An indigenous nursery has been established at Loxton by The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine Rabbit Working Group (EWT-RRWG). The objective is to propagate plants to rehabilitate the riparian vegetation of the Great and Upper Karoo where floods, overgrazing and failed agricultural projects have caused damage that cannot be naturally reversed. This has resulted in a loss of biodiversity and habitat for the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) that relies on such vegetation for survival. A ground-breaking project, the first of its kind in the Karoo to offer members of a previously disadvantaged community a career in environmental awareness and conservation, has thus been launched. Its aim is habitat rehabilitation, social upliftment, poverty alleviation and job creation. Women from the local previously disadvantaged community are being employed in the nursery and trained to propagate indigenous riverine plants. Once these have rooted and stabilised men from the same community will be engaged to plant them in degraded areas. The Victoria West Ubuntu Municipality identified two critical sites for the project, the Karoo National Park donated fencing and the Department of Tourism Environment and Conservation fenced off the nursery area and built a greenhouse. The project is now well underway, and the first seedlings are beginning to emerge. “Better riparian vegetation will not only improve the riverine rabbit’s chances of survival, it will also result in a healthier lifestyle for locals because agricultural produce, such as meat and wool, will perk up, water will be conserved and the soil and regional biodiversity will improve,” said Dr Vicky Ahlmann, chairman of the RRWG. “Until the nursery becomes well enough established to supply the project with sufficient seedlings, seeds will be sown directly at the pilot sites. Nursery seedlings should, however, be ready for transplantation by the end of 2009. This will reduce costs and ensure that a wider variety of plants for transplanting.” The EWT-RRWG expressed its sincere thanks to the Leeu-Gamka Community Nursery for their support and help with training.


More droughts, less rain, snow in May, unexpected winter storms, earlier flower seasons and later winters. These subjects were all discussed when Nieuwoudtville youngsters invited a top scientist to enlighten them on the effects of climate change on arid zone environments. Dr Guy Midgley, Chief Specialist Scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), told them that changes had been recorded regularly over several months for at least 30 years, writes Cindy Spence, in the Succulent Karoo Eco-system Programme (SKEP) Newsletter. “These well-documented findings reveal a 1 – 1.5° increase in temperature in the Western Cape and this trend is expected to continue. Increases, however, tend to be higher in the interior and not as high along the coast. Experts expect that there will be less rain in the arid areas,” said Dr Midgley.


Prince Albert Cultural Foundation plans some interesting outings this year. Some will take place during the Olive Festival scheduled for April 25 to 27. Then, on May 17 and 18, Dr Judy Maguire will lead a trip to some interesting places in the Fraserburg and Williston districts. These will include visits the old Kerkplaas Mission site on the Sak River, a horse mill and the historic Janklaasleegte, Rietvalley and Amandelboom farms. This full weekend trip departs from the Fransie Pienaar Museum in Prince Albert at 08h00 on the Saturday morning and returns on Sunday afternoon. Participants will need to arrange to sleepover accommodation in Fraserburg. In June there a one-day visit is scheduled to Oudtshoorn, Calitzdorp, Amalienstein, Seweweekspoort and Bosluiskloof. An Afrikaans film evening is planned for July 26 and the Foundation’s Annual General Meeting, at which cultural affairs of the village will be discussed, will be held on August 7. Then, from September 19 to 21, there will be a three-day archaeological outing to the Cedarberg, Krom River and Sevilla Rock Art Sites. A full-day visit is planned to Merweville, Banksgate farm and the Sterreboompas, as well as to Rietfontein and to see the fossils on the Bothma farm. This is planned for October 4. The final outing of the year will be a cultural “potjiekos” concert where entertainment will be provided by ostrich farm workers.


One Calvinia school, desperate for a coat of paint to blot out grime and graffiti on its walls, has a good plan. They have started a vegetable garden. Their aim is to sell fresh produce to the community and then to use the money they make to buy paint. “This is just one of the initiatives started by schools that have joined the World Wildlife Fund’s Eco-Schools Programme,” reports Cindy Spence in the SKEP newsletter. “This internationally recognised programme, endorsed by the Department of Education and funded by Nampak, encourages teachers in participating schools to develop curriculum-based lesson material and activities focusing on environmental conservation and the creation of healthier environments.” Currently Hantam High School, as well as Protea Primary and High, are using natural science and mathematics to plan gardens, design irrigation systems to maximise the area’s limited water resources, monitor rainfall, turn waste into compost and eradicate weeds. Language classes provide a grounding in plant names. Protea Primary improved their school grounds and developed a vegetable garden. Hantam High researched the effects of fresh food on health and studied plant root systems and water. Their project was so successful they have taken over the gardens at a local guesthouse. All schools are now assisting with development ideas for the promotion of Akkerendam Nature Reserve. This involves art projects on animals and bio-diversity and the writing of essays, poems and marketing slogans.


In the 1940s a Franschoek woman claimed a unique distinction. She claimed to be the only person in South Africa to have won awards from both the Temperance Society and the Western Province Liquor Manufacturing Association. Mrs H Berkowitz was a magician with fruit, and she excelled at syrups and home-made liqueurs. The Temperance Society maintained the syrups were excellent for all who’d taken “the pledge,” while the W P Liquor Manufacturing Association declared her knowledge of distilling liqueurs was equalled. “Mrs B” came to Franschoek as a bride and lived there all her life. She swept the boards at the Rosebank, Paarl and several other Agricultural Shows winning first prize for her canned fruits, jams, jellies and artistic needlework. “Her abilities were phenomenal considering she was self taught,” wrote Arthur Markowitz in The Jewish Times of November 28, 1947. “After she died in 1941, a Mr Myburg, from KWV visited her family to find out more about her recipes. He was told she’d had never written down the recipes. Also, none in the family was ever allowed to help her make her delicious syrups, liqueurs or fruit preserves, so they were lost forever.” “Mrs B” was also had a great sense of adventure. She claimed to be the first Jewish woman in South Africa to fly. She took a flip form Franschhoek to Paarl in 1917 but was later horrified to learn that the same aircraft crashed at Green Point on a subsequent flight only a few days later killing both the pilot and passenger. That put her off flying forever.


A clergyman once decided to prove there were no ghosts in Montagu Pass. Canon John Widdicombe set off as a brisk pace down the winding road form Herold to George just as darkness fell one night in 1915. A brisk breeze chased debris down the road ahead of him and clouds scudded across the moon creating disturbing patterns of light and shadow. He turned up his collar as the breeze’s icy fingers danced around his neck and down his spine. Suddenly an awful sound tore through the night. Was it a scream? The Canon stopped, listened, heard nothing more than his own thudding heart so, taking “a few deep gulps of cool air,” he wiped off he sudden perspiration that had pricked out on his brow and set off again. Obviously, he told himself, the sound was the cry of an animal or night bird. But he was wrong. Next day police found Alice Lee of Somerset East lying dead on the road, her hair spread out in the dirt, her clothing in disarray. One sleeve of her coat almost been ripped off. Nearby lay John Cooper of Oudtshoorn, a revolver within reach of his hand. On the bridge was his car and in it letters to his wife and son. Investigation revealed the two, both of whom were married and had children, had been involved in a love affair. They had spent three days at the George Hotel before that fateful night. No one knows where they were going, nor what went wrong, but it all ended on the Montagu Pass. Perhaps Cannon Widdicombe saw no ghosts, but others have glimpsed figures in the moonlight. The now ruined old North Station Hotel, once a honeymooner’s haven, began as a jail to hold the road gang. Many say convicts like Jan Grootboom, Wildman, Windvogel, Rondganger and Boesman have returned, others say they never left.


Some donkeys seem to have a cross on their backs. Carol Morse, of the British Donkey Breed Society, says “People often ask me why ‘little British grey donkey’ has this odd dark hair marking almost like a cross running down its back and across its shoulders? Scientists say it’s an evolutionary thing and like a horse’s sock or blaze attributable to genetics. But there’s also an interesting religious legend attached to this stripe. Some say the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem followed Him to Calvary. There, in horror, it turned its back on the Crucifixion and the shadow of the cross fell across its back thus marking it and its descendants forever.”


Olive Schreiner loved the Karoo. On March 3, 1890, she wrote from Matjiesfontein telling this to Havelock Ellis: Uys Krige quotes her letter in Olive Schreiner. “Now I am going to put my hat on and go out for a walk. Such a sense of wild exhilaration and freedom comes to me when I walk over the Karoo. I have now only a tiny bedroom in the little house built of iron, but in a few days, I am to have three rooms in a brick cottage all to myself. I go over to the railway station to have my meals.” She then mentions a wide, long plain with one or two little koppies and says: “I am going to walk to one this morning. There are no farms or homesteads; the only place is this (Matjiesfontein). It consists of the railway station, Logan’s house, and a row of outbuildings or cottages, one of which will be mine. There is not a tree in the veld, not a bush in the mountains as far as the eye can reach. The water is brought from a long way off in iron pipes. Even near the house there is not a tree or bush except a few little blue gum saplings that Logan put in about four months ago. They are nearly the only things that would grow here. The event of the day is when twice in the 24 hours the railway train sweeps by. In the morning it is the Cape Train on its way up to the Diamond and Gold Fields. It stops at about 9 0’clock and the people get out to have breakfast here. They also leave our mails. At about six in the evening the train from the Diamond Fields passes and stops for half an hour It is curious, and to me very attractive, this mixture of civilisation and the most wild untamed freedom, the barren mountains and wild Karoo and the railway trains. I only my asthma keeps away, this is the place, I have so long been longing for.”


A sign over a hotel door in Alice so intrigued a journalist that he opted to stay and find out more. Arthur Markowitz went to Alice because The Jewish Times of August 13, 1948, said “it was so full of Scotsmen that no one could do business there.” Arthur’s journalistic senses were pricked. He left for Alice hoping “to pick up a good story.” And, he did. He found a sign “By Appointment” above the door of the Royal Hotel. It stopped him in his tracks. Puzzled, he went in search of the owner and soon found the cheerful, easy-going Bernard Radomsky, “a rough and ready man with a great deal of charm.” When questioned about the sign and the Scots laughed heartily. “I put the sign up because Royalty really have stayed here,” said Bernard. “Queen Victoria’s eldest son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Clarence, stayed in this hotel in 1862 and it was the only country hotel in the eastern province where he over-nighted, so I thought that was worthy of commemorating. It certainly has brought me a great deal of business!” And, the Scots? “Well,” said Bernard, “I’m happy if people believe that!”


Many attribute the ostrich feather boom to Julius Mosenthal, one of the three brothers who founded Mosenthals in South Africa. He was fascinated by texture, romance and possibilities of ostrich feathers. He made a careful, scientific study of both the feathers and the birds. Only when he was satisfied that he knew as much as he could about both did he take ostrich feather products to a huge international European exhibition. They were a hit. An article in the Jewish Times of February 20, 1947, states that Julius became such an expert on ostriches that he co-authored the book Ostriches and Ostrich Farming which was published in 1877. Joseph, Adolph and Julius Mosenthal came to South Africa from Hesse-Cassel in Germany in the mid-1800s. They were merchant bankers and industrial pioneers, so they set up a company to buy wool, hides skins and other exportable products from hinterland farmers and to take much-needed supplies to far-flung places. By 1852 the firm was flourishing, so they set up a large warehouse in Port Elizabeth. The Mosenthals assisted many to leave Germany and come to South Africa to make better lives for themselves. “The Mosenthal brothers brought a keen intelligence to bear on the problems facing early South African farmers. In addition to being recognised experts on ostrich feathers, wool and mohair, Julius and his brothers imported Angora goats from Turkey and did much to develop the mohair industry,” wrote Arthur Markowitz in The Jewish Times of April 30, 1948.


Another entrepreneur and department store owner who enjoyed travelling in the Karoo and visiting far flung farms was William (later Sir William) Thorne. Born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1839, he “learned the drapery trade” before immigrating to South Africa in 1859. In Cape Town he joined the firm of Fletchers and in 1864 went into partnership with S R Stuttaford. He, however, always continued to operate to his own account, writes Eric Rosenthal in The South African Dictionary of National Biography. Sir William travelled widely in the Karoo enjoying the hospitality of many farms and counting many farmers among his friends. At times his trips took him as far afield as The Diamond Fields, but it was always the arid, open spaces of the Great Karoo that captivated him. In time Thorne, Stuttaford and Co became an important department store in the Colony. In 1893 Sir William was elected to the Cape Town City Council. He was elected to serve as mayor of Cape Town in 1901, 1902, 1903 and from 1904 to 1910, he sat in the Cape Parliament as a Progressive Member.


A doctor buried in Cradock has a glacier in the Antarctic named in his honour. Dr. Reginald Koettlitz, at the time a well known in geological circles, joined Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic on the Discovery, in 1905, as the senior medical officer. He was one of two surgeons engaged for this trip. The other was Edward A Wilson, 29, who was also the expedition’s vertebrate zoologist and artist. (Seven years later as a member of the Terra Nova expedition, Wilson died with Scott and Bowers. Waiting for Lt Titus Oates, another man with links to the Karoo, after he stepped out into a blizzard on March 17, on the eve of his birthday, saying: “I’ll be a while,” Waiting cost them their lives. Their bodies were discovered by Atkinson’s team on November 12, 1912 only 11 miles from One Ten Depot. Oates was never seen again.) Despite his strange surname Reginald Koettlitz was an Englishman. He was also 40 years old when he set off with Scott. After qualifying as a surgeon, he had led a quiet and rather pedantic life in general practise for many years until a sudden desire for adventure overtook him. To the surprise of all who knew him, he decided to join the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition to the Artic. He enjoyed this to such an extent that he was soon off again to Abyssinia and from then on was part of several other expeditions.


Shortly after Scott’s Discovery expedition was announced Koettlitz’s name was put forward by Sir Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail and backer of the Artic venture of which Koettlitz was part. Sir Alfred also gave Scott a donation of £5 000 towards the expenses of his expedition. Koettlitz was accepted and full of excitement he watched the cheering crowds on that last day of July 1901, as the Discovery sailed down the Thames to Spithead to have her compass adjusted. On August 5, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria stepped aboard at Cowes Harbour to wish the team “God speed.” The King said: “I have often bade farewell to ships departing on warlike service, but yours is a mission of peace and for the advantage of knowledge. The results will be of value to the whole civilised world.” Koettlitz was part of several key expeditions. He learned some grim lessons, among them the dangers of sledges in blizzards and the limitations of their equipment. Bad weather on their first outing forced his team to abandon an attempt to reach Cape Crozier. One night, when the thermometer fell to -42 deg, they found their light wolf-skin fur suits totally inadequate and uncontrollable paroxysms of shivering prevented them from sleeping. “This was the first-time members of the expedition realised what difficult weather conditions might exist within easy reach of the ship,” writes Harry Ludlam in Captain Scott – The Full Story. On a subsequent outing a glacier on the south-west side of Cape Crozier was named in Koettlitz’s honour. After this trip to the “ice,” Koettlitz decided to settle in South Africa. He started a medical practice in the Somerset East District. On January 10, 1916, both he and his wife died in Cradock, she of heart disease, and he a few hours later of dysentery. They are both buried near the southern entrance to the cemetery. The inscription on his gravestone reads “Here lies Reginald Koettlitz, explorer and traveller, surgeon and geologist of expeditions North Polar and Abyssinia and with Scott to the Antarctic”.


At school they called her Matilda, but friends and family knew her as Tilla. Born in Prince Albert on December 29, 1899, the “laatlammetjie” (last baby) in the De Beer family, rose to become a beloved star of Afrikaans theatre. Together with her husband, Beaufort West’s one-time town clerk, Hannes “Tokkies” Hanekom and his theatre group, she brought top-class entertainment to isolated areas of the platteland. Tilla, who died the day after she turned 80, had packed more fun, adventure and excitements into her life than most. She always said she could not remember her first introduction to the theatre because she was too young. Her father, a well-known Prince Albert businessman, Karel de Beer, loved music and was an accomplished musician. Once day after reading of the Christie Minstrels in America he decided that Prince Albert should have a similar variety show of banjo-players and jolly musicians, so he organised one. Hanekom’s biographer, Anna Minnaar-Vos does not say whether Karel and his three sons went as far as blackening their faces, but she does mention that they dressed as minstrels and put on excellent shows in town and on some farms. His daughters, Kitty and Miemie, accompanied them on the piano. Mathilda left Prince Albert to study window dressing and millinery in Cape Town. She had grown up as a very sheltered child and, as no refined young lass of her day could be allowed to stay alone in a big city, her parents accompanied her. When she qualified and found a job, paying £1 a month in Beaufort West, they also escorted her there and then left her in the care of her sisters. At that time both were married and living in town. The Hanekom Sisters took turns providing piano accompaniment for the silent movies. And, it was at one of these performances that Tilla met Tokkies, the love of her life.

English is a stretch language; one size fits all

Journalist William Safire, born in New York on December 17, 1929, was a speechwriter and public relations officer for Richard Nixon and the Washington-based columnist for the New York Times. In 1978, he won a Pulitzer Prize for political commentary.