South Africa is home to some 120 species of frogs, each fascinating in its own way. To celebrate this, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is once again organising a Leap Day for Frogs on Saturday, February 28. This will be the third day of its kind and the aim of the day is to celebrate the diversity of frogs, their behavior and habitats, raise awareness about these amphibians and highlight the fact that globally they are the most threatened of all vertebrates – 30% of all South African frogs are vulnerable or critically endangered. EWT is calling on individuals, organisations, companies and especially schools to celebrate the day by perhaps dressing in green and maybe even organising a clean up of a local river or wetland area.

SHARE YOUR VIEWS ON LINE, a proudly South African, accessible, public website, is scheduled to be launched on March 2. This on-line initiative aims to provide a cyber-place for people to express their news, views, images and information,” says founder\writer, Colin Donian. “We firmly believe that those who care about solutions, not simply regurgitating problems, will use find this a useful platform for meaningful discussions is designed to act as a megaphone for ideas, insights, innovation, action, excellence, and ultimately successful solutions. So, if you have an idea or opinion this is the place to share it.”


A new book on African Wild Dogs is to be launched towards the end of March. Published by Jacana, African Wild Dogs – On The Front Line, basically covers work done on an Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) project in KwaZulu-Natal. The book is written by Brendon Whittington Jones, who worked on this project for years and who, according to Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert, head of conservation at EWT, produced a lasting legacy on wild dog conservation in South Africa. “His contributions to national wild dog population management strategies have seen colonies being re-established and maintained in many places,” she says. EWT is offering pre-launch copies at the cost of R225 payable before February 28. The publishers will donate R45 to EWT for each book sold.


Ever innovative Prince Albert is now offering a “Red Bus Tour”, but not in a bus. Launched by Prince Albert Activities and Excursions, this gentle, relaxed drive through village, with a local, registered tour guide, showcases 25 points of interest. Visitors can enjoy seeing each place, hearing about its history and its importance to village life, from the comfort of an open sightseeing vehicle with a roof to ensure that passengers are shaded from the Karoo sun. “We may not have a real red bus, but we do have a wealth of interesting things to see,” says Ellen Joubert, one of the organisers. “During these tours, which last 1 ½ hours, cost R125pp and include a snack we are able to share details of the town’s history, architecture, development, economy and lifestyle. Tours depart from the Swartberg Hotel from Monday to Saturday at 11h00. Visitors can be collected from their accommodation establishments for an additional R10.


In mid-1896 the Beaufort Courier reported there had been a “donkey boom” in the area. “Between £8000 and £10,000 cash changed hands recently in the town and surrounds when the Chartered Company arrived to purchase donkeys. Sellers were delighted as the company representatives bought even the poorest and most used-up animals,” stated the newspaper. The euphoria, however, was short lived when the locals heard “horrible accounts of the treatment of these poor long-suffering animals. The South African Weekly Journal of July 11, 1896, stated that: “The company, it seems, imagined that donkeys can live without food or water. Animals purchased in Beaufort West were given no sustenance, nor water on the way to Kimberley and the trip took a full day. On arrival two poor creatures lay dead at the bottom of the transport vehicle, almost trampled to pulp. The rest were in the last stages of exhaustion.” Both newspapers strongly condemned such cruelty to animals.


“Farms still continue to change hands at exorbitant rates,” stated an article in the S A Weekly Journal in the late 1800s. “The money paid for farms seems ridiculous. In Graaff-Reinet land has recently been sold at 38s. per morgen, and two farms bought by Mr. Meintjies in 1854, have been sold at a profit of nearly £7,000. Land which only a few years ago cost £22/10/- has recently sold for £500. Nearly 40,000 morgen of Crown lands have been sold by auction in the Colesberg district, and realised a total of £9,752 pounds. The conditions under which the land is being sold are by no means favourable. The notice of the sale is published only in the Government Gazette of the Colony, and the circulation of this publication is confined to officials.


A dreadful railway accident rocked the Colony in April 1911. According to The Adelaide Advertiser a train crossing the Blaauwkrantz bridge near Grahamstown was “brought to a sudden standstill” by some obstruction on the line. “The shock was terrific,” wrote the reporter. “Four carriages as well as the guard’s van suddenly toppled into the chasm 76 m below. Only the engine remained on the rails. Twenty people were killed and 21 injured. Emergency workers, who rushed to the scene, said it was quite terrible and that the bodies of the dead were being recovered in a dreadfully mangled state


Over the years cycling has become an immensely popular sport in South Africa. Many popular, exciting and challenging events are staged at various times across the Karoo. This is hardly surprising because the history of cycling in South Africa stretches way back to the 1800s and is strongly linked to the Karoo. As war clouds gathered in South Africa towards the end of the 1800s the cycle was praised as a means of transport. “This conveyance will prove particularly useful in times of war,” stated the August 22, 1896, issue of S A Magazine. The article states that cyclists brought news to Dr Leander Starr Jameson just before his “incursion into the Transvaal”. It added that Lord Roberts was a keen cyclist and a believer in cycling as a military aid. He said if cyclists could do what they did on the rough bullock-tracks of the Transvaal, they would be of great use to the Military Intelligence Department. The magazine stated that Lord Wolseley was also a keen on cycles and cycling.


Mary, the amazing wife of Fraserburg’s one-time doctor, John Brown, was one of the first South African women to use a bicycle. She discovered a new mode of transport for women, the “safety bicycle”, when the couple returned to South Africa from England in the late 1800s. Conservatives derided this device as disgraceful and unwomanly, nevertheless John gave Mary one for her 48th birthday. She quickly learned to ride and was “filled with a delicious sense of power and freedom’. It also allowed her to get out on her own and to go anywhere she wanted.


A son of the Karoo, Lourens Schmitz Meintjies, was one of South Africa’s greatest cyclists. Three years before the start of the modern Olympics he won the inaugural ICA Track Cycling World Championships at the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and became the first South African world champion in any sport. Born in Aberdeen, in the Karoo, on June 9, 1868, he was the son of Jacobus Laurentius Schmitz Meintjies and his wife, Maria Elizabeth Johanna Rabie. Young Lourens began to be recognized as an outstanding rider while at school initially at Aberdeen and later in Queenstown after the death of his parents when he was 14. Meintjes moved to Johannesburg in 1890 to supervise the lighting systems at several gold mines. He used a bicycle to travel between the mines and so built up his stamina and turned into a formidable cyclist. In July 1891 W H Carlin of the Bicycle Exchange persuaded Meintjes to participate in some cycle races at the Wanderers’ Amateur Cycling Club. Using pneumatic tyres for the first time in South Africa, Meintjes won three events and broke the South African record across 1,6km. Over the next two years he was hailed as South Africa’s undisputed champion cyclist.


Despite Press disputes Meintjies was considered the most popular athlete of his day and hailed as the best rider in the country. Local clubs organized races to defray costs of sending him to participate in some international events. He left South Africa on April 12, 1893, to race in two meetings in Belgium before settling in Herne Hill, England, to prepare himself for the British championships. His first major achievement was a new safety record for a 3,2km event on a wooden track on June 15, l892. After that he broke several British records before leaving for America where he met the best international riders at the Chicago World Fair. He rocketed to fame across the 100-kilometre course to become world champion on August 15, 1893. Between August 12 and September 11, Meintjies won five world titles and established 16 world records over distances from 4.8 to 80.5 km.


Meintjies returned to South Africa in 1894 and again dominated the local cycling scene, but this was his last competitive season. He never made it to the Olympics because he had established his own business – marketing Rudge-Whitworth bicycles – and it was so time consuming that he could not find time to ride. South Africa thus lost one of her greatest riders and his early retirement prevented him from becoming a sporting hero. Meintjies nevertheless played an active role in cycling administration. He married Rowena Augusta Watermeyer in Graaff-Reinet on August 14, 1894, and in 1927 he married Reid Smith. During the Anglo-Boer War he served as a captain with the Cape Town Highlanders. He farmed in the Bechuanaland and died on March 30, 1941 in Potgietersust.


Cycling was popular in South African before the outbreak of the Anglo-BoerWar. Excellent tracks were laid down at Cape Town, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Johannesburg, where first national cycling championships were held on September 9, 1893. The impact of Meintjies’s achievements permeated into various other South African sports. His success is credited with paving the road for South Africa in the arena of world of sport. As a direct result of his success many other sporting teams were sent abroad. The first cricket team went in 1894 and defeated the MCC team at Lords by eleven runs. The first track and field athletes travelled to Britain in 1895 and again in 1898. The brothers Philip J and Piet Blignaut, as well as H D Gradwell and P Hunter also took part in meetings in Wales and France. Meintjes indirectly influenced the formation of the SAAAA and it was said to be due to his achievements abroad that J Astley-Cooper invited South Africa to participate in the Pan-Britannic Games. Although these failed to eventuate, the invitation resulted in the national track and field body being formed in 1894. After the Anglo-Boer War sport was seen as a cure for the cultural wounds. Many national sporting bodies were formed.


Over the years many newspapers, magazines and journals reported on the extremes of the Karoo weather. Like a pendulum reports swung from too much rain, too little, then drought. On September 29, 1842, The Cape and Frontier Times of reported distressing drought that had been so severe that “the waters of the Fish River no longer flowed beyond Cradock”. The report stated that a gentleman, who resided between Graaff-Reinet and Cradock, had recently travelled to Grahamstown, and across the entire distance of about 241km he did not see a single healthy crop. “Crop failure is general across the hinterland due to a prolonged drought. We judge that only in some the coastal areas are the crops likely to mature.” On November 23, the following year, the same newspaper reported a violent hail storm in Cradock. “It was so violent that almost all panes of glass were broken in the village. One stone was so large and the wind so violent that it was driven right through a glass pane leaving only as perfectly round hole without starring of the glass. Many of the stones measured 76.2mm in circumference. Stock in the area was severely injured.”


Elizabeth Jennings, 53, was quite happy as she bustled about her home on October 10, 1844. Then tragedy struck. The Cape and Frontier Times of October 14 reported that she was in perfect health and good spirits when at 20h00 she announced her intention of retiring. While in her room washing her feet there was a loud clap of thunder. It startled Elizabeth so badly that she swore that she had lost her hearing. She said she feared it would not return until after the storm had passed. Then, she claimed to be having a “queer sensation”. She never spoke again. She fell back onto a chair waving her hands for assistance. Family members quickly rushed to her aid but it was evident that nothing could be done. She seemed to be having an apoplexy attack, similar to the paralytic stroke that she had had two or three years earlier. Elizabeth lingered on in silence until Monday, then quietly died in the afternoon. She was one of the oldest residents of the Albany district, having arrived there in 1820 She was a proper, punctual and upright woman, honest in all business transactions, reported the newspaper. She was an affectionate and exemplary mother, a kind and dutiful wife, a sincere and pious Christian. Her loss was universally deplored throughout the community.


The Cape Argus of October 1892 reported that a serious “washaway” had derailed a train near Fraserburg Road (present day Leeu Gamka). This happened after a heavy storm near Beaufort West states railway historic researcher, Charles Wright. “The storm resulted in a serious wash away near the 209½ mile post, about 14km beyond Fraserburg Road. Almost 100 yards of permanent track was completely washed away and as a result the No 39 down goods train, driven by Driver Wallis, left the rails. The engine overturned. The driver was severely bruised, and his right arm was broken, but happily he lived to tell the tale. No one else was injured. News of the derailment was speedily sent to Beaufort West and a breakdown gang with a doctor was dispatched to the spot, the latter taking charge of the injured man, whilst the gang at once got to work upon the line. The only course open was to make a deviation. It was completed by the afternoon.”


In the mid 1800s Dutch Reformed Church decided to allow the English to be preached occasionally in their pulpits. This gave rise to considerable ill feeling. The Cape and Natal News of January 2, 1860, reports that many regarded the decision as a “stepping stone to innovations which would destroy the purity of their Church and religion.” The dominees concerned immediately reconsidered the matter and quickly reversed the decision, states the newspaper. “This can hardly be credited because nearly all members of the younger congregation understand English better than Dutch.”

Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it – Andre Gide, who died in Paris in 1951 four years after being was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature