Op Mont Pelaan, die plekkie tussen Harrismith en Memel waar ek my eerste ses skooljare deurgebring het, is daar elke Desember ‘n “Kersboom” in die Boerevereniging se saal langs die vendusiekrale aangebied. Dit was vir ons, die kinders, die hoogtepunt van die jaar. Meester Olivier se handjie vol plaasskoolleerlinge het dan ook weke voor die groot aand reeds hulle stukke begin oefen vir die Kerskonsert wat plaasgevind het ná die geskenke vroegaand deur Kersvader uitgedeel is.
Vir ons het die groot dag uiteindelik begin aanbreek wanneer ‘n boom die middag voor die “Kersboom” op Meester se plaas Sunnyside, in die rigting van Memel, gehaal moes word. Gewoonlik was die wêreld daardie tyd van die jaar, teen vroeg-Desember, grasgroen en die Drakensberge sagte, blou kurwes in die verte, met haelwit wolke wat oor die aarde uitblom. Dan het al die seuns agterop die bakkie saamgery en om die verlate ou opstal help soek na ‘n geskikte dennetak om af te saag. Hierdie tak – volgens Marthinus Versfeld een “op die toppie waarvan die Bethlehemster van blinkpapier mooi sal vertoon, met genoeg takkies om presente vas te maak” – is dan by die saal afgelaai waar die vrouens dit die volgende dag tot ‘n behoorlike Kersboom versier het.
Ja, die Kersboom moes ‘n denneboom wees, soos dit in talle lande van die wêreld, veral in Europa, ook gebruiklik is. Ofskoon die sielkundige Carl G. Jung beweer dat talle mense hierdie tradisie navolg sonder dat hulle die ware betekenis van die Kersboom ken, het die Kersboom klaarblyklik sy oorsprong in sekere gebruike deur die Egiptenare, Chinese en Hebreërs gehad. Dit het die ewige lewe versimboliseer. In later jare het die ou volke van Europa op 25 Desember, wanneer die son op sy flouste is, groot vure aangesteek en hulle huise met immergroen plante versier. Hulle het geglo dat die sterwende son deur die vuur tot nuwe lewe opgewek word en die lewe van die verborge saad deur die ritueel van groen takke verseker is.
Die eietydse Kersboomtradisie kan veral na Duitsland teruggevoer word, waar dit teen die begin van die negentiende eeu reeds ‘n instelling was.
Daar is seker min mense wat nie met nostalgie aan die “Kersbome” uit hulle kinderjare terugdink nie. Maar hoe leef hierdie tradisie vandag voort? Ons samelewing het al hoe meer materialisties geword, en die sakewêreld huiwer nie om ook Kersfees ter wille van finansiële gewin uit te buit nie: dink maar aan die skaamteloos soetsappige klokkies en klingels wat reeds van voor einde Oktober jaarliks aan ons opgedring word. Hierdie uitbuiting word deesdae tog toenemend raakgesien en mense begin hulle hierteen uitspreek.
Meester Olivier het waarskynlik ook nie presies geweet wat die “ware betekenis” van die Kersboom is nie, want hy het ons nooit daarvan vertel nie, ook nie wanneer hy jaarliks die Kersverhaal voorgelees het voordat die geskenke uitgedeel is nie. Deurdat hy ons saamgeneem het om ‘n tak te gaan uitsoek en te help afsaag, het hy ons egter die geleentheid gegee om ‘n egte ervaring mee te maak, wat waarskynlik op ons ‘n veel groter en blywender indruk gemaak het as wat ‘n duisend woorde sou.
Miskien sal ons en ons gesinne Kersfees ook veel intenser beleef indien ons dit met egte dinge uit die omgewing soos ‘n ware Kersboom, kan vier.
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
We paid a visit to the Platberg Shellhole. It is believed that it was founded in 1928. The Shellhole lapsed rather towards the 1930’s. With the 2nd Great War there was as great influx of returned servicemen, all keen to carry on the true ideals of the Moth’s.
In 1962 the building in Stuart Street Harrismith was purchased as a Shellhole.
The Flag was hosted it waved in the slight breeze. The dark blue of the naval service, red for the army and light blue for the air force. The Tin Hat and lighted candle reminds of of the sun which rises and falls over the world’s battlefields, above all known and unknown graves.
Then you walk into the door and the emblem greets you.
The Shellhole is dedicated to preserve the military history and the people of Harrismith has donated to keep it updated. The display dates back from the Anglo Boer War to modern day war fare.
On the day of our visit the Shellhole was giving honor to the battle of El Alahmein that took place from 8 – 12 November 1942. During this battle more than 100 000 men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Shellhole was decorated according to the theme.
During the war the Cartoonist, Bruce Bairnsfather’s Old Bill sketches boosted the moral at home and on the front line. The trench humour, cubby pipe-smoking British “Tommy” during the First World War. A weary Old Bill, pictured top left is also part of the Platberg Shellhole.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the guns fell silent – we will remember
We all know about the poppies on Remembrance Day. In the spring of 1915, John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields and he wrote that famous poem – Flanders Fields. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted a a symbol of Remembrance.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
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.
As our natural resources become increasingly depleted, there is more awareness about the need to preserve and protect the environment. To go this route we have implement progressive eco-friendly practices. Our efforts to run a sustainable establishment may inspire you to make your own home more environmentally-friendly!
De Oude Huize Yard sits on a 3000m2 stand in the beautiful town of Harrismith in Eastern Free State. We have scenic views over Platberg mountain. Platberg is one of the most famous landmarks in the Eastern Free State and is 9 kilometer long and 2,394 meter high.
We believe in protecting the earth and aims toward making travel and living sustainable. The establishment was originally built in 1860 with mud bricks. When the establishment was remodeled and restored, we reused and recycled as many materials as possible.
We managed to get the original building plans and the alterations were made using the old footprints of the stables and regenerated building materials. The cut sandstone was collected and re-used. We have sourced old building materials like doors, windows and ceilings.
It is also an extremely eco-friendly and sustainable establishment. Solar power provides the heating of the water and outdoor lighting. All bathrooms here have low-flow toilets and aerated low-flow shower heads. Non-toxic cleaning products are used and we make use of an outdoor clothesline to dry sheets, pillowcases and towels. The linens, towels and robes in guest rooms are eco-friendly and are made of organic cotton. Only non-VOC paint is use for the property. Guests are even provided with reusable glass water bottles during their stay to avoid waste. During winter months we use chopped wood of invasive species for our fire-places. Energy-efficient lighting is used throughout and natural light is utilized instead, when possible.
We harvest water in three tanks. This reduce the daily water usage for the gardens. During water shortages the water is treated with reverse osmosis rather than chemicals for use in the establishment.
All garden and kitchen waste go to our sustainable earthworm farm. The compost and fertilizer are utilized in the organic gardens. Here we grow vegetables without chemicals. We have planted olive, quince, figs, plum and pomegranate trees.
Our guest dine on fresh organic produce from the our own garden at breakfast and dinner. We also serve local ingredients and no processed food.
Die brug oor die Wilgerivier by Swinburne is een van ons geskiedkundige provinsiale monumente waarvan baie min mense weet as gevolg van die bou van nuwe paaie. Dit staan ook bekend as The Border Bridge. Die grens tussen die Oranje-Vrystaat Republiek en die Britse kolonie van Natal was die Wilgerivier.
Tydens die vroeë dae het verkeer van transportryers toegeneem en is daar groot kapsie gemaak wanneer die Wilgerivier in vloed was en dit byna onmoontlik was om deur die rivier te trek. Daar is veral gekla oor die driwwe oor die Wilge-, Elands-, Cornelisriviere en Holspruit. Die destydse regering het twee bruê gebou.
Die een was te Swinburne en die ander was ongeveer 10km verder na Bethlehem. Die brug by Swinburne is op 23 Julie 1884 geopen. Die ander brug staan bekend as die Swalobrug. Ongelukkig vir die transportryers sou daar tolgeld gehef word vir die gebruik van die brug. Tolgeld is gehef tot 1905.
Friend newspaper mentioned the bridge as follows: “It is composed of three arches of thirty-tree feet 4 inches, and carries a roadway of eight feet wide, wit side walks of three feet each, to total breadth being sixteen feet. The approaches spread out gradually a thirty feet wide, are graveled with trap and iron-stone, and enclosed by a massive wooden fencing three feet six inches high. The parapets are solid stone capped by a handsome coping, and the whole structure is founded on solid sandstone foundation, one abutment partly resting also on a dyke running across the river.”
In daardie dae was die brug grootendeels deur die transportryers gebruik wat goedere vervoer het tussen die hawe in Natal en die goudvelde aan die Witwatersrand. Dit was ‘n brug wat noodsaaklik was vir “wielverkeer”.
Die publiek wat te voet of the perd gereis het, het steeds deur die vlakwater van die rivier gegaan om die tolgelde te vermy. Dit laat my nogal dink aan die alternatiewe paaie vandag waar daar ook nie tolgelde gehef word.
Ongelukkig het Rinderpes uitgebreek. Rinderpes is ‘n doodelike siekte onder beeste en die regering aan beide kante van die brug het die beweging van beeste beperk om verspreiding te verhoed. Die Transportryers het eenvoudig die Wilgeriver op ‘n veilige plek oorgesteek en die tolgeld en die verbod vermy.
Die wêreld gebruik van daardie dae – enige perd wat vier wit “stockings” gehad het kon die brug gratis oorsteek -was ook hier van toepassing Vier-wit-voet-perde het baie gesogd geword en natuurlik ‘n groot mark geopen.
Dan was daar die Trippens-Hoogverraadsaak. Hierdie saak waarin W Bramley, – lid van die Volksraad vir die dorp Harrismith, ‘n Hollander, ‘n argumenteerde aan die gang gesit wat die koerantskrywers van die dae oorvloedige stof van lang artrikels in die nuusblaaie gegee het. Die hele affêre het gespruit uit die wanbetaling van drie pennie se tolgeld vir ‘n perd wat agteraan ‘n transportwa vasgemaak was. Dit was weliswaar ‘n nietige oorsaak, maar groot beginsels in in die spel gebring. Bramley is beskou as “een bemoeizieke man die ziech gaarne omtrent verschillende zaken laat horen” Die insident wat aanleiding gegee het to die kabable was dat ‘n sekere James Day ‘n transportryer van Umgene, Pietermaritzburg met sy wa by die tolkek by Swinburne aangkom. Agteraan die wa was ‘n perd vasgemaak wat saam met die wa geloop het. Day moes 5/- betaal, maar het geweier om die drie pennies vir die perd te betaal. Hy en De Witt, die tolgaarder het woorde gehad en De Witte het hom op Harrismith gaan aangekla. Hierop het Parsons, die hoofkonstabel en Van den Bosch, die balju, Day die volgende dag agterna gesit en teen die helling van Drakensberg, aan Natal se kant aangetref. Hulle het hom versoek om terug te kom na Harrismith. Day het sy wa in die sorg van ander gelaat – daar was destyds ‘n kwaai rooiwater-epidemie onder die beeste en het heeltemal vrywillig met Parson en Van den Bosch na Harrismith gegaan. Hy het die Maandag in die hof verskyn, maar die saak is teruggetrek.
Op Saterdag het hy in aanaraking met Bramley gekom wat ‘n brief aan David Erskine – Koloniale Sekratris van Natal geskryf het. Die brief is deur Day geonderteken. Dit is by die poskatoor geregistreer vir versending na onder andere ook die Natal Colonist. Die brief het soos volg gelees:
“On 10th April I passed the toll at Wilge River and was abused by the toll keeper there by call me ——Engli8shman, who moreover did his utmost to provoke me to commit an assault. I paid 5/- toll money for my wagon and the amount due for a lead horse, I sen over from Munger’aross the river to the toll keeper, who, however returned the money and lodge a complaint against me for avoiding the payment and breach of the peace. In consequence of this a warrant was issued an my apprehension took place in Natal. Mr Webb of Harrismith was present. I was obliged to leave my wagon and charge of a coloured boy (the trail not coming off till Monday 14th April and beside the detention I stand great ri8sk in suffering heavy losses owing to the prevailing epidemic amongst cattle. As I believe a gross outrage has been committed on my person as on the Colony of Natal, I have the honour to place myself as a British subject under the protection of the Natal government and to request efficient steps may be taken to obtain redress of my wrongs and losses. You will perceive the warrant is not endorsed by a Natal magistrate and does not come under the extradition treaty.
Op dieselfde dag het Day, op ‘n voorskrif van Bramley, ‘n brief aan die redakteur van die Natal Colonist gerig waarin hy sê dat die brief nie gepubliseer moet word nie, want die saak is onttrek.
Meneer Day trek verder maar Bramley word gearrestreer. Word van hoogverraad aangekla. Bramley het ongevreer twee maande in die tronk gesit en is toe op borgtog van 1000 pond vrygelaat. Bradley het nie gaan lê nie hy het opjeksies teen die een landros gehad en ‘n ander moes die regbank opneem. Bradley het ook objeksies teen de van die jurie gehad. Hy word toe toe verhoor die uitslag waarvan was dat hy onskuldig verlaar word en ontslaan is.
Die brug is ook van groot belang gewees tydens die Suid Afrikaanse Oorlog waar dit deur die Boere sowel as Britte daarvan gebruik gemaak het.
She made memories for the her family for years to come.
She was born in 1893, the fifth of seven Bain kids of the ‘Royal Bains’ – meaning the Royal Hotel Bains. There were also ‘Central Bains’.
She ran the Caltex and rented out the Flamingo Cafe and Platberg Bottle Store premises. At that time she lived in the Central Hotel a short block away across the Deborah Retief Gardens and I do believe she drove to work every day. Maybe drove back for lunch even?
By the time we knew her she was Annie Bland. Never ‘granny’. Only Annie.
In fact ‘Annie Watson Bain’ to me was the lady who died (WW1?) whose name was on one of the monuments outside the Town Hall (a cousin of our Annie?).
They’d already lost the farms and the racehorses, and our gran Annie now owned the Caltex filling station in town. It was on Caskie Corner, opposite our posh Town Hall which Annie’s father Stewart Bain had been instrumental in building. It was called Bain’s Folly as it was such an imposing structure for our modest dorp.
Annie always spoke with great admiration of her late husband Frank – the granpa we never knew – and told me proudly how she’d never seen his fingernails dirty (as she looked disapprovingly – probably more disappointedly, she never had a harsh word for me – at mine). She…
42nd Hill (previously known as Reitzheuwel), Staffordshire Hill, Platberg, the Grant Quarries and Basotu Hill
During the Anglo Boer War the number of troops in the town increased & many camps were established around the town.
The British troops occupied Harrismith in August 1900 under Genl. Leslie Rundle of the 8th Division. The 8th Division was made up of the 1st Leister Regiment, 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, 2nd Grenadier Guards, 2nd Scots Guards, 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Worcestershire Regiment, 2nd Royal West Kent Regiment, 2nd Manchester Regiment and the 2nd, fourth and 11th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry.
The Division was 8000 men strong, but Rundle lost many soldiers because of total exhaustion and malnutrition. The units that originated in 1902 replace what was left of Rundle’s unit. Half of Rundle’s division was for ever on track to dominate the Eastern Free State. The remainder of the unit’s soldiers then rotate and it was time for the next group to go to battle.
The 20000 troops that is mentioned in Hawkin’s book actually spoke of Kitchener’s major concentration of troops, which he used for his 2nd Great Drive in February 1902 that ended in Harrismith and the town was used for a short period from where the soldiers operated and from. From Harrismith they were place back into operations in different areas.
In the ensuing months the number of troops increased and many encampments were established around the town. The 3rd Dragoon Guards and the Staffordshire Regiment pitched their tents under Stafford Hill, while the Manchester Regiment, the Grenadier Guards and, later, the 4th King’s Royal Rifles were quartered on Basuto Hill. To enable the latter group to reach town, a suspension bridge was built across the Wilge River.
The artillery took post on Queen’s Hill, while a military hospital, No. 19 Stationary Hospital was situated where Bergsig is today.
A memorial service in honor of the death of Queen Victoria was held in Harrismith on Saturday 2 February 1901 starting at l0h00. The garrison in town, forming up on three sides, in a rectangle, facing the Town Hall (draped in black) gathered to show their respect. Lt Gen Rundle and Staff took up their places in the center. Precisely on the hour an 81-shot salute was fired from Johannesburg Hill (presumably this was 42nd Hill) overlooking the town.
Stafford Hill, which bears the stone badges of the Third Dragoon Guards (The Prince of Wales’ Feathers) the Knot of the Staffordshire Regiment and the Sphinx of the Manchester Regiment.
Knot of the Staffordshire Regiment clearly visible in this old photo.
This photo is part of Biebie de Vos collection
The Sphinx appeared in the badges of several British Regiment, it is difficult to ascertain which Regiment was responsible for the Badge. E B Hawkins claims that it is the Badge of the Gloucester Regiment, but according to the archivist of the Regiment, Lt. Col. H Radice, none of the Battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment were in the vicinity of Harrismith. The badge could be possibly have been the handiwork of the Manchester Regiment, which also had a Sphinx as a badge, and was stationed at Harrismith.
The military camp of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, was established under a ridge to the east of the town. The 3rd Dragoon Guards whose regimental emblem is inscribe on the hillside, arrived in South Africa in February 1901 and remained in Harrismith until mid-1904. The 42nd Hill was previously known as Reitzheuwel.
42nd Hill, to the north of Harrismith where the N3 ascend to the plateau above Harrismith, has an interesting history. Before the war it was known as Reitzheuwel (after pres. FW Reitz of the Free State).
At the end of the Anglo Boer war, it was renamed after the 2nd Black Watch. (Not to be confused with the 1st Battalion Black Watch, which was part of maj.gen. Hector MacDonald’s Highland Brigade which seized Harrismith in August 1900, but they only stayed for a week, before moving on to Heilbron.)
The 2nd Battalion Black Watch only arrived in South Africa at the end of 1901 from India. They camped on top of Reitzheuwel, just above Harrismith. On 27 December the headquarters and 4 companies reached Harrismith. One of the companies stayed there, while the rest moved to Elands River Bridge. By the end of January 1902 the battalion returned to Reitzheuwel, where they would camp until the end of the war four months later. After the war they became part of the garrison stationed in Harrismith, still camping on Reitzheuwel. It was during this time that the hill was renamed after the 2nd Battalion ’s feeder unit, the 42nd Regiment of Foot. (During the Childers Reforms in the early 1880’s the 42nd Regiment of Foot became the 2nd Batalion Black Watch.)
The 2nd Black watch was relocated to Kings Hill when the permanent buildings were erected early in 1903. They left Harrismith in 1904.
The Regimental Badges are a Provincial Heritage site.
Thanks to Leon Strachan for sharing his knowledge.