Our next story comes with a twist as we noticed that the cornerstone of the Wesley Hall was laid by Mrs. Tom James. It left a question mark.
Who was Mrs. Tom James?
The Wesley Hall was built in 1906 and the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Tom James on 17 January 1906. She was the eldest daughter of James Putterill. Her husband was a true supporter of the church and was for many years the Sheriff and Mayor of the town.
From the time Harrismith was established most of its inhabitants were English-speaking. The British settlers who emigrated to Natal during 1849-50 found the country in the Byrne Valley not suitable for traditional farming practices. Many went to settle in urban areas, while some returned to Britain. Encouraged by Mr Warden, about 1 500 settlers came to Harrismith.
The story of Anne as shared by Leon Strachan.
Mrs Tom James was Anne Putterill and has a truly sad but remarkable story.
Her father James Putterill was a Byrne settler with a big personality who owned land in Verulam before moving his family up to Harrismith in 1863. His eldest daughter, a tiny but stubborn 25-year-old woman refused bluntly to get married, even though women were in great demand in the Free State (in 1863 the Free State Republic had been in existence for only 9 years and was extremely sparsely populated).
Unfortunately her disinterest did not prevent a man to fall in love with her. Anne didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When Anne’s strong-willed father (a grandchild referred to him as domineering) got wind of this he stepped in to salvage the situation. He instructed the man, a Welshman called Thomas James, to build a suitable house and furnish it. He, on the other hand, bought trousseau and a wedding dress for Anne, and fixed a wedding date.
When Tom James completed his ‘solid cut stone house,’ James Putterill instructed his daughter to prepare for her wedding. Anne refused, she said she didn’t love Mr. James and that was that.
The Putterill’s were a prominent family thanks to the very forceful James Putterill, who was an excellent business man and played a leading role in the Wesleyan (Methodist) church, as he did in town affairs. Whilst guests filled the church in Warden street on Anne’s wedding day, he instructed his womenfolk to dress up the unwilling bride. He then continued to drive her to the chapel in his carriage, where he walked a very unhappy daughter up the isle. He maneuvered the obstructive girl into position next to the groom, while he flanked her on the other side ‒ urging a flabbergasted minister to get started.Don’t think James Putterill had won the battle of wills yet. Anne was unfazed, she declined bluntly to take the marriage vows in front of all the astonished wedding guests. She stood her ground, not unnerved at all. Putterill didn’t despair either, neither did he give up. It would be a battle of wills to the inevitable end.
Every time it was expected of the bride to answer the parson, James pushed his silent daughter’s head slightly down as if she nodded whilst signalling impatiently to an ever more uncomfortable parson to get on with it. The ceremony was thus unceremoniously consummated, and the unlikely couple settled shakily into the solid stone house.
They were childless (3 stillborn). Tom James turned out to be a stalwart who became sheriff and mayor of Harrismith. Both he and his wife loved fishing, they were often seen fishing together whenever an opportunity occurred. The 66-year old Tom died in 1894, after which Anne took in a Miss Dixon to keep her company. According to Beryl Osborn (Anne’s niece who penned the family history) they lived happily together until the British garrison arrived on Kings Hill in 1903, when disaster struck.
A striking and very charming young soldier, conveniently named private James, befriended the two elderly ladies. Young James told them he was an orphan with no home and no family, all alone in the world.
Besotted with him, Anne bought him out of the army and formally adopted him. The young man then gratefully proceeded to squander his adopted mother’s savings. Even when Anne had lost everything she owned, never an unkind word was uttered or anything damaging believed of the young man. He bolted unceremoniously out of the country when there was nothing left to spend.
The Putterill family had to club together to provide the necessary means for Anne and Miss Dixon, and their parrot, to live on. Anne rewarded them by living into her nineties.
Stuart Street – this quaint and superbly kept cottage once belonged to Miss Helen Scott “Scotty”. Miss Scotty was the English teacher to many scholars. She was a wonderful teacher and friend to so many people in Harrismith who all loved her
She also wrote a testomonial for Mary Bland, in 1945, when Mary was finishing off Matric.
Wanneer ek ‘n Volkswagen Beetle op die pad raakloop dan kyk ek altyd waar sy flikkerligte sit. Julle weet daardie armpies wat so uitgeskiet het langs die deure wanneer daar gedraai word. In Engels is dit semaphores.
Pa was die “traveler” in ons familie. Hy sou niks daarvan dink om ons in die kar te laai en êrens heen te ry. Ons eerste kar was ‘n Borgward – ‘n besonderse motor wat op voco-paraffin kon loop.
Daar was die oranje VW Beetle met die “dog-box”. Ek onthou die reis af Jeffereybaai toe – die bagasie is in die neus van die Beetle gelaai en dan het Pa die neus van die motor in die regte rigting gedruk. Ons plek was bespreek in die Jeffreys Bay Hotel. As ek reg is is dit vandag die Savoy Hotel. Pa het op gevoel gery so het ons Jeffreysbaai ge”overshoot” en in die destydse Ferreiratown gestop. Gelukkig was daar ‘n vriendelike man wat Pa in die regte rigting gestuur het.
Dan was daar later die bootvaart op die Knysna Lagoon en die gety wat ons wou intrek. Janboel en Julian wat moes stoot dat hulle bars om die boot op droeë grond te kry.
Al die kere wat ons gaan springhase jaag het met die Willy’s Jeep. Dit was ons Saterdag-aand uitstappie op die plaas. Menige aande het ons met Jeep en al in ‘n gat te lande gekom. Dit was pret om met ‘n groot gesukkel weer huis toe te hinkepink.
Die Nuwejaar kamp by West-end dam met pa se 8-ton lorrie en die wit Engelse tent. Die blou lorrie sou die naweek van Nuwejaar gelaai word met onder andere beddens wat kon opvou in sulke oulike amperse tafeltjies, die nodige potte en panne en natuurlik die wit tent. Daar is visgevang en geswem. Later van tyd was daar ‘n bootjie waarmee die vissermanne se hoeke die water ingeneem is. Dit was in die tye voor sonbrand beskerming en gewoonlik was daar ‘n paar erg verbrande rooi lywe.
Die kuier by tant Meraai in die Gamtoos en die tabak-vlooie wat ons byna opgevreet het. Ma het so in ‘n fluister stem vir Pa vertel van die vlooie maar ai, met Tant Meraai se ore was daar geen fout nie.
Dan onthou ek ook die kuiers by oom Salmon en Tant Pollie op Uitenhage. Tant Pollie was my ouma Barlow se suster. Vandag nog is Tant Pollie se appeltert deel van De Oude Huize Yard se spyskaart. Ek onthou die tafel in die kombuis waar ons almal saam gekuier het en stories van die Kolonie vertel het.
Daar was die tye wat ons laat-laat middag by die huis weg ry om by Popeye, soos my Pa my Ma genoem het, se familie in Skurweberg te gaan kuier. Tant Madeleine en oom Was het by Skurweberg gebly. So lekker teen die klip koppie. Daar is gekuier om Grand-cru en roomys.
Soms het ons 21h00 van die plaas gery om op Cypress in die Steynsrus distrik te gaan kuier. Dit was waar Fritzie en Rhoda geboer het. Ontbyt aan die tafel in die voorhuis was altyd ‘n ondervinding met Fritzie wat vir elkeen ‘n snybrood gesny het. Nooit meer as een sny op ‘n slag. Vir ons Finchams was dit nogal vreemd want dit was ons stapelvoedsel. Ek onthou die uitstappie met die Bluebird Datsun in die Golden Gate. Daarna was Pa Gerald nooit weer gretig om Golden Gate te besoek nie.
Op ‘n ander toer is ons na Francistown in Botswana, daardie kuiers in die destydse Suid-Rhodesia. Die Vic Falls, waar ons op ‘n bootvaart op die meer was. Een van die passasiers se kinders het ‘n aap geterg en is gebyt. Toe moes almal terugkeer wal toe. Pa het ons die Valley of Ruins en Matopo Hills gewys. My gunsteling plek was Leopards Rock omdat dit so ‘n pienk kleur geverf was en ek het aan Monaco gedink.
Daar was al die rally’s saam met Cecil en Paaijapan. Persoonlik dink ek daar is klein-kinders met Av-gass in hulle bloed. Pa en Ma het een aand in die middel van die winter by ons oorgeslaap. Juis met die hele Rally konvooi. Pa het voorgestel dat die manne buite sou slaap maar het nie rekening gehou met die Vrystaatse koue nie. Die nag het die manne voor die kaggel geslaap. Dit het nogal ‘n gesnork uit die boonste rakke gewees.
Pat en Pa wat “flips” in DVZ ZA oor Kameel geneem het. Dit was vir Pa groot vreugde en hy het later jare vertel hoe Kameel en die omgewing uit die lug lyk. Daar is later ‘n langer aanloopbaan deur die mielielande gemaak. Later jare sou Pat, Ma, ek en Hennie gaan blomme kyk in Springbok en ja ek kan ‘n noodlanding aftik op my lys.
Daar was die kuier in Namibia by Susan en Derick. Die plaas was op Gobabis en toe die terugrit aangepak moet word was die motor se battery pad en al genade was die Landdrover. Nodeloos om te sê, Derick het ‘n plan gemaak, ‘n matras is vir Ma en Susie agter op die Landdrover gesit. Hulle moes darem in gemak reis. Ma kon nooit uitgepraat raak van hoe sy en Susie die hele pad terug Windhoek toe gegiggel het.
Daar’s al die kuiers by Mike en Hes in Bloemfontein en Mike wat Pa na elke “scrapyard” in Bloem moes neem. Dis seker waar ek my liefde vir ‘n skrootwerf gekry het.
Daar was kuier in Harrismith en pa se woorde aan Hennie – “Hendrik ek weet nie wat jy betaal het nie maar ek is seker jy het te veel betaal”
Oupa wat Pedri geleer het van toast, bacon en eiers – sy gunsteling!.
Next time when you travel between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 and follow the Van Reenens pass – just pause a moment and notice the beauty around you.
This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer. Thanks to Mountain Passes South Africa for the information
The landscapes around the Van Reenen Pass are stunning and the railway service roads and tunnels top off the adventure. The route is a superb gravel pass but easy going and we duck off the N3 just just after Van Reenen. We traveled on the downhill mode. The scenery is stunning. This is the service road of the railway line and we traveled pass sidings, tunnels and farms. It include a 200m tunnel built in 1925, with a curve.
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.