Dreams That Turn To Dust

Alex Stone’s newlylaunched Dreams and Dust is a unique book and a fascinating read. It takes an unusual look into South African history as it explores the dreams of so many groups of people who deeply desired to establish republics in South Africa and whose dreams turned to dust. The rise and fall of 58 actual republics established since 1795 are covered and 20 equally interesting fictional ones, plus the Volkstaats, are discussed. Alex became interested in the stories that make up this book while still a teenager. His growing-up years led him from question to question. Alex manages to address the pitfalls of South Africa’s stormy and turbulent history as well as its “my history” and in doing so achieves an immensely readable book for which reviewers have high praise. Emeritus Professor Dr Bill Nasson calls the stories compelling and says: “I can’t think of anything remotely comparable to this in South African history.” He adds that the stories are compelling, written in a light, lively way with a fresh, strikingly idiosyncratic touch. “They are emotive and powerful.”   Author, Dr Steven Roger Fischer, says that on a perilous and adventurous trek Alex has managed to capture the tragedy and chaos that is this land called South Africa.” David Robbins says the stories are “impressively researched and solidly written”, while Denis Beckett asks, “who the hell would ever have dreamed of writing a book about unheard-of republics and imaginary ones.” This well-illustrated 629-page book, published by Footprint Press has 69 seldom-seen maps as well as details of 40 flags and proposed flag designs. It costs about R400 and is a must for any history lovers interested in the turmoil, tragedy, and chaos of South Africa’s past. It can be ordered from David Hilton-Barber.

Real People, Real Places, Real Dreams 

The journey through Dreams and Dust is chronological. There is no significance to the order says Alex an award-winning author, artist, inventor, and poet who lived in South Africa before moving to Waiheke Island near New Zealand. Many South Africans may have heard of some of the republics, but almost none will know them all.  As expected, the saga begins with Graaff-Reinet and Swellendam and from there wanders through many unexpected and unknown places spread out across the country. Each republic has a compelling tale to tell and each is introduced with its own official title and language, but for ease of reading Alex then goes on to use Anglicisms. With the exception of Buysdorp, their common ground is that none lasted long. Among them was one failed attempt at indirect rule under an “absolute monarch”. There’s a great deal of fun discovering the fictional ones. Among those are Kukuanaland, Bapetikosweti, Azania, the Domination of Draka, Fook Island and Outer Heaven. Alex says: “There is one fictional state, that I have named myself – The Country of the Freedom Charter. It could conceivably be called the New South Africa or The Rainbow Nation, but on reflection, I rejected those names.  They have been used widely in the real world of present-day South Africa, but the country in practice is not the shining democracy that was promised. The Country of the Freedom Charter is yet to become a reality.” In Dreams and Dust Alex also explores the various cultures and the misleading names that have surfaced in South Africa over the years. One is “Khosan” which refers to two different cultures – the Khoekhoe, who were cattle and sheep herders and the San, who were hunter-gathers.  He refers to Ruben Richards, who points out that not all San are happy with this name. Many actually prefer to be called Bushmen as this recognizes their deep ancestral knowledge of the veld. This is an absorbing read because all these places were based on some very real hopes and dreams but sadly these quickly turned to dust.

First Open Garden Event

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson and Professor Sue Dean pooled their knowledge a few years ago to help some Prince Albert residents create spectacular dryland gardens. These are now joining forces to host the village’s first Open Garden Event from September 30 to October 1.

Larger Than Life General

A larger-than-life British general served in South Africa during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He was Henry Evelyn Wood, whose father was a clergyman. He was born in 1838, and at the age of 15, he enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman. He later transferred to the army where he rose through the ranks to become a field marshal. During his colourful career he was wounded many times and once badly injured by a crucifix that he wore under his shirt. It had belonged to his wife. His horse was shot out from under him. He was shot and doctors recommenced amputation of his left arm. He refused and later, using a knife and a mirror he removed shards from his elbow. He was hospitalized with pneumonia, typhoid, and dysentery, invalided with fever, sunstroke, and ear problems, and due to various fevers became quite deaf. His parents were once told he was dying. His mother rushed to his side on March 20, 1856, only to find one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses striking him. He was so emaciated that his hip bones were poking through his skin. Against medical advice, he was taken back to England, where he fell on the crown of his head and injured himself so badly that his neck swelled up. Then, in 1874 while nursing his children through diphtheria, he was prescribed morphine for insomnia and nearly died of an overdose. He fought in Egypt, the Sudan, and India, where he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was attacked by a wounded tiger, and he fell from a giraffe belonging to an Indian prince. While riding it as a dare he slipped off and was badly trampled by the animal’s hooves Both cheekbones and his nose were crushed.

Extremely Vain

Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood, VC, GCB, GCMG, was described as extraordinarily sycophantic and garrulous”. A field officer had to accompany him at night because he could not hear a sentry’s challenge. He was also said to be a hypochondriac, and very vain. He had his medal ribbons bordered in black so that they would show up better”. He loved animals and was a keen rider, He was concerned with the well-being of his men. He made contributions to a Baptist chapel, ensured that Baptist services were as well publicized, and arranged an ecumenical service for Irish regiments which were acceptable to Catholic and Anglicanservicemen.  He recommended the training of army cooks and experimented with training soldiers on bicycles.

Chicory Goes Way Back in South Africa 

Chicory has been cultivated in South Africa since 1895.  The first seeds were imported from the Netherlands by Robert “Bob” Thornton-Smith. Born on January 31, 1862, in Alexandria, E Cape, he was one of the six sons of John Francis Smith, and his wife, a local lass, Elizabeth (nee Cannon). Chicory cultivation dates back to around 300 BC. One of the earliest references to chicory being eaten as a vegetable, was by Horas, a Roman lyric poet, who lived around 65–8 BC. Chicory can be eaten raw or cooked. It comes in red and white varieties. It is known as chicory in the UK, but it is more commonly known as chicon, witloof, or endive The plant, serves a niche market as its most important characteristic is its ability to enhance the aroma and taste of coffee, as well as to strengthen the mixture. It is used as a coffee substitute. started in 1766, when Fredrich the Great banned the importation of coffee to Prussia. In South Africa, chicory (Cichorium intybus) was initially cultivated mainly around Alexandria, but it is now farmed across a vast area stretching from Patensie to Cookhouse. where about 20,000 tons are harvested annually. Chicory does not contain caffeine; it aids digestion. A tincture of chicory roots and leaves is used to treat liver problems, gout, diabetes, rheumatic conditions, lack of appetite, and many other ailments. The plant is closely related to the sunflower and the ordinary marigold dais. Its large, broad basal leaves are used as fodder. For more visit www.chicory.co.za.

Much More than a Missionary 

Rudolph F Roser was a Moravian Church missionary who arrived in South Africa in 1848. He was sent to Genadendal where he worked until 1869. He was married to Anna C Stephan from Zeist in the Netherlands. Roser studied and collected the local flora and in 1855 received a collection of plants from Reverend L R Baur. He took these to Germany with his own collection. He obtained a Doctor of Medicine Degree (MD) in 1856, under the supervision of Dr W von Rapp of Tubingen. His thesis, Naturhistorische und Medicinische Beobachtungen Uber Gnadenthal in Suid-Afrika, which was written in 1856, included a list of plants growing in the neighbourhood of the mission; a list of indigenous trees with their common names, characteristics, and uses; a descriptive list of medicinal plants used by the Khoi, with their common names; and references to his medical work at Genadendal, states Cornelis Plugge.  After his return to the Cape Colony, he was licensed to practice medicine in November 1862. W H Harvey thanked him for “an interesting series of well-dried specimens” in Flora Capensis in 1860. Some of his specimens are in the Compton Herbarium in Cape Town.

From Architect To Mission Work 

John Thomas Melvill (sometimes found as Melville and Melvel) trained as a surveyor and building designer under architect Louis M Thibault, then, influenced by the work of Robert Moffat became a missionary. In this capacity, he worked at London Missionary Society stations at Griquatown, Philippolis, And Hankey from the 1820s to the late 1830s. In 1838 he founded a mission at Dysselsdorp, between De Rust and Oudtshoorn. Born in London on June 10, 1787, to Captain Thomas and his wife, Jennet Melvill, he came to the Cape with them in 1799. Once settled he obtained a job as an assistant and trainee under architect Louis M Thibault. In 1811, while still working for Thibault, he was appointed assistant government surveyor.  On June 21, 1812, he married Anna Frederika Stadler, from Mossel Bay, in the Lutheran Church, in Cape Town, and in time they had 14 children.   In November 1815, when Thibault died, he was made inspector of buildings (works) and land surveyor to the Cape Government. He planned a housing development at Simon’s Town, which was not carried out, but his plan for the front of a chapel for the United Brethren (Moravians) at Mamre was accepted. He eventually designed the whole building, which according to Langham Carter, one-time head of the National Monument Council, was “an interesting attempt at a German double-ended church by an Englishman.” he felt that its character was reminiscent of Puritan churches in England and North America.

Seeking A Spot For A Station

In March 1816, he left his wife, two-yearold son, and month-old daughter at the Genadendal Mission Station so that he could accompany Rev Christian Latrobe as a guide and assist him in seeking a suitable location for another Moravian Mission in the Eastern Cape. Latrobe recorded this in his Journal of a Visit to South Africa.Two of John’s aquatintsKayman’s Gat and The Paardekop – were included in the book. The party was hosted at Melkhoutkraal in Knysna by  George Rex. John met Robert Moffat in Cape Town and was most impressed by him and his work. He resigned from the Cape Town surveyor’s office in 1822 and became a government agent at Klaarwater. He was by then a deacon of the Independent Church and his aim was to help the distressed Griqua people. He resigned his Government post in 1826 but remained on as a missionary at Klaarwater. Later while serving as a missionary in Philippolis he designed the first Dutch Reformed Church building at Colesberg. Seven years later he moved to Hankey where he ‘co-founded’ the Hankey Khoi mission agricultural settlement with Dr John Philip and stayed for another seven years.  Since then, there have always been Melvilles living and farming in the Gamtoos River valley, in the Hankey, Patensie, and Humansdorp areas. Towards the end of his life, by about 1846, he became almost blind. He then moved to George. Despite failing health and loss of sight, John continued to preach and assist in ministerial work for five years, up to the last Sunday of his life. He died on August 6, 1852, at the age of 65.

Like Father Like Son 

John’s son Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and became a land surveyor in the George-Knysna district. So did another son, John George, who was born at Philippolis. Thomas fought in the Sixth Frontier War in 1835 alongside Frederick,  son of George Rex. In time he also befriended the other Rex brother, John, who was a shopkeeper in the area which later became East London. At the time when he enlisted Thomas was 21. The war was over by 1836 and it is interesting to note that Frederick Rex went on to also become a land surveyor. In 1837, Thomas married Eliza Jane Harding in George. She was the daughter of Captain William Walter Harding and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Herrick), both of whom hailed from Cork, Ireland. William was a military veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, who came to the Cape in 1813 and later sold his commission to Henry Somerset, son of Lord Charles Somerset, After that he took up positions as deputy Landdrost in Cradock, government agent in Plettenberg Bay, and magistrate of Beaufort West. He died in 1831. His wife, who lived for another 35 years, subsequently moved to George.

Saved Church From Ruin

Reverend John DokePioneer Baptist minister, artist, author, intellectual, and gifted orator, Reverend John Joseph Doke, was born in Chudleigh in Devonshire, England, on November 5, 1861, and he died in Umtali, in the then Rhodesia, on August 15, 1913. He came to South Africa for health reasons in 1882, settled in Graaff-Reinet and there established a Baptist church.  Feeling better four years later he went on a study tour of India, then returned to marry a South African Lass, Agnes Hannah, Biggs.  He went back to England after a while, then in 1894, to New Zealand till in 1903, he was called to Grahamstown. He was elected president of the Baptist Union of SAin 1906 and during his term of office, until 1913, he saved the Baptist church from financial ruin.

The Man Who Found The Diamonds 

One of the great South African mysteries is how there came to be huge deposits of alluvial diamonds on the Namaqualand coast. This deposit was discovered in 1926 by an Indian Army officer, Captain Jack Carstens, who was visiting his father, a trader in Port Nolloth. Jack started a great diamond rush where the Orange River reaches the sea – it is known as The Skeleton Coast. Prospectors faced many hardships and great problems because of the complete absence of surface water. The intense heat, clammy mists, and howling desert winds made the area immensely inhospitable. Despite this, some fantastic finds were made. Renowned scientist, geologist, prospector, conservationist, and philanthropist Hans Merensky, picked up 487 diamonds under a flatstone and in the month of September that year recovered 2 762 diamonds in the Alexander Bay area alone. In time he received over £1,250,000 for his prospector’s share. By February 22, 1927, only a few months after the initial discovery, the government stepped in and secured vast areas.  The public was prevented from mining in this controlled area so as to not to flood the market. Port Nolloth was crammed with furious prospectors, who threatened to seize the diamond fields by storm. Massive military and police reinforcements were sent to the area and machine guns were mounted at strategic positions before it was possible to control the rebellion. Small-scale diamond diving still takes place from this port, however today it is mainly used by the cray fishing industry.

A Baffling Conundrum

The discovery of the diamonds at the mouth of the Orange River baffled geologists. The diamonds were invariably found in beds of gravel mixed with the fossilized shells of an extinct warm-water oyster known as Ostrea prismatic. But states an item in the Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa, diamonds and oysters have no connection, so at some time, some major geological changes must have occurred that killed the oysters. Many myths and legends surround these diamond fields.  For a long time, it was thought that the diamonds had been washed down the Orange River, but a search of the riverbed to find the motherlode proved fruitless.  There is a theory that says the diamonds were washed downstream from the famous Kimberley Diamond area, millions of years ago when the river was much larger.

The Stop Before The Storm

This port was initially marked in 1487 by Bartholomew Diaz on his epic voyage around the Cape. The Nama people called it Aukwatowa the place where the water took the old man away”.  This was Diaz’s last landfall before a wild storm blew his ship off course for 30 days. The port was later named Robbe Baai (Seal Bay), but the area remained uninhabited until Scottish author, traveller, and soldier, General James Edward Alexander, visited South Africa on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society. He traveled through Namaqualand and Damaraland from September 8, 1836, to September 21, 1837. During this time, he collected rock specimens, pelts of rare animals, bird skins, as well as Herero and Nama weapons and implements. He also “discovered” copper at Okiep and drew a map from Alexander Bay which was subsequently used by Arrowsmiths (see Forgotten Highway Express No 8 August 2023 – The Men Who Made the Maps). Copper mining in this area has a very long history. Governor Simon van der Stel visited a site where mineral ores were extracted from the ground by excavating surface pits and subterranean passages during his expedition to Namaqualand in 1685. Then, one of the first documented trips was by Colonel Robert Gordon in 1777; he was followed by Lieutenant William Patterson in 1778, Le Valliant in 1781, and again in 1791, and George Thompson in 1827. Several Cornish miners moved to the copper mine at Okiep. In 1882 they erected a steam-driven beam pump to pump from the mine and it was used until 1929.

Moving The Copper To Market 

In 1854 Captain M S Nolloth, a Royal Navy accredited surveyor examined Port Nolloth for development as an export harbour for the copper mines around Okiep. In 1855 a rudimentary quay, wide enough to accommodate ox wagons bringing the copper ore to the coast was built. The wagons were replaced in 1874 by a narrow-gauge rail. The port remained the principal outlet for copper for 68 years, then the ore carriers became bigger and some even ran aground.  In 1942 a road was built to the railhead at Bitterfontein where copper transportlinked into the South African network. Yet even after that the 205-ton freighter Border ran aground while attempting to ride out a storm in 1947 and in 1950 the same fate befell the 400-ton Bechuana. In 1976 shipping was reduced to a single tanker the Oranjemund which visited the port fortnightly to exchange supplies for fish and diamonds, but this service was suspended in 2006.