Should Karoo lamb be branded? Should it have a stamp of origin, a guarantee of quality? Johan Kirsten of the University of Port Elizabeth thinks so. In a study presented earlier this year he proposed farmers and stakeholders should investigate the need to promote Karoo lamb as a product of excellence. “The Karoo itself has become synonymous with quality, tradition and wholesomeness,” he says. “The mutton of the region has been part of South Africa’s cultural heritage and Cape cuisine for over a hundred years. In recent times this product’s reputation for quality has allowed it to broaden its horizons. “’Karoo Lamb’ now appears on hotel, guest house and catering menus across the country and abroad, yet there is no insignia, no certification and no guarantee that the product being served truly originates from the Karoo. The term is often loosely applied to meat with little or no link to the region. In fact, only one retail chain (Woolworths) has a registered trademark for a Karoo lamb product.” So, now Johan poses the question: “Would you like to know that what you are buying as Karoo lamb really is Karoo lamb?’


The early Karoo was cash country. “It wasn’t ignorance that led people to keep large sums of cash on their farms,” writes Lawrence Green in Land of the Afternoon, “it was necessity. Men buying farms and stock in far flung places always needed hard cash close at hand. “In the 1800s a buyer with a cheque book would have been given many an askance glance. In any event, banks only moved into the hinterland from 1857. Horse dealers carried leather pouches, called ‘bladsakke’ on their shoulders and from these produced ready cash. Of course, back home men had to have hiding places for their money and some of these were quite ingenious. “A favourite was the ash heap at the back of the house,” writes Green. “It look so long to unearth a skin bag of sovereigns from there that the farmer relied upon catching a potential thief in the act.” Stashes of cash were hidden in wagon or tool boxes, crevices in walls, beneath floor boards, under mattresses, above the water line in wells, in cushions, chimneys, thatch roofs and ceilings. And, as a rule, every farmer told his wife where his hiding place was, but one kept his secret and almost took his fortune to the grave,” says Green. This fellow, a keen woodworker, made his own coffin and into it built a false bottom to hold his cash. The coffin was stored in an outside room where he from time to time went to ”ponder eternity”. One day this farmer was thrown from his horse and killed. His loving wife prepared his body for burial and, with servants, placed it in his coffin. They then discovered they could not lift the coffin, so wondering whether it may have been more than “angels and the realms of glory” that took him so often to this room, she had him lifted out again. Then, she discovered a lose plank as the bottom of the coffin and on removing it discovered a cavity filled with sovereigns. “This creative craftsman almost managed to go off to meet his Maker on a bed of gold!”


Laws banning smoking in public places are not as modern as we think. In 1873 a man was given 14 days hard labour for lighting his pipe in a Beaufort West street. Hinterland farmers grew old fashioned “Boer tobacco” along the walls of their kraals. They found the plants flourished in the rich manure of sheep kraals, but that cattle manure gave the leaves a “satisfying bite”. When the leaves were ready, they were trimmed from the stalks, tied with matjiesriet and hung to dry in the rafters. The leaves were steeped in witblitz or the ash of a succulent shrub called litjiesbos (the plant which some say gave Letjiesbos, outside Beaufort West its name). The witblitz was said to add a distinctive “kick”. When the tobacco had fermented sufficiently it was twisted into long strings, each weighing six or eight pounds,” writes Green in Land of the Afternoon. “Good brown Boer tobacco had an inviting aroma. It could be smoked, chewed or used as snuff and a good sheep dip could be made from the inferior bits.” In the early 1800s a group of American whaling skippers from New Jersey, who called at the Cape were said to have relished the local Boer tobacco. “But, then it must be admitted they were tough old mariners,” writes Green.


Badminton, said to be one of the greatest country houses in the world, has a link with Beaufort West. It was the home of Lord Charles Somerset, second son of the Fifth Duke of Beaufort, governor of the Cape Colony and the man who gave the town its name. Shortly after the village was established in 1818 Lord Charles named it Beaufort in honour of his father. Sadly, he did not give it sole rights to the name and when Fort Beaufort came into being “West’ was added to the town’s name in 1860 to distinguish it. Lord Charles honoured his elder brother Henry, Marquis of Worcester, by naming a Boland town in his honour and both Somerset “East” and “West” owe their origins to this famous family. Badminton, a magnificent house with a frontage of 240 meters and over 100 bedrooms, lies in an estate with a circumference4 of 16 km. This was granted to the family in 1682 at the time of the Restoration by Charles II because of local support given to Charles I by this family. Badminton also gave its name to a popular racquet game, brought back to England by army officers who had served in India.


The House of Beaufort has a rich history. Ros Turner, information officer of the Blue Crane Route in Somerset East, discovered this while browsing in the town’s Langenhoven Library. She discovered some of the family’s darker secrets. “While the House of Beaufort proudly traces its lineage to the Plantagenets, they unfortunately came from the wrong side of the covers,” says Ros. “Their line comes from the illegitimate union of Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt and Catherine Swynford. In time, the Pope, however, legitimised the children of this union, and in 1682, the Dukedom of Beaufort was granted to one of the sons. The Eighth Duke delved deep into the family history and eventually claimed that the Beauforts had a greater claim on the British throne than the present day monarchy. To support this he presented documents, allegedly proving that John of Gaunt and Catherine Swynford were married to Queen Victoria. She is said to have thanked him politely and immediately thrown the documents in to the fire. Lord Charles’s elder brother, Henry, inherited the title. Another of his brothers, Lord FitzRoy Somerset, later known as Field Marshall Lord Raglan, was aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington. Lord FitzRoy lost an arm at the Battle of Waterloo. He died while commanding the British forces during the Crimean War. His name will forever be associated with the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade.


The fifth Duke of Beaufort instructed all of his nine sons to “marry only for money/” He was quite blunt about this. “Love,” he felt was “over-rated, fickle and fading” and in any event, he said he could not afford to give them each more than £600 a year as an allowance. Lord Charles decided not to heed his father. He married for love and caused a furore. At 21 he fell in love with Elizabeth, the 16-year old daughter of William, second Viscount Courtnay, and to his delight found that his feelings were reciprocated. He asked for her hand, but was turned down by her father, who did not consider him good enough. His father also disproved because, as one of 13 children, she could expect only a small dowry. So, Charles and Elizabeth decided to elope. When the Courtnays came to London for the 1788 season, Elizabeth slipped away with her maid and joined Charles at a pre-arranged spot. They sped off to Gretna Green in a post coach and married immediately. London Society was agog at the news. Elizabeth waited at the Beaufort Hunting Lodge in Oxfordshire while Lord Charles rode to \Badminton to inform his father, who did not take the news well. However before things could get out of hand the Lord Chief Justice of London interceded. Lord Courtnay was the first to forgive them and he settled £10 000 on Elizabeth


The Duke of Beaufort eventually also forgave his errant son and then did everything in his power to help promote Lord Charles’s career. This led to his appointment as Governor of the Cape Colony in 1814. Lord Charles was the first governor to arrive with the intention of making his home at the Cape. He chartered two ships to bring out his household goods. The sea journey, which he referred to “as he worst in the annuals of naval history” took 14 weeks. The ship’s company was, he said the most drunken he had ever seen and the food the worst he had ever been served. It was so bad he was convinced it would “make stable boys mutiny”. He complained that even the tea was “greasy”. Lady Elizabeth Somerset died in 1815, and in 1821 Lord Charles married Mary Poulet. He accomplished a great deal during his term of office. He encouraged progressive farming, he brought out Scottish school masters and pastors to educate the people of the hinterland. He set up a mail service, tried to improve the lot of slaves and to devise ways of keeping peace on the frontier, yet Thomas Pringle referred to his term of office as a “reign of terror”.


A South African Special Forces unit, known as the “Dirty Dozen”, once had a hair-raising experience in Beaufort West. This Operational Experimental Group (OEG), part of the Infantry school was undergoing special training in Oudtshoorn and the Knysna forest area, when they were notified by General Louw, then chief of the Army, that a South African Boeing had been hijacked in Malawi. The group was asked to recover it. A DC-3 Dakota was sent to pick them up in Oudtshoorn. “Totally inexperienced in this line, they loaded the Dakota with explosives and other equipment and took off for Malawi,” writes Paul Else in We Fear Naught But God, the Story of the South African Special Forces. “However, near Bloemfontein, they were somewhat disappointed to hear that their services were no longer needed as the Boeing had been recovered, so the Dakota turned back. On the return journey a decision was made to drop some of the men at Beaufort West. This proved to be a hair-raising experience as a very strong, gusty wind was blowing. The pilot had to make several attempts before he succeeded in landing the plane successfully.” Many have found that high winds make landing at Beaufort West’s little airport quite hazardous.


At the end of WWI Beaufort Westers established a fund to welcome home “the boys who’d served their country and made the world a safer place”. This fund was enthusiastically supported by many loyal business men, including E Church, C Delbridge, M Felman, Morris Garb, M Gerberg, H Home, C Jackson, J P J Jooste, J Krige, (vice principal of the Boys’ School), M Levin, E H and L Lotter, A Moore, E Nel, P O’Connor, D Pienaar, J Swapeoel, C Tzamtzis, C Vorster, M Wattleworth and C Wilkinson. Three taxis were kept on standby to meet the trains. According to The Courier of April 4, 1919, the Welcoming Committee also rustled up as many private cars as possible to drive in a parade of honour for each returning soldier. When war broke out 12 Jewish boys and three girls from Beaufort West enlisted. Among these were four of Louis Magid’s sons and two of his daughters. Two of his sons were killed. Many years later, The Jewish Times of June 4, 1947, states two Beaufort West lads were responsible for inventions during WWI. One it states evolved a secret code based on musical notes and the other a special tank. Sadly, however, the newspaper does not name these men.


The Adamsteins were leading lights in Laingsburg Jewish Community. Arthur Markowitz discovered this when he visited in 1947 to collect information for a series of articles commissioned by the S A Jewish Times and entitled “They Helped to Build South Africa”. In Laingsburg Arthur met Mr A Groll, who’s been living there since 1910. Groll took him to see Mr L Hellman, the only other Jewish person in town. Hellman was 75 and claimed to be the oldest person in Laingsburg. Groll told Arthur that the first Jews had come to Laingsburg in about 1900. In 1904, at the initiative of David Adamstein, a pioneer of the district, a congregation was formed. As chairman David didn’t let grass grow under his feet,” said Groll. “Within a year he’d motivated the community to build a synagogue and to acquire a burial plot. Soon there were 33 Jewish families in town and by 1923, they had a flourishing Zionist Society and Philanthropic Association. David’s sons, David and Elias, carried on their father’s work and for 20 years the synagogue was full for every service.” Then slowly numbers dwindled until only two were left. Arthur wrote: ”Today the synagogue stands deserted except on Friday nights. Then out of respect for their religion, the town’s two oldest men go to their place of worship to pray in familiar surroundings.”


When Malcolm and Wendy Bates of Plumstead recently decided to take a cycling holiday in the Laingsburg area their friends thought they were mad. Ignoring questions like “What on earth do you expect to find there?’ they went ahead, did a bit of background research, loaded their bikes and set off. “You see much more on a bike than you’d ever see from a car, but even so, Laingsburg surprised us. The area is quite beautiful,” writes Malcolm. “Our first trip was an 86 km ride on tar and good gravel along the Ladismith road towards Anysberg. Within 2 kms of leaving Laingsburg the scenery became spectacular. Next day we took a 38km jaunt into the Witteberge. This was superb. The scenery changes from “moonscape” to green pastures with plenty of water in little vleis and dams. We saw buck galore, baboons, dassies, puff adders, hundreds of birds and just one motor car. We revelled in the fresh air, sunshine and silence. We also tried shorter rides into the Moordenaars Karoo, to Geelbek farm and Floriskraal Dam, where the koppies are simply spectacular. This is excellent cycling country. We’re definitely going back to explore Vleiland, Rouxpos, the Moordenaars Karoo and Seweweekspoort. The town has some good B&Bs. It’s clean and well kept. We felt welcome and safe,” says Malcolm. During the week Malcolm and Wendy cycled 280 km.


The Jewish cemetery in Britstown has an odd history. It came into being because of a murder. The story was told to Arthur Markowitz in 1947, by Mr I Goldstuck, a Latvian Jew, who had acquired the farm, Brandam and settled in the district in 1897. Goldstuck said a Jewish trader, names Borkum, was murdered in the area in 1905. “The crime remained undetected for days, then the body was found in an advanced state of decomposition. An immediate burial had to be arranged, but there was no Jewish cemetery, so I approached the authorities and was quite relieved when they put a piece of ground at the disposal of our tiny community.” Mr Goldstuck did everything that was necessary for Borkum to be given a decent burial. “Since then very few Jews have been buried here,” he said. “The graves in our little cemetery are mainly those of ‘smouses’ (travelling pedlars) and ‘tochers’ (general travellers), who died while passing through this district.” And, sadly, he said, Borkum’s murder ws never solved.


Leo Poborze came to South Africa in 1924. “He built himself a store at Commando Drift and simply looked forward to a quiet life,” wrote Arthur Marcowitz in the S A Jewish Times in 1947. “Leo was a great intellectual and no mean scholar. He could read the Talmud and great works of Hebrew, Russian and German literature. He had needed these skills in Europe where his great literary talents were envied by his peers, but in South Africa they seemed of little use. Here he was isolate and for 15 years sacrificed his religion to his business. He was not a happy man. Then, he discovered a new “Way”. He converted to Christianity, began preaching and, in time, became a missionary.”


Ralph Anderson’s suggestion that farm graves get recorded has prompted another reply. Janet Melville from Port Elizabeth says: “There is already a project underway to register graves from all over including farms. It is run by the Genealogical Society of South Africa. They now have two CD’s with the information. The idea is that everyone sends information to them, it gets co-ordinated and so becomes available to all.”


The wild plum, (Harpepbyllium caffrum), is a large, popular, evergreen shade tree that reaches a height of about 15 meters, is one of the country’s “medical trees”. Leeu Gamka’s Indigenous Nursery is recommending it as the medical plant of choice this month. “According to Medical Plants of S A decoctions made from its bark are good blood purifiers and emetics,” says information officer, Charlotte Bothma. “These can also be used as face and skin washes, to treat acne, eczema, sprains and fractures. Powdered burnt bark heals scarification’s. The tree produces sour, but edible, bright red plum-like fruit. It grows l,5m a year, tolerates light frost and short periods of drought. It is an attractive tree. The male and female flowers occur on separate trees.”


Leeu Gamka’s Indigenous Nursery’s “tree of the month” is the quiver tree or kokerboom (Aloe dichotoma). “This distinctive tree aloe is among the best known plants of South Africa and Namibia,” says information officer, Charlotte Bothma. “The tree takes its name from its repeatedly forked branched (dichotoma – dichotomous means forked). These develop into a dense round crown and blue-green leaves form terminal rosettes on older branches. On young plants the leaves appear in vertical rows. The quiver tree produces bright yellow flowers from June to August and the young flower buds are edible. Some say they taste like asparagus. Sugar birds are drawn to these flowers in winter and feed on the nectar. Aloe dichotoma trees are extremely tough and can reach ages of over 80 years. They grow to a height of about 7 m. A thin layer of whitish powder covers their smooth branches, and this helps them deflect the rays of the sun. The bark of the trunk forms beautiful golden-brown scales with razor sharp edges. The San are said to have made quivers for their arrows from the branches of these trees, hence their common name. It is also said that pioneers hollowed out the large trunks of dead trees and stored water, meat and vegetables in these. Apparently, the fibrous tissue of the trunk has a cooling effect on air passing through and so the tree becomes a natural ‘fridge’.”


Dr Michael Ellman is searching for details of his grandparents who may have lived in Beaufort West in the late 1800s. He wondered whether any Karoo genealogical researchers may have come across the name Ellman or Elmann in the course of their researches and studies. “Like most early names the spelling varies,” he said.

Life’s like a play: its not the length, but the excellence of the acting that mattersSeneca