RARE FIND AMAZES SCIENTISTS

Researchers at the Nama Karoo Foundation recently found a new mammal species in their area. It was an African Weasel and, at almost the same size as a matchbox, it is the smallest carnivore on the Continent. But that is not its sole claim to fame, states the NKF newsletter Karoo News. Professor Graham Kerley of Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, who identified the specimen for the Foundation, said this animal had the longest copulation period – over one hour – and the shortest gestation period among mammal species. He added that the find was “spectacular” because the animal had been found so far west from its normal habitat. “As far as we can establish this is the first time this species has ever been seen in the Karoo and the fact that it has been found so far from ‘home’ makes the find doubly interesting.”

BE UP TO DATE ON THE WORLD OF BOOKS

Ike’s Bookshop, from Durban, is going to Richmond. “This is really special and in line with our Coollie Odyssey theme because Ike Mayet holds a special place in Indian history,” says Richmond’s Booktown organiser, Darryl Earl David. “Ike was the first Indian, perhaps even the first black person, to own a high brow bookshop specialising in Africana.” The shop’s current owner, and secretary of the South African Book Dealers Association (SABDA), Joanne Rushby, will pay tribute to the founder of Ike’s at the Booktown Festival in October. Some new talks have been slotted into the programme. These include talk on Ghandi by Darrel Conolly, son of acclaimed travel writer Dennis Conolly; a talk by Kirby van der Merwe, who won the ATKV prize for his article on Booktown last year and a talk by Maureen Isaacson, book editor of the Sunday Independent, on Fatima Meer’s first biography on Nelson Mandela, Higher than Hope. Then, just to introduce a change of pace this year – Gail and David Robbins, the couple who were responsible for resuscitating the Apollo Theatre in Victoria West, and who raised R9m for community development there, are coming to Richmond to show a series of South African films in a sector of the Festival amusingly entitled Richmond Filums. ‘Some of the films will appeal to children, but mainly they will be Indian films, in keeping with the focus of the Festival,” said Darryl. Another newcomer will be Harrie Seirtsema of MAP, Modern Art Projects South Africa will be exhibiting art book at the MAP retreat and studios in Loop Street just across from the town hall.

NEW GREEN FLAGS FLUTTER IN THE KAROO

Two Karoo schools recently celebrated great achievements in environmental education. Britstown’s Van Rensburg Primary School received its second Eco-Schools Green Flag. It is the only school in the Northern Cape to achieve Eco-Schools status for a second year. The other top achiever was John D Crawford Primary School, the first school in Beaufort West to achieve Eco-School status. This programme is driven by Dr Vicky Nel, whose aim is to link education to the environment by providing learners with the capacity and skills to make informed decisions about their lifestyles, livelihoods and relationships. “This not only involves the study of nature, but it includes how they relate to people and other living elements,” said Vicky. The project is part of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine Rabbit Conservation Project and the main aim is general conservation of the Karoo through education and learning. During 2009 many schools in the area worked on a variety of projects under the guidance of Dr Vicky Nel and her team. These covered a variety of environmental issues such as waste, recycling and wise use of water, the elimination of invasive and alien plants, conservation of indigenous plants, healthy living and nutrition, alternative energy sources, and the preservation of endangered species such as the Riverine Rabbit. For this project Grade 6 and 7 learners of John D Crawford Primary School, for instance, formed Enviro-Clubs which competed against each other and made beautiful as well as useful items, such as musical instruments, ornaments and picture frames from waste material.

AROUND THE WORLD WITH A WHEELBARROW

A Karoo man and his wife one pushed a wheelbarrow around the world. He was Britstown-born Daniel J le Roux, who with his wife walked the soles off of 85 pairs of boots as they trundled their worldly goods from country to country in a barrow. After setting off from Cape Town on December 31, 1922, with a sole financial backing of one “tickey” (about 2 ½ cents) each, the couple in total spent over six years on the road. From the Mother City they walked along a coast to Natal reaching there on August 20, 1923. Bad weather then held them up for over a month, but this did not deter them. Once the weather cleared, they continued up the East Coast, through Egypt, and across to Europe where they travelled through England, Holland, Belguim, France and Switzerland. They then boarded a ship bound for Canada and arrived in Winnipeg in May 1926, during an extremely severe winter. Once again bad weather – this time sleet and snow storms – delayed them, but as soon as it was possible, they set off again following a south-bound railway track. By July 1938, this intrepid couple had pushed their barrow across Canada and the Americas and ended up in Australia. Once they had toured that country, they set sail for Cape Town and finally ended up in Johannesburg. During this epic trip they had to renew the wheelbarrow’s tyre six times. The “wheelbarrow walkers” as they became known boasted that they had never begged a meal or a bed. Richard Atkinson, who discovered much of their story, said the Le Rouxs said they would rather go hungry and sleep in the open than rely on charity. “However, once, when sleeping in the open in France, Daniel caught a severe chill which he never really threw off. It aggravated a latent kidney complaint and, in the end, cost him his life.” He died in Worcester, in May 1929. He was 54 years old. The Le Roux’s were married for nine years. They had no children.

MORE NEWS FROM THE AIR

Stories on recent issues of Rose’s Round-up have renewed an interest in unusual aviation events in the Karoo. Bloemfontein historic researcher and avid reader, Ian Stronach, recently came across an interesting item. He says: “Your readers might be interested to know that one of the first successful forced landings in South Africa was made on the Knersvlakte, near Vanrhynsdorp on March 10, 1933. Victor Smith was on a solo flight from Cape Town to London when his aircraft developed trouble. According to the Nuusdagboek: Feite En Fratse Oor 1000 Jaar, Victor Smith landed by the light of a distress flare.”

LOVE FLUORISHES IN ENGLISH

In the mid-1900s a Norwegian sailor, Odd Villiam Knutsen, a crew member on the merchant ship, The Sorlandet, landed unexpectedly in Cape Town. He was on his way back to Norway from India when he suddenly became seriously ill. Fearing that Odd might die, the ship’s captain arranged to put him ashore at the nearest port, which was Cape Town. Odd was popular among his shipmates and they all gathered at the rails with heavy hearts as he was lowered over the side of the ship and handed to the medics. His friends were convinced he would not survive. But he did. Odd was made of strong stuff, so good nursing and sufficient bed rest soon had him looking forward to joining another ship and continuing his trip home. Then, disaster struck. Odd had developed tuberculosis and was sent to Nelspoort in the far away Karoo where it was hoped fresh air and the drier environment would cure him. Odd was horrified – he spoke no English – but he need not have worried because also at Nelspoort at that time was a beautiful, young lass, Maria Johanna Wilhelmina Genis. She was a teacher and caring young lady. Sitting out in the fresh air and sunshine each day she taught the handsome, but shy, Norwegian to speak English. . “Of course,” says their grandson Christiaan Kinna, who is now researching the family history, “the story has a happy ending. Love blossomed during the English lessons and, as Odd’s command of the language improved, he was able to declare his love and propose. He was accepted and as soon as he was better, they were married. Odd and Maria enjoyed a very happy life together.”

ON THE TRAIL OF THE MOCKE FAMILY?

Documenting the Mocke family history in Southern Africa began as a hobby. Alan Mocke simply wanted to research his roots and pass this on to his sons, but not the bug has bitten, and he would love to hear from others interested in this family and particularly from members in the Beaufort West area. “I am not a professional genealogist, but I have managed to trace the family back to its roots in Germany. I currently have information on about 600 individuals. I have managed to source a substantial amount of information from the web, archives and a number of family members both near and far, but I still have many gaps, so would appreciate any help I can get.” Alan also has a fax to mail number – 086 539 8495 – if anyone would like to contact him.

DISCOVER FORGOTTEN FRONTIERS

Prince Albert historians Dick Metcalfe and Judy Maguire plan to lead a three-day tour along “the forgotten highway” from September 24 – 26. One of the oldest routes into the hinterland the route was fully described in a book published in 1988, The Forgotten Highway through Ceres and the Bokkeveld, compiled by Dene Smuts and Paul Alberts. “The route is steeped in history, so the trip promises to be both interesting and exciting,” says Judy. E E Mossop described this “long forgotten” road to the interior in Old Cape Highways. Once was part of the great road to the north-east, it was travelled long before diamonds were discovered, and Kimberley came into being. It was used even before there was a Fraserburg or Beaufort West. This old road passed up Verlaten Kloof, the pass to Sutherland and the Roggeveld and led hunters to the rich hunting grounds around the great Gariep or Orange River. From there it went on to Kuruman, the Klaarwater Mission and eventually to Littakoo. It was a dangerous road and initially for adventurers only. Even by the time diamonds were discovered fortune hunters rushing to the fields dreaded the road beyond Karoo Poort. In 1871 a newspaper report stated that the Poort was “a huge ogre which devoured both men and beast. Here bones lie bleaching in the harsh Karoo sun and deter all but the most intrepid. Wagons often go the long way round via Port Elizabeth.” Against this haunting background Dick and Judy will guide those who join their tour across several spectacular passes. “Mostly these were old Khoi-khoi sheep-droving passes. Hunters used them and in time they were improved to such an extent that it they became useable by wagons.” says Judy. “We’ll point out the wagon route, favoured stopping places and long-forgotten, lonely graves.”

WHAT YOU’LL SEE ALONG THE ROUTE

The tour leaves Prince Albert at 07h00. In their own vehicles, participants will travel to the top of the Hex River Pass where Dick will discuss how the early travellers crossed the Mountains of Africa and set off along this route through De Straat, past Verkeerde Vlei, to the farm of the Widow Jacobs, where there now is a superb flock of Cape Hairy fat-tailed sheep. The group will hear about Die Venster, Hottentots Kloof and Karoo Poort, the gateway to the Ceres Karoo. They will pass Hanglip, Bizansgast, Ongeluksrivier, Jukfontein, Bloemfontein, Windheuvel – the ruined opstal of Field Cornet Snyman – and Tuinplaats, which once was a place of worship. They will then drive up the lonely Verlaten Kloof Pass towards Sutherland where they will overnight at Blesfontein farm. On Saturday the group will drive down the steep Ouberg Pass into the Tankwa Karoo where they will pass Bo Wadrif, Onder Wadrif, De Syfer and the Gannaga Pass. At Middelpos they will see a Boer War battlefield, cemetery and corbelled house. The route home on Sunday includes the Komsberg, Moordenaars Karoo and Laingsburg.

BURCHELL VIEWED ‘THE STREET’ BY MOONLIGHT

When William John Burchell rode this route in July 1811, he passed through “The Street” by the light of the moon. This “door to the desert” was an eerie place. In Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa, he wrote: “By moonlight we passed through a singular defile in a ridge of rocky hills. It was very narrow and stony and the perpendicular wall-like sides, which enclosed the road on either hand, favoured by the uncertain light of the moon, gave to the place a considerable degree of resemblance to a large street. The sound of the wheels rattling over the rocky ground, as on a pavement, reverberated from these walls and further fed the imagination. It is therefore, not surprising that this defile, less than an eighth of a mile in length, should have earned itself the name of De Straat (The Street). He continued across a level, sandy section, through open country and passed a large stretch of water called Verkeerde Vlei (Contrary Lake). It earned its name because it was fed by a stream which ran in a contrary direction to all others in that part of the country. The lake abounded with water fowl, chiefly ducks, geese and coots. Burchell arrived at Pieter Jacobs’s house at 22h00 only to find the family had retired to bed as they were not expecting him until the following day. A servant, woken by the sound of the wagon wheels, pointed out a place where they could unyoke and camp for the night. He also helped them find wood for a fire to warm themselves and cook a meal.

OH TO FIND A DIAMOND!

The discovery of diamonds woke Ceres with a start. This tranquil little town had not seen so many travelers since the Voortrekkers left. Now dozens of ox wagons plodded through while Cape carts, mail coaches and Gibson’s Red Star coaches thundered by wrote Lawrence Green in Beyond the City Lights. Enterprising residents formed their own transport companies and charged £12 to the fields. The toll gate of Mitchell’s Pass was rented out at £1500 a year and the lessee made a handsome profit. Down in the village the fortune hunters drank and rioted. Local lads enjoyed themselves pelting these visitors with quinces. Penniless Barney Barnato, appeared as a conjurer at the inn to raise the price of a meal.

ANOTHER FADED MEMORY

Klipplaat once was an important place. It was a well-known railway junction with a sizeable community, houses, shops and churches, but today, one could hardly believe it once had a buzzing lifestyle. It has now virtually vanished from the map and is covered by a patina of neglect. The rail first reached Klipplaat, 1879, but that really didn’t mean too much, because the dreams that got it there were soon foiled by nature. The idea was to extend the service of the Midlands Railway and create a new, faster route from Port Elizabeth through Uitenhage and Graaff-Reinet to Kimberley, so that fortune hunters could reach their destination quickly. But that never happened. The mountains around Graaff Reinet put paid to those plans. Then came the Anglo-Boer War and the need for a rail line lost its impetus, and Klipplaat sank back into insignificance. After the war, however, authorities in the Klein Karoo which by then had acquired extensive wealth from the sale of ostrich feathers, once more petitioned the Cape Government for a railway system. They gained support in the Eastern Cape and soon a line was approved from Klipplaat to Oudtshoorn to link the Klein Karoo to Port Elizabeth. By 1904 this line was operational, and it meant a great deal to the economy of the Klein Karoo. Klipplaat became a viable railway junction. It increased in importance and prominence when the rail from Oudtshoorn through the Outeniqua Mountains to George was opened in 1913. Sadly, today, with fewer trains using the lines Klipplaat has faded into insignificance. Neglect reigns and mouldering buildings, two dilapidated churches and a rusty old steam engine on a forgotten shunting line silently salute shadowy memories of the past. Klipplaat, which literally means a stretch of stony ground, lies west of Willowmore, north of Aberdeen, east of Jansenville and, to the south, a straggly road links it to Uitenhage.

A PEEK INTO MEDICAL HISTORY – TO PRINT OR NOT?

Simonstown historic researcher, Boet Domisse is contemplating publishing a small A5 book of about 72 pages on the reminiscences of a medical doctor who once lived and worked in a small Karoo town. When he started work on this project, he intended the book mainly for private distribution, but he now feels that it may have a wider appeal, so is asking whether any Round-up readers would be interested? Please e.mail karootour@internext.co.za, if you are interested so that he can make up his mind whether to print and how many copies. The price, of course, will depend on the number of copies, but should be around R100.

FUN FARM STORIES IN NEW BOOK

Wendy van Schalkwyk and Tony Nunn have captured many stories of early Willowmore farmers in their newly published book. The Cape Journal Willowmore states that the first farm was registered in 1817 even though farmers had been trekking through the area from much earlier. This is proved by the grave of I W Ferreira, who was buried on Schilpadbeen in 1802. Six generations of Ferreiras farmed here with cattle and small stock and produced fruit, flowers, vegetables and brandy, till their still was destroyed during the Anglo-Boer War. One of the daughters, Aletta Maria Catherina Ignatina was the mother of Roy Welensky, who was knighted and became Prime Minister of Rhodesia. The farm stories roll on. One tells of Harry Freedman who was studying medicine when his father, Louis, died. Harry returned to South Africa to farm at Laughing Waters, originally Klipbankies which had a beautiful house built by the original owner, a Mr Baker. Then, there was Dr Jack Laubscher, who qualified as a dentist and practised in Graaff-Reinet but was also a talented engineer. His practice brought him to Willowmore once a month and he drove there by “prickly pear power”. Mounted on the back of his car was a large drum containing a prickly pear concoction which he used as fuel. Another early motorist was Frederick Hayward. Willowmore’s Mr Bruce taught him to drive. His first car was a Maxwell and his second was an Oldsmobile. Frederick built a ramp over the boundary fences on the lower portion of his farm, Chelmsford, so that he didn’t have to stop to open the gate. This was not useable by vehicles wider or narrower than his Oldsmobile.

GRANDAD FOUND THE OTHER HALF

Ray Cairncorss from George remembers many an exciting trip through in the Karoo in the 1930s with his father and grandfather in a 1927 Willys Overland. “We spent our time browsing across the veld searching for succulents, tortoises and rocks. My grandfather did so much research that one of the specimens he found was named Atherstonii Cairncrossi in his honour. This was one of his proudest achievements. He once picked up half a fossil and kept it carefully until he could hand it to the S A Museum. When he did the curator looked carefully at it, then opened a drawer and produced the other half. To grandad’s amazement they matched up perfectly.”


Educated people speak the same language, but cultivated ones need not speak at all – Louis Kronenberger