The annual Speedo Ice Swim Africa is scheduled to take place in Fraserburg’s Nuwe Dam on the weekend of July 12 to 14. Normally, the water temperature in this dam, which is close to Sutherland, one of the coldest places in the country, is 5ºC or less in July and average winter temperature in this area is about -11ºC. Buffelsfontein, a farm in the district, holds the country’s official record for the lowest temperature of -18,6ºC and Sutherland itself experienced an extreme low of -16,4ºC on July 12, 2003. So, Nuwe Dam, l 400 metres above sea level, is the ideal place for cold water swimming. “Ice swims are classed as cold or freezing,” says Juliette Ball, one of the organizers. “This swim, a premier event on the international ice swimming calendar, is considered a freezing swim. People come from across the world to join dozens of South Africans taking part in the official one-mile event. Wearing only costumes, caps and goggles they plunge into the icy waters for is the 600-meter qualification swim, some short, sharp, shivery challenges or the main mile challenge.” Record holders Ram Barkai and Theodore Yach hope to be part of this year’s bone-chilling event. “Those brave enough to take the plunge, emerge from the waters in various shades of blue, many unable to walk or talk, but visibly proud of their achievement,” says Juliette. “A medical team is on hand to deal with hypothermia or any other emergency.”


One of the oldest olive farms in the Karoo is undergoing a makeover. According to the April\May Prince Albert Friend, a new press has just become operational on Swartrivier, the olive farm belonging to Jan Bothma on the outskirts of the village. A new garden and shop are also being created there. The first olive grove was planted on this farm in 1973. Today the farm has over 3 500 trees and the harvest this year is expected to reach 70 tons. The preserved green and black olives from this farm are widely popular, but the farm also makes dried olives, olive paste, jam and chutney, all of which are highly sought after. The new and much more effective Oliomio press replaces the old Rossi unit which served the farm faithfully for over 12 years and helped it earn two gold medals in the S A Olive Extra Virgin Oil Competition. These were awarded in 2010 and 2012.


Two internationally known experts on ancient tortoises recently visited Prince Albert. Dr Tyler Lyson, from Washington’s Smithsonian Institute in the USA, and Dr Gabriel Bever, from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, were part of a field trip organized by Professor Bruce Rubidge, of the Bernard Price Institute. They hoped to discover more about the Eunotosaurus, a distant ancestor of the tortoise. The first fragmentary fossil remains were found outside Beaufort West in 1892 and later described by palaeontologist, H G Seeley. Then, about ten years ago Kobus Snyman, son of Prince Albert’s Swartberg High School principal, found an almost complete well-preserved fossil on their family farm, Eselfontein. Only the skull was missing. This specimen is on display in the Fransie Pienaar Museum. The Bernard Price team collected 143 fossils, but sadly did not find one of a Eunotosaurus. As the Karoo has been designated a 21st century worldwide tortoise hotspot Professor Rubidge has borrowed the Snyman specimen for CT scanning and further preparation i.e. removal of surrounding rock. “The team hopes to find evidence of bone structure which could have given rise to the development of the modern tortoise’s characteristic shell,” said local palaeontologist Judy Mcguire. “


Rachel Jafta, the recently appointed chairman of Media24, moved from Sutherland to some of the top board rooms in the country. She was born in the that tiny Karoo village, said to be the coldest place in South Africa with the clearest, darkest skies, then moved to Wellington to attended school. During her holidays she cut apricots in a fruit factory at Tulbagh so as to scrape up enough to study economics at the University of Stellenbosch. Once there her star began to rise. She obtained many awards and degrees, including a Ph D and she ended up as an associate professor in economics. She went back to the fruit factory – this time as a director of Langeberg Co-operative – but it was not to be her only seat in a boardroom. She has served as a director of the Naspers group, Media24 and Media24 Holdings, the S A Institute of Race Relations, the Institute of Voluntary Initiative, and the Helen Suzman Foundation. She has also served on the council of the Free Market Foundation and on the audit and risk management committees of Naspers and Media 24. She is a member of the South African Economic Society, co-founder and a director of Econex, as well as of the Cape Town Carnival Trust. Last year she won the prestigious Shoprite\Checkers Woman of the Year Award in the education category. Her pet project is Rachel’s Angels, a high school empowerment project, which she co-founded and chairs.


Rachel’s Angels is a specialist mentorship programme that aims towards the building of excellence. Aimed specifically at Grade 11 and 12 learners in the Western Cape it strives towards holistic development and empowerment of learners and assists them to deal effectively with post matric challenges. Through a programme of effective lectures, campus visits, and entrepreneurial events it helps learners develop comprehensive business plans and establish businesses. It also helps them make constructive, meaningful contributions to the economy and society at large.


A tale of horror played itself out in the Fraserburg district on Tuesday, December 13, 1892. The 8 and 10-year-old sons of G Smith of Zak River’s Poort went out early to act as shepherds to their father’s flocks. The Karoo spread out in every direction, flat, hot, treeless. As temperatures rose and the sun blazed down mercilessly, they decided to dig a “cave” in the bank of a dry riverbed to create a shelter. It was deep, dark and cool – just what they needed, reported in the Queenstown Free Press. Suddenly the “roof” collapsed and entombed them. The elder boy managed to struggle out, and immediately set about trying to free his trapped brother. He told a reporter that for quite some time he heard his brother calling for help, but with each cry his voice gradually weakened. By the time he at last managed to reach him, his brother was dead.


British women were involved in the Anglo-Boer War as daughters, sisters, wives, widows, orphans, adventurers, philanthropists and nurses, states Anne Summers in Angels and Citizens. At the outbreak of war an overwhelming number of women, from those who had three-year general hospital certificates, through those with St John’s Ambulance or first aid qualifications, to unqualified volunteers and society ladies, all rushed to offer their services as military nurses. Most society ladies, many with absolutely no experience at all, got under the feet of military men and were considered “lady hindrances”, others like Theodosia “Dosia” Bagot, did a most professional job. She “acquired a nursing dress”, helped set up the Portland Hospital and proudly wore her uniform when she successfully applied for work at Noupoort General Hospital, in the Karoo. She wrote: “In going out to war I have fulfilled a dream of 20 years standing and, in preparing for it, I have seized every available opportunity of acquiring practical nursing expertise and getting surgical and medical training.” Later, commenting on the deaths of 24 army nurses in South Africa and the funeral of a friend, who had contracted typhoid from a patient, she wrote: “wrapped like a soldier in the nation’s colours, borne by soldiers to a soldier’s grave, she received the only earthly honour that could be done to a noble woman – a soldier’s funeral.”


Reg Weiss, a firm supporter of Rose’s Round-up, died in Paarl on April 26. He was a well-known, widely respected journalist, particularly in agricultural circles. Reg, who had travelled widely to many countries, firmly believed that agriculture could be a used as a positive force for good. I first met Reg way back when I worked on Farmer’s Weekly in Bloemfontein. He had a great sense of humour, a love of life, an excellent, wry turn of phrase. Having spent more than 63 years in active journalism Reg always had a good story to tell. This was mainly because he had interviewed men like General Smuts, Dr Malan, Dr Moroka, Chief Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, J. G. Strydom, Hendrik Verwoerd and P. W. Botha. Reg remembered meeting a youthful Nelson Mandela, who was then described by Sisulu as a “young Turk”. Wally and I enjoyed his company each time he and wife, Yvonne, stayed over with us in Beaufort West. Those were memorable occasions filled with discussions of world affairs, politics, birding and ghosts. Reg loved the historic snippets in Round-up and constantly kept an eye out for interesting items. He will be greatly missed.


Prince Albert’s veterinary surgeon, Dr Brett Bard, is endeavouring to re-introduce an ancient practice to the Karoo. He recently launched Shepherds of the Karoo, a project aimed at providing sheep farmers with specialized flock and veld management services. “Over the centuries a human presence among a flock has proved to be the most effective method of safeguarding small stock,” he said. “Shepherds can prevent lamb loss to predators, theft and injury. We also aim to train the shepherds in field guiding because tourism is closely allied to agriculture in the Karoo and most visitors enjoy walking in the veld. Once they have qualified the shepherds will work either day or night shift. In the evenings stock will be kraaled in specially developed, mobile, solar-powered electric fenced kraals to keep them safe,” said Brett.


A “magic” 11-circuit medieval-type labyrinth has been laid out on Witplaat farm in Prince Albert’s Weltevreden Valley. This newly created labyrinth is based on the historic one, dating back to 1201, at Chartres Cathedral in France. At its heart is a cross, surrounded by a six-petalled rose which symbolises the six days during which God created the world. The centre of the rose represents the seventh day on which He rested. This cross divides the labyrinth into four quadrants. The first represents the elements – earth, water, air and fire – the second, the directions – north, south, east and west – the third, the gospels – Mathew, Mark, Luke and John – and the fourth, the seasons – summer, autumn, winter, spring. “St Augustine, believed that all problems could be solved by walking and we like to think this too,” said Lisa Smith, owner of Witplaat. “There is a special magic attached to walking this labyrinth. The area we chose is peaceful, tranquil and awe-inspiring. It allows walkers to experience the essence of the Karoo in the vicinity of the magnificent Swartberg Mountains. Those who have walked this course have told us they found it a spiritual experience.” Lisa decided to build it after reading an article on labyrinths. She and her team collected 4 500 stones in three days and with the help of Terry de Vries of Rainbow Labyrinths built it in four. The labyrinth is wheelchair friendly and can be walked on moonlight nights.


The Witplaat Labyrinth is not the only one in Prince Albert. There is another in the grounds of St John’s Anglican Church and its course moves around an ancient 200-year old Bunya (False Monkey Puzzle Tree), considered to be a “living fossil.” This Araucauria Bidwilli tree, is a native of Queensland Australia, and dates back approximately 15 million years to the Jurassic period. The trees had had spiney, spikey leaves, grew up to 45 metres high and had trunks of 1, 5 metres in diameter. Legend has it that dinosaurs ate the tree’s pineapple-shaped fruit which grew about 23cm long, 20 cm in diameter and weighed 8,2 kg. The Prince Albert Bunya tree is a comparative youngster because these trees are said to have a lifespan of 500 to 1 000 years.


Cradock policeman F G ‘Fred’ Weeks told friends he “had a monkey on his back.” He just could not beat “the demon booze” and it was causing dreadful problems in his life and marriage. He decided to go away for a while and took a job in King Williamstown – within weeks he was dead – drowned in the town’s reservoir. When his body was recovered it was thought that it had been in the water for at least a fortnight, stated a report in the Queenstown Free Press of Tuesday, July 12, 1892. An inquest revealed that 38-year-old, Fred, a native of Devonshire, arrived in town and joined the police force about three months earlier. On June 15 he had “reported-in sick”, but nothing seemed to be the matter with him, yet his commanding officer sent him to see the District Surgeon, who considered him unfit for duty and “booked him off for two days”. A colleague testified that after Fred received a letter from his wife he had been greatly upset.


The letter, found in a search of his room, was written on telegram forms and in an envelope marked “posted in Cradock”. It read: ” What a glorious burst you will have when you get this. Why don’t you join the Wesleyans? They would help to lead you in the right way. You say you have not tasted a drink for a fortnight. I would not believe you on your oath. It is useless to ask where I am, I have taken good care to let no one know where I am going.” The letter went on to say how disappointed she had been to note that when he left, he had taken everything he could raise money on, “even the three colored blankets”. She concluded there was no depth he would sink to for brandy. She concluded by saying – “I never wish to see you again. Long before you get this letter I shall be away from here. I advise you not to come to Cradock looking for me. King is here and he knows you well enough. Also, Mr. English is not a man to be played with. You can direct letters, if you care to write, to Post Office, Cradock, I have told all that is to be told. I hope you will be successful and happy before it is too late to see the folly of your drunken ways.” The letter was signed “R Weeks. The commanding officer told the inquest that when Fred did not appear for work at the end of his sick leave he was listed as a deserter and a warrant was issued for his apprehension. He further stated that in better days Fred had been an excellent policeman. He had joined the force in Wynberg, and his conduct had been exemplary until his weakness took hold. The Magistrate returned a verdict of “suicide while in a state of temporary insanity”.


The Karoo is well known for severe droughts and flash floods. It was an early November day in 1853, and it had started out perfectly with sunshine on the Nuweveld Mountains. Suddenly clouds blew up and rain, accompanied by blinding lightning and heavy thunder, poured down in torrents, stated The Courier. A Beaufort West washerwoman, Mrs Fiena M’kosi, was down at the river doing laundry when the storm began. She quickly gathered her bundles and tried to make a dash for home, but she never arrived. As she raced along, she was struck by lightning and instantly killed. The magistrate and doctor who examined her body said it was remarkable that it showed no outward signs or marks of where she had been struck. She was buried the next afternoon.


The public chest at Fort Beaufort was robbed by no less a person than the district jailer. The Queenstown Free Press of November 22, 1853 states that this man, Crawford, and three accomplices, all soldiers of the 91st, were convicted of sheep stealing by the Circuit Court. The theft mystified officials until a farm labourer, who had been jailed for being drunk and disorderly, helped them solve it. When he sobered up, he remembered, that while he was in a drunken stupor, he heard his cell mates planning the robbery with the jailer. They all thought that he had passed out completely. The soldiers were sent back to their unit to be disciplined, the jailer was tried, found guilty and incarcerated in his own prison. The labourer was released and went on his way.

Laughter is good therapy. Laugh at what you haven’t got when you feel you ought to have it, at what you know is not funny, but somehow it is. Langston Hughes, founder of The Harlem Renaissance.