for its bird lists. Those who arrived early were fortunate enough to see Black-headed Canaries, Karoo Chats, Namaqua Doves and a Rufous-cheeked Nightjar in daylight near the cottages.” Many more birds were seen on the Saturday as these birders drove along the road towards Sutherland. Among these were Yellow Canaries, Larklike Buntings, Ground Woodpeckers, White-throated Canaries, (Southern) Grey Tits, Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Karoo Larks and Red-faced, as well as White-backed, Mousebirds. Karoo Chats were plentiful, and all agreed catching sight of a juvenile Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was a treat. The group also visited Zeekoegat, a farm 70 km north of Matjiesfontein, on the upper reaches of the Tanqua River where there are two huge irrigation dams. Plenty of waterfowl, including African Black Duck, Spur-winged Geese, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Little Stint and Ruff were spotted. “On one of the dams there was a large congregation of Pied Avocet,” says Japie. “And, in the thornveld around the dams were Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbirds, Namaqua Warblers, Fairy Flycatchers and African Marsh Warblers. Seeing some Black-throated Canaries here was a great surprise. Many other species were spotted in the veld and water pools of the Tanqua River. “All in all we saw 84 different species at Zeekoegat.” Mike Ford rounded off the weekend with an interesting talk on unusual birds that became trapped in his nets and which he had been able to ring.


Brendon Jones is researching the link that his family may have had to Beaufort West and wondered whether any one may help. “Does anyone have a list of the Station Masters who served at the town’s railway station from its inception. I am sure that my great-grand father, John Jones, was the station master there sometime between 1895 and 1915.” Contact Brendon at


What appears to be a grave marker on the road to Oudtshoorn, near a bridge over the railway line, is in fact a memorial to a life saved, not lost. Way back in the early 1900s Charl (Sarel) du Plessis, his wife, Jacomina Aletta (nee Rademeyer), and their 13-year-old daughter Maynie, were Oudtshoorn-bound to do some shopping and attend church. Because he had set his watch incorrectly, he thought it was 07h00, when it, in fact, was 08h00. So, he did not expect to meet a train at the level crossing. Visibility was poor, a raging wind was blowing and there was so much ambient noise that Sarel did not hear the train. In fact, he thought it was still at Hazenjacht Station, so he spurred his horses on to cross the rail. But, the train was right there and it smashed into the back of the little horse cart as crossed it crossed the line. One of the cart’s wheels was knocked off and Sarel, Jacomina and all their baggage went flying. Maynie who was sitting at the back, got the fright if her life, but she kept her head. As the terrified horses bolted she managed to reach forward, grab the reigns and get the cart under control. By the time she stopped the cart, the train had also stopped, and passengers leaned out of the windows cheering her brave efforts. Jacomina was badly injured and the Serfonteins of Stolsvlakte, who were travelling behind them, rushed her to the hospital. Sarel seemed fine, so his sons, Jan and Pieter, also a short distance behind, took him to his “town house” in Oudtshoorn. Once there, however, he fainted and also had to be rushed to the hospital. Sarel and Jacomina remained in hospital for a while. Once they were well enough to go back home, he erected this stone as a tribute to their lives which were saved, writes Sue van Waart in Chronicles from Near and Far, the East Cape Genealogical Society newsletter. Maynie, Mrs Mileham, 78, now lives in George.

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, England in 1952. After obtaining his M.A. degree in English literature from Cambridge University, he began working for BBC TV. He is best known for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.