Boer War researcher Allen Duff has just launched a book which is bound to intrigue followers of the history of the South African War. Entitled Boer War Narratives of the Cape Colony it tells of unusual happenings and adventures experienced by Boer Commandos and British Colonial Forces during skirmishes and engagements in the Cape Colony. “Some of these reveal quite bizarre confrontations with the ‘fickle finger of fate’”, says Allen. Among the tales are stories of the train attack at Ganna Station, north of Beaufort West, the experiences of the Australian contingents during the final week of the Colesberg Campaign, and the last days of the commandoes of Commandants Malan and Fouche. Dramatic headings, such as “The Machine Gun at Worcester Hill” and “Death on the Bamboesberg” promise good reading. This A4 book, which includes some interesting historical photographs, as well as good colour illustrations, costs R300 plus postage and packaging. Orders and more details from Allen at theredhouse@intekom,


The travel blog Going Nowhere Slowly – The World in Slow Motion recommends five South African towns for bookworms to visit. Two Karoo venues – Cradock and Richmond – are on the list. Richmond annually draws book lovers during the last weekend in October for the Boekbedonnered Book Festival. In addition to learning about the latest happenings in literature, visitors have often found a rare or much-searched for book in the village’s second-hand book store. Boerbedonnered has become so popular that Richmond is now said to have some very exciting plans for even more festivals in the pipeline. Then there is Cradock which hosts the annual Karoo Writers’ Festival. (It will be held this year from June 4 to 7.) If reading, writing, poetry and the general ambience of the Karoo floats your boat then this is the place to be. The event includes creative writing workshops, informative talks, storytelling outings, book launches and visits to the Olive Schreiner House Museum. Also on the list is Molteno, a village where Nadine Rose Larter’s passion for books and reading has blossomed into “The Littlest Bookshop” in the Eastern Cape. “It is filled with pre-loved books, good conversation, dogs, cats, guinea pigs and a bunny, but be warned it only ‘opens occasionally’, so check before you go,” says travel writer Anje Rautenbach. In the Free State there’s Bethulie, put on the map by theatre legend Patrick Myhardt, who styled himself “The Boy from Bethulie.” There author and hotel owner, Anthony Hocking, has changed the old Royal Hotel into South Africa’s Book Hotel or, as he calls it, the “hotel of stories”. It is filled from floor to ceiling with his own personal collection of over 30 000 books and 80 000 records. This creates a wonderful atmosphere. Finally the blogsite recommends Groot Marico, the home of Herman Charles Bosman, in the North West Province. This village hosts a Bosman Weekend each October to celebrate the writings of its celebrated son and other writers.


Antoinette Pienaar, the Karoo’s own highly respected herbalist, actress, singer and author is hosting her first story circle weekend for this year on March 20 to 22 on Theefontein the peaceful mountain farm where she lives with mentor, Oom Johannes Willemse. Those who loves stories, listening to them or telling them should join her under a huge tree on this tranquil farm for this one of a kind experience. The stories will be told mostly in Afrikaans and Antoinette promises they will be almost never ending, “Ons gaan ons gesels-sak losknoop en laat oorloop. Ons gaan ‘n hond uit ‘n bos gesels!” In her remote location she has no internet so if you wish to know more contact her on cellphone 083 273 9659 or landline 023 416 1659. For advice on herbs and how to use them e.mail her at or visit her website:


Adventurous outdoor explorers often enjoy some challenging drives across historic passes in the Eastern Cape Karoo. Way back, in an effort to promote eco-tourism, Trygve “Robbie” Roberts, founder of Mountain Passes of South Africa, challenged enthusiastic off-roaders to walk, run, hike, cycle or drive to the summits of 10 of the area’s high altitude passes – in any order – in seven days. This was not as easy as it might have sounded and it took more than five years before anyone claimed the honour. This region was first surveyed in 1861 by Joseph Orpen, an Irishman, and because the terrain reminded him of the Scottish Highlands it is peppered with names like Ben Nevis, Glen Gyle, Pitlochrie and Ben MacDhui. The indigenous people knew this peak as “Makhollo” (Great Mother), but it was later given a Scottish name. The peak has now lent its name of the highest pass in South Africa. With an elevation of 3 001m and is higher than the Sani Pass (altitude 2 876m). Another pass with Scottish origins is Carlisleshoekspruit Pass (elevation 2 563m) in the Rhodes area. It takes its name from Carlisle’s Corner, the farm of an early Scottish immigrant. Most passes celebrate the history of the area or have links to unrest. Among these is Volunteershoek or Bidstone Pass (altitude 2 581 m). To reach it one has to travel through Wartrail valley, which owes its name to skirmishes between King Moshesh’s cattle raiders and the Xhosa people who lived near to Barkly East. The route passes Loch Ness Dam and Funnystone Stream.


Adventurous brothers gave their name to Naudes Nek Pass, which at 2 590 m is the fourth highest, publically accessible pass in South Africa. In the 1890s the Naudes carved out a zig-zag route following a horse trail linking Maclear to Rhodes. Some say Lundin or Lundean’s Nek Pass (altitude 2170 m) was named by a Swedish immigrant in 1880, but others states takes its name from the remote army base of similar name which played a pivotal role in preventing livestock rustling and contraband smuggling between Lesotho and SA. It is said to be one of the most underrated gravel passes in the country. In the Lady Grey area seven farmers found a 40-year old map showing a route across the Witteberg Mountains. It was never built because officialdom considered it “only fit for baboons”, but the farmers disagreed. So, Gideon Joubert (Snr.), Daniel Francois Joubert, Christiaan de Wet Joubert, Gideon Joubert (Jnr.) and Johannes Marthinus Joubert, together with George Friedrich Stephenson and Cornelius Willem Cloete, got together and decided to build the road. When done it was named Joubert Pass. It has an elevation of 2 234m and is the third highest pass in South Africa. The plaque at the foot saluting the efforts of the seven men has the initials MP at the bottom corner. This indicates that it was carved by Moos Pieterse, who also carved many of the stones in the Lady Grey Cemetery. Another pass with an interesting name is the 2 240m Bastervoetpad Pass. It takes its name from a group of slaves who made their way down this tricky mountain route to a settlement near Ugie.  This route was first discovered in 1862 by Adam Kok lll when he led the Griquas to their new home, Kokstad.


Joseph Millerd Orpen was much more than a surveyor. He made a name for himself in many fields in South Africa. This highly-respected, adventurous, self-confident, tough, versatile, exceptionally active, and intelligent man was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 5, 1828, He was one of the nine children of Reverend Dr Charles Edward Herbert Orpen (MD), a member of a family of Irish landed gentry, and his wife Alicia Francis Coane (nee Sirr), He came to South Africa in December, 1846, with three of his brothers, took up sheep farming and in 1849 qualified as a land surveyor. He then moved to the Orange Free State where he played a pivotal role in political affairs. He also became interested in geology, was a keen fossil collector and, in time, became an authority on San rock art. This interest dated back to a British military mission to Basutoland (an area which he later also served well). There Joseph found Qing, one of the last San of the Drakensberg. They travelled widely, visited many rock art sites and Joseph diligently recorded every discussions they had while sitting around their camp fires at night. He compiled these into an authoritative article. Joseph remained in the Free State after Britain gave up the Sovereignty in 1854. He was elected to the Volksraad and later to Parliament to represent several towns. In October 1856 he became a private surveyor and later a correspondent for the Cape Argus. On March 31, 1859 he married Elise P. Rolland with whom he had at least six children. He always remained a keen farmer. In 1896 Joseph moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he was appointed as surveyor-general on 9 July 1897. Joseph wrote many articles and pamphlets on South African affairs, policies, slavery, drinking and temperance. Joseph became a member of the South African Philosophical Society as well as the Royal Society. He was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and a foundation member of the South African Biological Society.


On August 14, 1875 the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners was established to promote the use of Afrikaans as a written language. “However, more than a century earlier Afrikaans was already being used for written communications,” states Dr Taffy Shearing in an article entitled Vroeë Afrikaans In Die Karoo – Karoo Pioneers Het Reeds In 1772 Afrikaans Begin Skryf, written at the request of the Beaufort West Courier. Taffy refers to several early letters in the Cape Archives, such as the one written on March 29, 1772, by Izak Versase de Jongen, a Roggeveld farmer, telling of the intrepid Widow Hendrik Nagel who single-handedly moved her sheep and cattle from a Roggeveld farm to one in the Nuweveld in 1769. “Most of the letters discuss daily life, such as one written in 1790 by Elsie Vlotman discussing the physical features and households of Maria and Johanna Pretorius. Elsie seems to have been quite a vain person. The fledgling language was also used for in letters between Beaufort West’s commandant Abraham le Clerq and Magistrate Stockenstrom in 1811.” wrote Taffy.


The mysterious Samuel Zwaartman, from Fraserburg was an important language pioneer. His colourful and spontaneous Boerebrieven uit Fraserburg, (published in Die Volksblad in 1870) was written in a cosy, homely way and discussed village life and daily affairs. While they had an instant following they were not widely accepted, particularly in the Karoo,” wrote Taffy. “Complaints rolled in, but no one knew who Samuel Zwaartman was. In fact, no one of that name lived in Fraserburg and no one there had ever heard of him before the letters began appearing. Tempers rose further still when he wrote about a visit to Beaufort West in 1870. Farmers threatened to find, tar and feather him, because he had poked fun at the clerical dress of the Anglican priest in a church which he called “neither big, nor pretty”. He also sniped at the magistrate and government officials, saying it seemed that the government loved them too much to dismiss some. Still, his identity remained a secret. Then, on August 14, 1925, in Die Burger, Professor J J Smit revealed that “Zwaartman” was actually an Englishman, Henry William Alexander Cooper, a teacher, law agent and advocate, who had moved to the village in 1866.


Henry Cooper, alias Samuel Zwaartman, was a fun-loving fellow who had no intention of causing such a rumpus. He was actually a well-liked, cheery, cheerful truly civil-minded fellow who campaigned for better living conditions, better roads, a village library and helped plant poplar trees in town. Born in Rondebosch on July 18 1842, Henry was the son of an English father, William Cooper, and an Irish mother, Sarah Byrne. They moved to South Africa after their marriage in Brighton, England. After qualifying as a teacher and taught in Plettenberg Bay, Knysna and, in 1866, in Oudtshoorn, where he had a boarding school. He became a sworn translator on October 23, 1866 and moved to Fraserburg. He loved life in this farflung place.  He became the correspondent for the Cape Argus and, as the first Afrikaans sports reporter, covered horseracing and cricket. He then began to write the letters for Die Volksblad and through these unwittingly became a pioneer for the vernacular. Henry loved poking fun at authority and mocking “holy cows”. While this caused a stir across the Karoo, he unwittingly set the ball rolling and gave written Afrikaans a major push. He moved to the old Transvaal in 1873 to take up a legal appointment and there he lived a colourful life dealing with gold dealers, smugglers and gun runners. He married Adriana Johanna Zondagh van Huyssteen, in Knysna and they had a daughter and two sons, the youngest of whom, W H Augustine Cooper, married one of Olive Schreiner’s nieces. Henry died in Lisbon on March 27, 1894. Fraserburg’s Reverend P.D. Rossouw, also played a pivotal role in the development of the language by writing one of his first sermons in Afrikaans. This was published in Paarl in Die Afrikaanse Patriot, the first Afrikaans language periodical.


A drug overdose put an end to the promising career of South African poet, Arthur Kenneth Nortje who was born in Oudtshoorn on December 16, 1942. He attended school in Port Elizabeth where he was mentored by the acclaimed writer Dennis Brutus. After graduating from University he emigrated to Canada in 1967 where for a while he taught in Columbia and Toronto, but left to work on a doctorate. His poems Dead Roots And Lonely Against The Light dealt with his problems in the South Africa of the day and his life in exile. His works were later published by the University of South Africa Press in an anthology entitled Anatomy of Dark; discussed by Ralph Pordzik and covered in an article entitled No Longer Need I Shout Freedom in the House.


At the turn of the last century the Beaufort West Courier and Courant published items of general Anglo-Boer War interest in a column entitled Gunpowder Sprinklings to portray the drama of war and village life. The April 11, 1900 issue, under a heading A Sannaspos Casualty, reported that: “Lance Corporal H W Drew, known to all in Beaufort West and surrounds as ‘Harry, the son of the doctor’ was wounded at Sannaspos. We trust he will soon find himself back with his brave comrades.” (The Battle of Sannaspos, also known as the Battle of Kornspruit, took place at a railway siding near Bloemfontein on March 31, 1900). The April 29 issue followed up with the dramatic news that Harry Drew had recovered, but had been taken prisoner. The editor hoped that “he and his comrades in misfortune will be treated as gentlemen and with decency.” The newspaper expressed sympathy with his parents. Harry’s capture brought the war close to home and inspired a local lass, Miss Rhodes, to volunteer to lend a hand at the International Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein. Her services there were heartily welcomed. . The newspaper added that another well-liked nurse, Grace Marlow who has been serving in the local hospital for 18months had left for home on the Braemar. “She will be missed,” wrote the reporter.


The men of the Worcester Regiment “took tea” in Beaufort West in April 1900 The regimental band played “inspiring national airs” and attracted a large crown to the village square. The mayor thanked the commanding officer for his kindness stating that “Regiments do not always carry their bands to the front, and therefore this was a great treat for people of this town.” He added: “It is hoped that when you pass this way again you will give your lieges another taste of good music.” After this grand entertainment the townspeople turned out to see a regiment of Scots Fusiliers pass through on a Cape Town-bound train. Their war was over. They had come from the relief of Ladysmith and were returning home. And, under a heading Tally Ho! The newspaper reported that a contingent of Yeomanry soldiers had passed through town bound for the front. “They almost all come from Leicester, one of Britain’s chief hunting counties and among them were squires, horse trainers, jockeys and servants. Like the men, the horses were of different classes, with those belonging to the squires, of course, being more valuable than those of the servants.” Reality struck home when a Canadian trooper died.


The Friends of the War Museum is appealing to all who wish to join the weekend tour to the site of the Battle of Grasberg on June 13–15 and/or the four day trip to Cradock from September 19–23 to confirm as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. “These tours are rapidly filling,” says chairman Arnold van Dyk. The Gatsberg trip costs R700 and attendees will need to use their own vehicles. The Cradock trip will cost a maximum of R4500 all inclusive. A deposit ofR2000 is required by the end of May. For bookings and further details contact


The Tarka Herald of March 31, 1886 reported the tragic death the wife of John Stow. She was well-known, well-liked and one of the town’s oldest residents, but she had been an invalid for some time and unable to leave the house. The family departed for a Sunday evening service at the local Episcopal Church and left her at home with one of their daughters. It was raining quite heavily and shortly after they had gone Mrs Stow announced that she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Her daughter assisted her, settled her down and left the room. “It then seems that soon as she departed Mrs Stow left her bed, slipped outside and wandered down to the river, which was swollen due to the rain. For some unknown reason she seems to have decided to cross, but lost her footing on the bank, fell in and was swept off to Middle Kraal, where her body was found next morning. Her absence was not discovered until the family returned, decided to retire and went to bid her goodnight.


Graaff-Reinet Stoep Stories of May 25, 2014 tells of some early farmers who were about to set off to hunt a leopard which had been killing their stock. A man named Klaas appeared and offered his services as a guide. He boasted that he was as strong as an ox, with eyesight sharper than an eagle’s and that he could run faster than a hare. Nothing, not even a leopard, scared him, he said. Just then a partridge rose from the grass at his feet with an ear splitting screech. Klaas fell to the ground, but immediately leapt to his feet and shouting “Pheasant you just don’t know me yet!”

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change – Dr Wayne Dyer