On Heritage Day we spend the day in the veld looking for something different than the usual. Decided to put on our camera strap and walking boots and get going.
After six months of living in the North West Province of South Africa, we thought that it is time to learn more about the heritage plants in the Kameel area.
We need to get a guide to learn us more.
Our area is very dry with red sand and the summer temperature rises to 45 degrees Celsius. This year the summer rainfall was less than 100 millimeter. The grasslands are very dry and the wildflowers are far and in between. There are no big fields of flowers but when you find one it is almost an ecstatic experience.
It was a special experience to just wander and experience beauty.
If you can identify any of our plants we will appreciate it.
It is always an honor to share a writing of Leon Strachan. This was taken from Blinkoog (2002). Thanks Andrew Barlow for translation, Mia Prinsloo – the granddaughter of Jurie who introduced us to the ruin on the hill, Niek Swart who show us around and Biebie de Vos for sharing some of the photo’s
“Look at that, that is crazy Jurie’s harem…no there….. on top of that hillock directly behind Reennenhoop’s homestead. He imported French girls, indeed from the Moulins Rouge.” In the puritanical reformed Free State rural area? A harem? Naughty French girls?
The sandstone ruin on Reenenshoop created a phantasy which held its fascination for many generations thereafter. Perhaps it is something still derived from ages ago herd instincts which have not died out fully yet. So that the very idea would still raise mens’ blood pressure.
The satisfaction of a bull with a whole herd of heifers, or something like that.
There was an unusual amount of building shortly before the First World War. “Juri costruisce castle” remarked an Italian stone mason in his broken English-Italian in the bar of the Central Hotel.
“I hear that it is harem?” Si…il harem” replied the Italian. The harem story spread like a wild-fire. When the unusual door and window frames arrived there from England a few weeks later the wild fire became a raging fire
“The harem story is then really true” remarked one of the men on the truck. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and wiped his forehead. He hooked his thumbs into his suspenders and kicked against one of the crates. “Look. this what a harem’s windows should look like!
“How would you know Thys?” The others burst out laughing. Later some of the clerks from the station walked over to the goods shed to see what all the noise was about. Two ox wagons were loaded with the crates in which the unusual door frames were packed – wide and high. Solid frames with sky lights , all of Oregon and made on special order in England. Some of the window frames were higher even than the doors, extraordinary pieces. “Yes Jurie will have massive mirrors against the walls of the reception room and seven French girls have already arrived in Cape Town.”
“That cannot be true”.
“It is so, Chris Cloete had to have them fetched from Cape Town”
“Nonsense, Chris is a man of the church. He would not do it. In any event where are they now?”
“He merely paid them and put them on a ship back to France.”
Oh no! Why the devil would the man have done a thing like that?”. said cross-eyed Thys, “if Jurie does not want them, I will take them.
“Yes you old loud mouth, you cannot even keep Zina satisfied!” The men roared with laughter but had to dodge quickly – cross-eyed Thys throws anything he can get hold of, even empty cream cans.
The story starts much earlier, at the time 1840 – the stretches of land belonged to the Uys family in 1840 including Reenenshoop. Dina Uys married Louwrens Wessels.Three children were born Jurie Johannes in 1883. He passed matric at Harrismith in 1899 – this was unusual. Boer children at the time did not have much schooling – Boer Matric was the norm – catechism, writing, reading and arithmetic. Jurie was the first person in this predominantly English-speaking town to have achieved this distinction in spite of the fact the English speaking people had a completely different attitude about learning.He achieved this in the first class. Jurie, perhaps had little choice other than to farm.
By 1906 the economy had improved slightly and Jurie was able to go to the Cape Colony to buy sheep. The handsome 23 year old red-head had a head for business. Faan Bekker of Rietvlei in the Aliwal North district had sheep for sale. He stayed with the family for a couple of days. At first Jurie was only vaguely aware of her, until he caught her eye – the ‘bywoners’ girl with a ‘kopdoek’ and soulful eyes which haunted him so much that on his return to the Free State, he wrote to her. He wrote in English but halfway through the letter he switched into Afrikaans. It is in this language that she replied, explaining her life as a ‘bywoner’s’ daughter. In his reply, in his neat handwriting, he declared his love for her.
They were married within a year.Without the headdress Suzie was beautiful woman – he had quite an eye for beauty. With increasing self-confidence Suzie made her mark on Reenenshoop. The neat sandstone house became a home with a warm and friendly atmosphere. The spontaneous girl from the Colony made friends easily and liked to entertain.
The fairy tale transformation of the servant girl to a popular hostess married to an anti social man. He did not visit people and didn’t go to church and had not even been confirmed. Suzie only much later persuaded him to be confirmed and even for this she had to get the parson to come to the farm.’
Suzie had entered a world of riches but it was not easy at all. Her intelligent and well read husband was forbiddingly strict he didn’t tolerate any opposition, his “no” was “no”. This she could respect but his unreasonable obstinacy later became a thorn in her flesh.
Jurie was an enigma; as strict, miserly and relentless as he was, he could spend money lavishly on something which he regarded as worthwhile. He overwhelmed his beautiful wife with valuable jewelry and started to build a dream hose for her. On completion it would probably have been the most imposing house in all of the Free State, Suzie’s complex husband, in his own way cared very much for her.
Jurie’s favorite spot on the farm was the high ridge to the north of the house which dominated the surroundings. From there he could survey the whole farm and see to the farthest horizons. He could sit there and dream and plan – and even see visions. In a moment of inspiration he decided to build a palace for Suzie, her a castle. On the eastern point he measured out the foundation. He planned a large home with a wide passage, four large bedrooms, a big kitchen and a large reception area for his Suzie.
It was the gigantic reception room with its very large windows that set the tongues wagging. This room was 80 feet long by 24 feet wide, with a surface area of 175m2 which in 1912 was bigger than the average house. Imposing, overpowering it was comparable with the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles which it probably inspired.
The fact that French girls were involved furnishes the clue. Jurie was well read and had an excellent general knowledge and had traveled too – certainly, he had visited Versailles. He knew how Marie Antoinette’s room of mirrors had entranced, impressed and even intimidated and he wanted his Suzie to come to her own in this hall. The outside wall of that room had six very large high windows as well as two similar ones at each end. With mirrors at regular intervals in the spaces between the windows and mirrors along the opposite inner wall, the effct of light, reflection, unspoilt nature and phenomenal view it would have been astounding. Like Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors.
Jurie kept his plans to himself. Even his neighbors could get no information from him.”Why are the rooms so large, – heavens you could turn a span of oxen in them.” Jurie had no patience with fools. “Well, I see that you are not gong to talk. But tell me one thing – how are you going to get water to that hillock ?” That was a body blow – it is a dry hillock . There are limits to reasonable man’s patience. “Hey man! A harem does not need water. That long room is for the French girls that I am going to import. Do you understand?”
When the walls were roof high the imported doors and windows arrived at the Harrismith station. They were transported from the station with ox wagons. The last heavy lintels were raised and mortared in position when the Great War broke out in 1914. Jurie rebelled and joined the commando of Wessel Wessels. The building stopped and the ‘bywoners’ had to look after the farm. It was during this time that Jurie heard that some of his cattle were missing. He arrive at Reenenshoop late on a Friday night. Suzie had measles, and he heard that a neighbor had stolen his cattle. To crown everything his fine black piano had also been taken. That was not the end of his troubles; one of his workers had betrayed him. On the Saturday morning the police came to arrest him. He saw them in time and fled to the cliff from where he fired at them. He informed them but he would surrender voluntarily on Monday morning if they would give him enough time to recover his cattle.
On Monday morning with Suzie well wrapped in blankets he and she went to town. She convinced the magistrate that she had written to him at the request of the government. Suzie managed to have him released but he did not recover his stolen cattle. This was the beginning of three important events in his life –
a feud with his neighbor which would last for more than a generation
his conflict with the law
the ‘bywoner’s treachery
This would torment him for the rest of his life.
In spite of all his eccentricities he cared very well for Suzie and the children – Jurie was happiest when his children and later his grandchildren entertained him with music, and need only to have listened. Irene who was born nine months after the marriage had two brothers – Laurence, who they called Laurie nine years later and Hugo who was named after the in-laws as they had also moved to the farm to assist with the farming. Suzie accepted the fact that he was a miser. With farming with laying hens and making butter she had an own income to finance her social activities.
Drama with the law did not remain absent for long at Reenenshoop.
Jurie bought a Spanish donkey stallion in order to improve his donkey stud and he was convinced that it was a mule, he refused to pay and had to go to jail for a few days and the seller had to pay for his board in jail.
During the East Coast Fever epidemic the movement of cattle was prohibited. The border guards caught him and was fined fifty pounds. He went to jail again. Suzie had to face her prominent friends while Jurie could not be bothered about it at all. She paid the fine. Jurie was enraged. “You are wasting money, I was happy in the jail, nobody bothered me.”
Jurie, Suzie and their last child Hugo were on holiday in Durban. Jurie was fined by a traffic policeman and again refused to pay. He was in the cells in Durban and commanded Suzie not to pay the fine. She took a tomato crate put a few cushions on it, Hugo could hardly see over he dashboard but Hugo took the Studebaker and Suzie back to the Free State. Days later Jurie telephoned, he is out and “I am enjoying the holiday and will return by train.”
Suddenly Jurie dressed with care when he had to go to town, this was every second day. Suzie wondered what was going on. He whistled happily when he thought that she could not hear him – she became suspicious. Suzie in a roundabout way found out about the English speaking very grand woman. Suzie wrote a scathing letter in Afrikaans and her daughter Irene translate it. She then re wrote the letter and had it delivered by hand. She had insulted the temptress in her own language. A day or two later Jurie came home, very annoyed. “And then you pretend that you cannot read or write English!”
Jurie paid no attention to social norms. This with his eccentricity, his self centredness and strangeness which was due to his bi-polarity made him known as Crazy Jurie. A severe condition of suspicion gave rise to an anecdote of Crazy Jurie without which Jurie’s history would be incomplete. Jurie wanted his son, Hugo, to become a surveyor because he was convinced that he had been cheated out of land by those who had sold farms to him. He wanted his son to measure his farms accurately. Jurie did go to university but came nowhere near the department of trigonometry but enrolled for medical tuition with the assistance of his mother without the knowledge of his father.
Suzie has by this time accepted her fate and did not doubt that Jurie would refuse to pay for Hugo’s studies if he had enrolled for anything else except to become a surveyor. A white lie was the only recourse to get Hugo started. Hugo did extremely well in his first year and Jurie expected that he would in the December holiday survey the farm properly. This was naturally and Jurie was told the truth. He was angry but still proud of his son and thereafter supported and encouraged him.
The infamous rondavel was not only a refuge from the sheriff, it was also the place where he isolated himself when he became depressed and could last for weeks. Laurie and the ‘bywoners’ had to see to the farming. The rondavel revealed much about him – sandstone, thatched roof and white scrubbed wood floor. At one end there was a copper bedstead and a shelf with many books. Across from this was a Queen stove which in winter was fired with corn cobs and a comfortable sofa draped with a karos. Next to this he had his desk on which were heaps of books, magazines and a radio. Jurie did not miss the morning news and listened to classical music while he did his accounting, opened the post and attended to correspondence in his neat handwriting. This was where he read the newspaper, he had subscribed to “Die Burger” and received a bundle weekly by rail from Cape Town.
The cartoons from Die Burger and Die Landbouweekblad were collected religiously – Kaspaas, Häger and Waldemar were collected and pasted and kept in large books. The pleasure which he obtained from the cartoons indicate a healthy sense of humor which gives rise to the suspicion that he may have laughed at his own escapades.
Suzie was an excellent hostess and smothered her guests with charm and hospitality and entranced them with beautiful jewelry. Besides rings with large diamonds, a heavy slave braclet, a gypsy charm, a gold lucky bean bracelet with rubies and amethysts but the Star of David necklace was her favorite. This necklace was a large white diamond surrounded by blue sapphires and a host of small diamonds.
Dressed in this finery she on a certain Sunday invited several guests. Her back then had become slightly stiff, and on this day the guests included the local member of parliament, the bank manager, doctor, school principal and naturally the parson. However, Jurie was again in isolation.
Her assistant had arrived there earlier that morning with a basket suspended on each end of a pole, each basket filled with fruit from the orchard. Leg of mutton had been cooked to perfection, the turkey was filled and gammon spliced with bacon. Beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes and vegetables were on the stove and the aroma from the kitchen was delicious.
The table had been laid with fine delicate porcelain on a white damask table cloth with a large vase of red roses in the middle. With the start of the meal the guests were in a jovial mood after a few rounds of drinks. While wine was poured in crystal glasses Suzie lifted the lids of the dishes one after the other. She looked up questioningly.
“Johnny where is the turkey?”
“The trukey is gone.”
“How is it gone?”
‘It was stolen”
“Who stole it?” She was dumbfounded, angry, livid.
Jurie was a teetotaler but he enjoyed eating. He and a young man who worked for him had gone to the river with the turkey. Under a large willow tree they sat and ate the turkey, calmly, without affectation and without any worries.
Hierdie legende is geskryf deur Leon Strachan en gepubliseer in die kontrei koerant Maluti Berg en Dal.
Die erg onstellende storie van die pa wat sy seun in ‘n klipskeur moes doodskiet om hom ‘n verskriklik pynlike lyding en uiteindelike dood te spaar, was een wat ek saam met moedersmelk ingekry het en waarmee ek grootgeword het.
Ons bly naby Rensburgkop en het ten minste elke tweede Sondag daar verbygery op pad om by my Engelse oupa en ouma op Rainfall te gaan eet. Ek het altyd grootoog opgekyk na die hoë dramatiese gekeepte sandsteenkroon en met ‘n hol kol op die maag gewonder in watter skeur die neerdrukkende storie afgespeel het.
Van Rensburg en sy opgeskote seun het glo ‘n bok vir die pot gaan skiet. Hulle het aan die oostekant van Rensburgkop ‘n troppie rooiribbokke gekry. Die eerste skoot was rakelings mis en die bok het blitsvinnig voete gekry. Pa en seun volg die bokke teen die vloethewel aan die suidoostelike hoek van die loop op, maar die diere swenk vlugvoetig nog hoër teen die kop uit. Die tweede is uitasem agterna tot bo. Die bokke is skaam, Van Rensburg kry egter sy skoot in. Hy kwes die bok swaar, maar die seun sit die hinkende bok agterna. Net toe hy na die bok gryp swenk dit op die rand van die kop skielik wes. Die seun se momentum bring hom tot op die rand, waar hy sy balans verloor en vooroor val. Hy tuimel gillend seker ‘n goeie honderd en tagtig voet daar af.
‘n Erg getraumatiseerde Van Rensburg sien hoe sy kind deur die lug trek en met ‘n siek slag in ‘n skeur land. Gelukkig leef die kind, want hy kreun en huil en skree van die pyn. Hy probeer waansinnig vinnig afklim, maar dis regaf, en hy kom nêrens nie. Hy probeer van die kant af daar kom, en toe van onder af, maar dis ‘n onmoontlike plek – en sy seun lë in ‘n eienaardige posisie, sy rug waarskynlik af.
Helpers en osrieme is haastig gehaal. Van Rensburg is vasgewoel en versigtig oor die krans laat sak. Hy probeer naarstigtelik om onder die effense oorhang in te swaai en sodoende op ‘n lysie te beland waarvandaan hy by sy kind sou kon kom, maar dit was pure verniet. Teen laatmiddag word die seun se kreune al flouer en die aasvoëls begin draai. Naderhand is daar nie meer planne nie. Die genadeskoot klap, ‘n ouer se loodsware hart sou nooit weer herstel nie.
Boonop was CM van den Heever se Waar Ruwe Rotse destyds, in my sentimentele tienerjare, ‘n mooi en aangrypende gedig wat realiteit en beelde van die storie opgetower het.
Waar ruwe rotse teen die hemel klim,
waar morerooi se eerste traanglans glim,
waar aasvoëls hoog in sirkelbane sweef,
hul rou gekras in afgronde laat leef;
waar grou-wit kranse na die klowe val,
gekeep-hou tot spelonke bo ‘n dal;
waar oopgeskeurde klippekake wag
met draketande wat daar grynsend lag –
daar knal opeens geweerskoot bo die kruin
en eggo’s antwoord hard met skelbasuin.
Die dassies wip verskrik oor gladde krans,
patryse saai vlerktrillend uit hul skans.
Skuins glip ‘n voet en drillend val ‘n roer…
‘n skerp geskuur – ‘n pad wat afwaarts voer.
Twee hande gryp ‘n bos, die angs oorstelp,
benoud klink uit die diepte: “Here, help!”
Twee vader-oë kyk verward…sy seun,
die afgrond lag oor wilde skuurgedreun.
Die kruit en stof vlek oor die lug se blou,
die vader bly sy hand oor sy oë hou.
En dan gewaar hy in die skemering
sy kind, deur rotseskouers vasgedring.
‘n Riem rol na die seun daaronder neer,
“Bind vas, my kind…en Pa die sal probeer.”
Maar dis vergeefs…die kransedraak hou vas,
die riem bly stukkend breek, kry las op las.
En hulp snel by…die rotsetande gryns,
hier moet die mensverstand terug voor deins.
Dan klaag daar uit die diepte, sag en flou:
“Ek smeek dat Pa my skiet…en nou…”
‘n Roer die bewe in die growwe hand,
sag sif in skemerafgrond korrels sand.
Vas lê die kolf teen vaderskouer aan,
en langs die sneller glans ‘n afloop-traan.
“Vergeef my, God!”…’n skoot gedemp en dof…
en bo die bergegraf styg kruit en stof.
Nog skuur iets rog’lend in die diepte daar,
dis stil…die aasvoëls kras…’n vader staar.
Met die skryf van Abe Sparks se storie in Blafboom (1999) soek ek na verwysings vir die Rensburgkop-legende. Daar is geen gerapporteerde weergawe van die verhaal in die destydse Harrismith News (tot 1903) of die Harrismith Chronicle (sedert 1903) nie. Ook geen rekord daarvan in die twee uitstekende geskiedenis bronne van ons omgewing (FA Steytler se Die Geskiedenis van Harrismith of Blanche Hawkins se The Story of Harrismith) nie. Inteendeel, Hawkins verwys daarna, noem dat sy ook geen bewyse daarvan kon kry in haar navorsing nie en spekuleer dat dit kroegstories is.
‘n Soeke na ‘n Van Rensburg wat in die geweste geboer het, was ook vrugeloos. Die landmeter (gewoonlik van Britse, Duitse of Nederlandse herkoms) wat die plaas in die 1850’s afgemeet het, het waarskynklik van Rynsburg (Nederland) of Rendsburg (Duitsland) af gekom en vandaar die naam.
In D J Opperman se Junior Verseboek merk die samesteller op dat dit ‘n volksvertelling is wat in die bergstreke van verskillende dele van Suid-Afrika voortleef. In een van die studiereekse oor daardie Junior Verseboek word gesê dat ‘n ou en bekende legende deur Van den Heever spannend verhaal word.
In ‘n onlangse bespreking van die storie op Facebook het baie mense gereageer. Almal ken die storie, maar verskil dramaties oor waar dit plaasgevind het. Die volgende plekke is genoem: Volksrust, Danielsrus naby Bethlehem, Kogmanskloof (tussen Bonnievale en Montagu), naby Montagu in Ashton (Winterhoekberge) Golden Gate, Rensburgskop en Gordon Rots in Paarl Berg.
Van den Heever het glo sy gedig op ‘n verhaal wat in Smithfielddistrik by Aasvogelkop, naby Gladdedrif (Caledonrivier) oorvertel word, gebaseer. Dit wil voorkom asof die legende die prominentste by Aasvogelkop en Rensburgskop is.
‘n Ander bekende Van Heerden, Ettienne, se Toorberg is klaarblyklik ook deur die legende geiinspireer (‘n vader skiet sy seun wat in ‘n boorgat vassit).
In ons geweste is die legende van Rensburgkop wyd bekend en word dit sonder bevraagtekening geglo, van Johannesburg af met die N3 langs tot in Durban. In so ‘n mate dat die SAUK destyds die drama The Mountain, wat oor die legende handel, hier geskiet het met Sandra Prinsloo in die rol van die seun se ma. Die filmspan het in die plaas Stirling (net oos van die kop) se woonhuis gebly tydens die verfilming.
Alles dui daarop dat dit ‘n sogenaamde ‘urban-legend’, of stoepstorie, is.
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Dankie aan Biebie de Vos vir ‘n fotos wat ons gebruik het en ook fotokrediet aan die Bald Ibis staproete.
The R74 is the primary route to the Northern uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage site
The road runs alongside the spectacular Sterkfontein Dam and down the equally spectacular Olivierhoek pass on to the mountains.
For many years this section of the R74 that runs along the dam has fallen into
terrible disrepair but in December 2015 the newly built road was once again opened.
We took the road and like to share our experience.
First stop is the Sterkfontein Dam
The dam is located just outside Harrismith and is part of the Tugela-Vaal Water Project, and located on the Nuwejaarspruit, a tributary of the Wilge River in the upper catchment area of the Vaal River. The dam receives its water via the Tugela-Vaal Project which is a pumped-storage scheme involving the net transfer of up to 630 million m3 of water from KwaZulu-Natal.
The Sterkfontein Dam was commissioned in 1977 and a full supply capacity of
2 616 900 megalitres. It has a surface area of no more than 70 km2. The circumsphere is aproxamitely 102 km. The dam wall contains 17 million m3 of material making it the largest dam wall in South Africa with regard to volume, while the reservoir formed by the dam is the third largest in the country.
The next stop is at the vulture restaurant used to be a place where fresh and poison free carcasses were put out to feed the vultures and it contribute to the survival of the birds especially during periods of food scarcity and when young birds fledge.
Our next stop is at Kerkenberg. The site is so named because the Voortrekker’s priest, Erasmus Smit, deemed the cluster of rocks at its base was worthy of a church. The heritage markers that can be visited are the Retief Klip, a stone engraved by the leader’s daughter Deborah on his birthday to commemorate the Boer’s successful land negotiations, and Retief Pass, the old wagon trail used by Piet Retief to descend into KwaZulu-Natal.
Next up is the Kaalvoet vrou. You can read all about the history of this monument on our blog spot. Kaalvoetvrou
A visit in this area will not be complete if you do not take the dirt road to Leon and Elsa. They share a passion for the beauty of the past and have established a farm museum.
We returned to the R74 and pass the Driekloof dam
We continue and reach the summit point of 1758 m above sea level of Oliviershoek Pass and is close to the most southerly arm of the Sterkfontein Dam.
The descent is gentle and enters a wide S-bed which straightens out at the 2 km point.
it is often used as an alternative route to Van Reenen’s Pass but for us it is a scenic alternative to the Northern Drakensberg. Interestingly, and to add a little history to the mix, it was along this area in October 1837, that Piet Retief and his trek party climbed the Drakensberg.
Thanks you for joining us on this wonderful scenic drive
The Platberg, the Free State’s own “Table Mountain”, overlooks the town of Harrismith. It literally means the flat-mountain; the 2377m high inselberg is a landmark & forms an imposing backdrop to the town. It is an extension of the eastern foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. Its western slopes & the summit of the mountain are a nature reserve with a number of endemic/near-endemic alpine plants that are unique to the region. The reserve is also home to eland, black wildebeest, blesbok & mountain reedbuck.
In October Harrismith welcomes outdoor sports enthusiasts to the town to participate in one of South Africa’s toughest running events: the Platberg Marathon also known as the Platberg Mountain Race. The history of the race is legendary. In 1922 local residents, incensed by a remark from a British Major who disparagingly referred to the Platberg as “that little hill of yours”, challenged a soldier to a race to the summit in less than one hour. Major Belcher accepted, won the challenge & challenge & to this day his floating trophy is awarded to the first person to reach the Platberg’s summit top in what has become a prestigious & grueling cross-country race and is known as the Platberg Mountain Marathon. This arguably is the ‘toughest in the world’ route as it climbs approximately 600m in 5 kilometers to the summit of Platberg (2377m) The race is the oldest in South Africa, older than the Comrades Marathon.
Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1900m to 2394m. The surface area covers approximately 3000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder green slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.
From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes.
Platberg was known “Mount D’Urban” till about 1850. The name then changed to Taba’Nchu (Tafelberg) but the name Platberg stuck.
Woody patches of Leucosidea, Budleia, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain Bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellates, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrub land vegetation is concentrated on the cool side of Platberg on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on screen slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges, Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit. An occasional Yellow wood, a sad relic of the many that once flourished here, can be found.
There are a number of passes running through the mountain.
The longest and the easiest is the Donkey Pass. It was previously known as the Flat Rock Pass which leads up to the huge Robert Gibson Dam, ear the eastern end of the mountain. In the past farmers would hire grazing on the summit and the story is told of a tremendous storm which burst on the summit and caused a herd of some thirty cattle to move before it. As still heavier sheets of rain fell the animals quickened their pace in an effort to escape. Moving blindly towards the edge of the cliff they fell to their death on the rocks 200 feet below. As the leaders felt the irresistible pressure of those behind them.
The Donkey pass which was constructed in the early 1900’s using donkeys – which is where it got its name from, consists of two concrete strips, with a radical 3 km ascent. From the onset, due to its steepness, the Donkey Pass is only accessible via four-wheel drive vehicles & equipment. When you look back from the top, this pass beautifully frames the glittering Sterkfontein Dam & Drakensberg Mountains.
The acting Governor, HF Wilson and his sister came to plant the first trees and suggested that the plantation should be called the Alexandra Forest after the Queen. The suggestion was adopted but the name was never in general use it was better known as the Government Forestry. On this occasion tea was served in the area set aside for the nursery and for many years afterwards townspeople were allowed to make fires there and have picnics and move freely about the whole area.
Seeds of the trees came from the Cape, Transvaal Europe and the United State of America, Australia and from Paris, France. 38 varieties were planted. Within 3 years the whole area had been divided into 12 acre blocks with wagon roads between, fences had been put up, pipes or drains laid down and a dam made. By 1920 a quarter of a million trees had been planted in the streets, the Park, the Golf course and the commonage, at the Old Homestead, to the Gymkhana and the polo clubs and to the SA Railways.
In the early days picnics were very popular. Perhaps because houses were not very comfortable, and had few of the conveniences which today are considered essentials, the early inhabitants of the town found that one of their greatest pleasures was getting out-doors and going for picnics. Picnics were often arranged to the “Flat Rock” and people could climb to the Gibson Dam. Akkerbos, near the base of Donkey Pass, is a grove of oak trees that provided a picnic site during a Royal Tour by the British monarchy, including Elizabeth II in 1947.
The Gibson Dam and the Water pans on Platberg
An improvement by the British Military’s Royal Engineers helped to improve the supply of more water to the town. A dam on Platberg, built by the Royal Engineers, was named the Gibson Dam after Mr. Gibson, a member of the town board. The wall of the dam was subsequently raised three times thereby increasing its capacity to 540 million liters. The main water reservoirs were constructed in 1904 on the highest point on King’s Hill. Water was pumped from the stream which flows through the then Botanic Gardens. From the reservoir it flowed downhill to the buildings on King’s Hill. The reservoir foundation stone is seen between the two reservoirs.
The water supply of the town, which is always an important matter, was obtained from springs and surface water collected in the upland basins of the Platberg. The water flowed down the cliff through a deep Krantz and forms a clear mountain stream, which passed through bush and over basalt boulders to the town reservoirs. The large dam The Platberg dam with a wall 200ft long 9ft high and capable of impounding 120 million gallons of water was built by the Royal Engineers and completed in 1904. An account of 386GBP was presented to the council of Harrismith.
Blockhouse still stands guard over the Dams
Thanks to Biebie de Vos for his pictures of our beautiful mountain.
Thanks to Adam Truscott for the painting
Thanks to Dan Wessels for the beautiful fauna pictures.