Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fraserburg and Williston explored

- Sonja McKenna -

Mid May a group of fifteen locals and two out-of-towners joined Judy Maguire on her two day cultural outing to Fraserburg and Williston. On the road to Fraserburg she explained that the “Hot Spot” which had resulted in the outpouring of the Drakensberg lavas, had also pushed intrusive dolerite sills and dykes as far as Fraserburg, the weathered remnants of which today looks like wool sacks of various sizes. The group could see clear examples of these on either side of the road.

From the top of Theeberg Pass (1,500 m high) the group looked back in the direction of Prince Albert at the Karoo basin formed between Theeberg and Swartberg (Die Top also 1,500 m high) which was once the Karoo Sea - with its deepest part at Prince Albert.

Looking over the Theekloof gorge, Judy told the story of young Van der Merwe who died on his way to his wedding in Oudtshoorn when his horse-drawn cart plunged into the gorge taking a casket of his wedding sovereigns with them. A monument was erected for the unfortunate young man but whether the money was ever found no one can tell…

Everyone admired the old inn and farmstead at Steenkampsvlakte built with horizontally packed stones. Judy pointed out the absence of adequate beams and joists: no trees grow in the area to provide wood. The pear trees on the site were most probably planted 200 years ago.

In Fraserburg the group stopped briefly to look at the Voortrekker monument in the form of a wagon wheel on a stone plinth in the main road. A peculiar kink in the road was pointed out: The first main road used to run past the Jewish trading stores but, with the establishment of the co-op, its course was altered to pass the co-op and the Jewish traders were bypassed. The very monument the group was discussing was recently flattened by a vehicle whose driver did not observe the dangerous kink!

There was no time to sample the ‘meerkat burgers’ at the local country restaurant but Judy did make time to show the group the failed tomato tunnel project – hoping to find an answer to her question: What are we doing wrong? For the tomato-growing project also failed in Williston. The lively discussion that followed did not supply her with an answer.

The immaculately kept farm Groot Wagenmakersvlei was the next stop where farmer Olivier entranced the group with his graphic accounts of the encounters between the Bushmen and the trekboers in the area. In the early 1700’s they had co-existed peacefully sharing the spring water. But by the 1750’s competition for the water and grazing (wild game also required these) led to stock thefts resulted in the killing of hundreds of Bushmen.

In 1809 – after the murdering of an entire trekboer family – a commando was formed and systematically every San (Bushman), woman and child of the group responsible was killed. The trekboers were finally able to settle in the area after about 1815.

A combination of ‘saaidam’ agriculture, their substantial herds of horses, donkeys and cattle slowly destroyed much of the habitat of the riverine rabbit. Mr Olivier was delighted to tell the group that the reeds had re-established and that the almost extinct rabbits are returning. It also interested the group to hear that a farmer could buy a brand new bakkie six years ago by selling ninety sheep – today he needs to sell 300!
Next on the itinerary was the visit to Kerkplaas, the second mission station established in South Africa – the first was Genadendal.

The man who chose to evangelise the Bushmen encamped at the Sak River was a Dutchman by the name of Kicherer. He started his mission station in 1799, largely supported and subsidised by the local farmers who hoped that the San, who had made permanent settlement almost impossible, would be pacified. A fair amount of the 60 x 30 foot church still stands today, plus some kraals and small buildings, all beautifully built with horizontally packed stones.

Kicherer struggled with the Bushmen and had on occasion to resort to handouts of dagga, tobacco and livestock to try and convert them, or at least to get them to stay. His mission lasted four years and in the end he only succeeded with the Khoi (Hottentots) who were more amenable to being converted.
The Williston Hotel was the final destination for the day. Well fed and rested the group travelled the one kilometre to the edge of the town to inspect the fort with its incredible visibility that was set up there during the Anglo Boer War. The strange looking structure resembles a maze built from various sizes of rounded stones. Most of the gun rests (crudely made of corrugated iron) are still to be found in the walls.

The subsequent visit to the town cemetery revealed a few soldiers’ graves, some (fenced off) Jewish graves with distinctively polished granite, and headstones inscribed on the back for an unknown reason. Outside the fence are the graves of the Coloured folk, but inspanned into the fence is the grave of Caroline Lutz, wife of Reverend Lutz, who died at the age of 42, giving birth to her 11th child.

En route the R353 back to Fraserburg a restored corbelled house was viewed at Jan Klaasleegte where our hostess for the day, Cora Steenkamp, explained that the first trekboers built these beehive structures from stone and that they are a unique heritage as they are only found in this part of South Africa.

At their farm Rietfontein Cora and her team demonstrated how to bake bread in an outside oven, how the horse powered flour mill worked and how the threshing floor operated. A feast of traditional content and proportions was served on the lush lawn after everyone inspected the farm’s fountain and found the miraculous bubbling spring water irresistible.

Several of the party went on with Judy to visit the fossil site at Fraserburg and everybody returned to Prince Albert full of praise for the incredible work she does. Judy has built an amazing relationship with the farmers and convinced them to share their historical treasures with interested people.

Thank you, Judy, you are our treasure.

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