Free State, Vrystaat, Africa

Holy Harrismith

Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking okes fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .

– a rhino rally – I think –

. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.

– shembe buses and cars – 95 Stuart Street in the circle – our house 1960 to 1973 –

In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’

Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions’; He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself’; When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God’, he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!

Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing.

The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910; It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Free State), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KZN (KwaZulu Natal).

In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his biography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms: his bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. In it, Dube alleged that Shembe was in fact overtaxing rentals, that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church – that he was extorting money from members as he payed lobola for young girls whom he married, and that he was corrupt and exploitative Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer!

A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans’. This rationale, explicitly verbalised or implicitly assumed, has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission churches. History shows that this initial discontent has continued to plague these church formations after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.

So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . not a national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. Like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions.

So who went to Harrismith? Which faction? Don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.


hagiography – biography of exaggerated, uncritical praise, usually of a religious person; I had to look that up;

Africa, Free State, Vrystaat

Holy Harrismith

An Israeli city tired of being confused with Nazareth, the iconic city next door where Christians believe Jesus was raised, is hoping to change its name, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Just three kilometres and a ten minute drive separate Nazareth Illit from its famous neighbour.

Oy Vey! Residents kvetsch they’ve had enough of people, including tourists, thinking that our city is part of Nazareth,” says a Nazareth Illit city spokeswoman. “The resemblance between the two names causes confusion.”


Surely the answer is obvious? Change the name to Mecca or Salt Lake City or Varanasi, and the confusion will end – stat. No more loud pesky goyim wandering around in short pants looking for mangers.
People should consult me when they have problems.

Now, Harrismith – no-one confuses us with our neighbouring town Bethlehem, a mere fifty minutes drive away if the potholes are fixed.

Bethlehem was famous for something at one time but then they couldn’t find three wise men so they lost the tender.


Bethlehem alumnus Stephen Reed wrote: It is also common knowledge that they had trouble finding a virgin.


Me: Which is surprising. When you look at Beflehem ous and Beflehem tjieks you’d fink there’d be some life-long virgins there.

The answer, one supposes, is alcohol.

Wonderful stuff. I know it has personally come to my rescue on more than one occasion.


They did change the name. The village is now to be known as Nof HaGalil (the Galilee view), OK?

Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

The Goatitudes 4. Bear Witness

The old man gets The Witness delivered to his gate daily. He has fetched it at the gate at around 5am for decades. His 96yr-old legs started protesting against this chore so he recently roped in the kid next door. For R20 a month the kid now hangs the packet it comes in on the back door.

The paper – as The Natal Witness – was first printed in 1846 and it has been going continuously ever since. Today the old man tells me has read it for 91 years, since he was five. His Dad used to sit on his ‘captain’s chair’ holding it spread out in front of him and Dad used to creep under the paper, lean against Oupa’s boep and ask ‘Wat’s daai? En Wat’s Daai? En Daai?’, pointing at pictures and words.

When he moved to Harrismith he subscribed to it through the local bookstore.

Ah, but now he remembers: After a few years the lady there said The Witness was stopping delivery. The schlep of delivering a single copy to the station late at night, hot off the press, for it to be railed from Pietermaritzburg to Harrismith was just not worth it. So no longer would The Natal Witness fly along the rail, past Chievely, Estcourt and Weenen where the Boer War was fought and Churchill was captured, die blerrie rooinek. Through Ladysmith which was besieged and relieved; Nor up the Drakensberg mountains over rail bridges my Great-Grandfather built, through van Reenen, through Swinburne, over the sandstone bridge over the Wilge River to Harrismith station; up to Havenga se boekwinkel, fresh for delivery to Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, formerly of Pietermaritzburg, The Natal Witness’ home town. No.

So he subscribed to The Star, which came from Johannesburg, but now he got it one day late. So his reading of The Witness, which he continued once he got back to PMB some twenty years ago, was not continuous.

Still, it FEELS as though he has read it for 91 years.


Africa, Birds & Birding, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 6. Delegorgue

Louis Adulphe Joseph Delegorgue (1814-1850) – French hunter, naturalist, collector and author, was orphaned at the age of four and brought up in the home of his grandfather at Douai, where he largely educated himself and was introduced to natural history.

Though he had inherited enough to be well provided for, Delegorgue joined the merchant navy at the age of sixteen, traveling among other places to West Africa and the West Indies. Five years later, probably inspired by Le Vaillant’s books, he decided to undertake a journey of exploration in southern Africa. He acquired the skills of a naturalist, including taxidermy, preparation of specimens, keeping records and drawing illustrations. He intended to collect specimens to sell in Europe, and of course to hunt for sport.

Arriving in Simon’s Bay in May 1838, he explored the by now relatively well-known Cape Colony till May 1839, when he sailed for Natal in the Mazeppa, in the company of J.A. Wahlberg and F.C.C. Krauss. He traveled, hunted and collected widely in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), sometimes with Wahlberg. His description of a hunting trip southwards to the Umzinto River in his book especially fascinated me, as he described the beauty of the area around the present Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve.

He traveled into Zululand to the Tugela River and on to Lake St. Lucia. In the Berea forest in present Durban he collected the type specimen of the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon which he cheekily named after himself, Columba delegorguei. Hey, if I find a new animal I’m going to call it Something swanepoelii. Maybe even subsp. koosii. It took me ages before I finally saw my first ‘Delegorgue’s Pigeon,’ above a mist forest at Mbona in the Natal Midlands.

In May 1843 he traveled to the Free State – must have passed through Harrismith! – and on into the Transvaal. From Potchefstroom he crossed the Magaliesberg and followed the Limpopo River down to its confluence with the Marico River and on northwards as far as the tropic of Capricorn. During his travels in the Transvaal he collected the Harlequin Quail, Coturnix delegorguei.

– Harlequin Quail in Nambiti Natal; Our guide’s pic; Mine was nearly as good! –

Returning to Port Natal in April 1844, Delegorgue left South Africa for France, via St. Helena. For the next few years his time was taken up with the preparation and publication of his two-volume book, Voyage dans l’Afrique Australe…, which was published in Paris in 1847.

His book – the first of these explorers whose actual account I read – sparked my interest in finding out more about these lucky souls who saw Southern Africa before the anthropocene!

– I only have Vol. 1 – looking for Vol. 2 –

It contains a detailed account of his travels and adventures, and includes a sketch map of KwaZulu-Natal, a Zulu vocabulary, a catalogue of lepidoptera, entomological notes, and a description by an anonymous author (maybe himself!?) of the new pigeon species Columba delegorguei.

Early in 1850 he left France on another expedition, this time to West Africa, but died of malaria on board ship along the West African coast. .


Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Religulous Reminiscing

When Mom turned ninety schoolfriend Mariette van Wyk Greyling wrote and started a long, rambling and nostalgic back and forth between us, paraphrased and embellished here:

She wrote: Goodness, you all look so good. I simply cannot believe your dad is in his nineties. He looks exactly the way he used to look when we were at school. Remarkable genes. Thanks for sending.

– Ah, sepia looks better! – Mom’s 90th Bday –

Please wish your mom happy happy from me – if she still remembers me: The daughter of TP who taught them to sing ‘and the dogs say goodnight’ – Louis Armstrong.


Oh, Mary will remember you alright! We only had a few families we’d hang out with, kuier with and sing with, and for a while there that was Theunis and Martie. They both still often talk about the factory and the characters who worked there. Stan Moseley was one. I learnt recently that Petra Bissett worked there a while. That factory your Dad ran was a HUGE part of Harrismith in its day.

Later: I phoned Mom; Mother Mary; Mary Methodist. She never ceases to amaze! I said : Do you remember going to Theunis and Martie van Wyk’s home and listening to Louis Armstrong?

I didn’t have to say another word. She said: I heard it just yesterday! Someone played me Satchmo singing “What a Wonderful World” just yesterday! It was so good hearing it again after all these years. Theunis had a record player and he used to play it good and loud and Satchmo said “and the dogs say goodnight” instead of “and the dark sacred night”! Mariette was in your class and then there was Anita and Boeta. And you know Martie’s really not well; She just cries and cries.

I asked: Where did you hear about Martie? She said: Oh, Dossie Farquhar tells me everything. Dossie was Mom’s bridesmaid. She’s in the same home as Martie in Bethlehem. She is Dossie de Villiers now; She has two sons in Bethlehem, Neil and someone. Dossie phoned me for my birthday and she’s also turning ninety this week, so I’ll phone her on her cellphone. No-one sends cards anymore. I got four: Yours from Jessie and Tommy; Sheila’s that you all signed that was originally a card to Sheila from Annie in 1974. And two others.

‘No-one sends cards anymore.’ And now Dossie won’t even be phoning. She died recently. Fewer and fewer friends remain once you live this long . .

Mariette wrote:

Your mom is incredible! What a pin-sharp mind! Goodness. If only my mother could speak to her it would mean the world to her. None of her old friends have been in touch. I mentioned to you that I dread the twice weekly phone calls because she just cries and cries. One-way conversation. But she is trapped inside a body with no motor functions – only has hearing and a fairly sharp mind. Binswanger’s Syndrome. Absolutely tragic! Can there be anything more cruel!? I cannot imagine it.

Where did the name Mary Methodist come from? Just because of her church denomination? Sounds good though.


Mom is ‘Mary Methodist’ cos she was the Methodists’ johannes kerkorrel for a hundred years. We had to go to church every single Sunday morning for two hundred years solid. And we had to wear shoes. I was born on a Friday on a hill above town (in a manger, I think, though I may have that part wrong). That very Sunday, two days old, I had to listen to the whole church service, plus go to Sunday school and make notes and this continued every Sunday for four hundred years uninterrupted. I am going SO straight to heaven where I’m going to be the pearly gate-keeper. The holiest oke called Peter always gets that job.

We were well compensated, though. We got to hear Mom playing the piano at home. She would play her classical pieces, her popular music for their inebriated guests – including Theunis and Martie – to murder in song, and she’d practice her hymns for Sunday. My halo is only starting to fade now, fifty-footsack years later.


Mariette wrote:

When I was fourteen my father wisely gave me the choice of church or no church. He wasn’t the church type. ‘Ek gaan nie daar sit met daardie skynheilige spul nie’. I chose not to go. And turned out quite alright. Hence the fact that I was never popular with the bybelkunde lot.

Did your dad go to church?


Theunis TP van Wyk was a wise soul. No, Dad never went to church, but nor did he take any stand. Mom would have been devastated if he’d interfered and he didn’t. We went happily to church and – especially – to guild, as it was social and fun and after dark. A gathering of rooineks – except the poor Anglicans who had to go to another church and worship the queen, shame. Oh, and the poor Catholics – mostly the new immigrants from Holland, Portugal, etc who were mostly in die Engelse klas. They had to go and kiss the Pope’s ring, shame. There wasn’t any fire and brimstone from our pulpit and the dominees even downplayed the Methodists’ famous hatred of drink. Turned a blind eye out of respect for Mary Methodist behind the orrel, maybe! Her being a purveyor of booze as her day job. Also, there were so few bliksems gooi’ing pennies into those velvet-lined wooden collection plates I think they thought, “We’ll take sinners, we’ll take rokers, we’ll take drinkers, we’ll take drank smouse, we’ll take ANY contributors!” Just like Jesus. They would even have taken lawyers, though I don’t think we got any of them. The dearth probably wasn’t quite as bad as the Anglicans, but still dire. Have you seen where I wrote about the desperate Anglicans?

Mariette wrote:

So what happened? Did that beautiful building survive? No Anglicans for evermore in Harrismith? Loved that building. What a loss.

Confession: when we lived in England I went to the Church of England Sunday school a few times. Only because my best friend Beatrice Evans went. But then the appeal of spending Sundays driving around the Yorkshire Dales with Theunis in his new blue Zephyr won the toss.


Oh no, the old sandstone Anglican church is still there, and its congregation of rooineks limp along as always. Heydays may pass unnoticed, but weddings and funerals still have to have a place to happen! The only outcome was – Tabs didn’t become heilig! He wasn’t consecrated. I saw him the other day just before he went off on a groot trek thru Zimbabwe and we had a good laugh about how he ducked a bullet there. Joan Simpson saved him!

– The door that was not darkened . . –

As for your slipping into an Anglican church: Going to church where your best friend (other than Jesus) goes is a time-honoured tradition that only a lelike church would ever interfere with. As the NG Kerk did with Cappy Joubert after WW2.

The Yorkshire Dales! I’ve seen movies made there. And the bicycle Tour de Yorkshire shows wonderful footage. Sure looks beautiful.

Was Theunis’ blue Zephyr like this?

– Mariette said yes . . a ‘winged zephyr’ just like this –


Until the sessions and the discos arrived thanks to Round Table, there wasn’t any alternative fun in the dorp really. The Sunday School picnics in the park, on Lud Coetzee’s farm on the Swinburne road and at the foot of One Man’s Pass were a highlight of our year. As was standing on the back of Michael Hastings and Charlie Crawley’s flatbed Chevy truck with an orrel on it, driving slowly around town at night singing Xmas carols! Little old ‘Uncle Wright’ Liddell pumping the pedals to belt out the noise. He was our johannes kerkorrel before Mary inherited the mantle. Leon Strachan says for a while he was the only Engels-sprekende Nat in Harrismith!

What did Martie do? Trek n hoed aan, or stay at home? I’d say you were unpopular with the skynheiliges for TWO reasons: One: Not going; and Two: Doing so well at school! That woulda pissed them off.


Mariette wrote:

Martie did the kerk en hoed thing. Theunis let her be. Gave him time with his aviary birds and woodwork.

I was confirmed as a Methodist for some or other reason but never knew about the Methodist dislike of drink. Shows you what a farce that whole confirmation thing is. Had to ‘read’ a bunch of stuff, and then was confirmed.

I remember you had a bunch of fun with the extramural Methodist activities. The only NG Kerk event I didn’t miss for the world was Die Kerkbazaar. Yum. All those lekker koeksisters, toffee apples, fudge and melktert. Sjoe, makes me very lus now. Somehow the Woolies koeksisters and melktert just ain’t as nice.


So you briefly became a Methylated Spirit? How’s that! So did Cappy Joubert. When he got back from World War 2 the NG Kerk – his church – kyk’d him skeef when he arrived in his South African army uniform. So he hived himself off to the Meths boys and stayed there for evermore, hugely enriching the lives of us rooineks. His generosity and involvement and sense of humour and moral compass influenced a generation of kids in our dorp.

I learnt my bible stories very mildly from the enchanting Stella Euthemiou. We sat at her feet and gazed up in awe and wonder. Everyone fell in love with Stella! A dominee’s son who left Harrismith in about 1962 – Lincoln Michell – found my blog recently and he also remembered worshipping Stella back then, fifty years ago! She almost got us to heaven, but we had the six other days and twenty three hours to maak things reg and get unholy again. She had to start afresh every Sunday!

The only bible story we really learnt without a shadow of doubt was the holy unerring infallible fact that we got gifts at Christmas time. The old oke in red with the white beard got a lot more coverage and adulation than the younger oke in white with the brown beard, I can assure you.

We had another three gorgeous older girls at Sunday School: Shirley Mason, Anne Euthemiou and Lynn du Plessis. When I first heard “Shirley, Goodness and Mercy were going to follow me all the days of my life” I knew exactly who they were and verily, I was pleased.


Mariette wrote:

Anne Euthemiou, Lynn du Plessis and Martie Marais were all gorgeous. Saw a photo of Anne and Martie at one of Barbara’s famous get-togethers a few months ago and they still look fabulous.


Famous author Chris van Wyk also had dreams on hearing that bible passage and in 2006 he wrote a wonderful childhood memoir called Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a Childhood Memoir. He grew up in Riverlea and his lovely smile reminded me of fellow Riverlea character Gerald Durrell (‘yes, like the famous animal and zoo author‘ he’d say) who ran the Riverlea Eye Clinic when we used to go there as optometry students in Jo’burg in 1976 and 1977.

Africa, Family & Kids, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia

Victor Simmonds, Artist

Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.

“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”

– maybe a self portrait? –
– nude with amphora? –
– semi-nude with two amphorae? –
– maybe the Kak Spruit at Glen Khyber? – possibly –

So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.

Victor Simmonds’ work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from $126 to $256, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2012 the record price for this artist at auction is $256 for South African landscape with two women carrying wood, sold at Bonhams Oxford in 2012.

– South African Landscape With Two Women Carrying Wood – Golden Gate area? –
Shrubs beside a cascading stream

I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:

– spot on! – an image locked in my brain for forty or more years! –
– sunset, poplar trees, a river – the Wilge? –

A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.


Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa

A Royal Stir (rup)

During the Royal visit to South Africa in 1947 – this was the royal family from that small country called England, not the Zulu Royal Family or anything – there was great excitement! A special train was built, medals were struck and prime ministerships were lost – although Onse Jannie Smuts didn’t know yet that sucking up to the Engelse King would have that price, as he windgatted here with them at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg.

Jannie trying hard with those rooineks, unaware that voters were not impressed . .

In Harrismith there was the important task of choosing horses. Horses were needed so that Royal Rears could be saddled and taken for a ride. Whose horse would be chosen for which Royal when the entourage stopped at the City of Sin and Laughter, Harrismith Orange Free State?

The Royal Train puffed to a stop at Breedal station. Breedal siding, really, near the notorious, alcohol-soaked Rivierdraai stasie on the Bethlehem side of Harrismith.

Great excitement and groot afwagting. Breaths were held . . .

All I have so far is they chose Piet Steyn’s gentle grey gelding for Princess Margaret’s bottom. Here she is on another grey:

There may be more royal bottoms to follow . . .


The whole trip was a great adventure for the two princesses, being the first time either had been abroad. For Margaret, barely out of school but on the cusp of becoming a ravishing beauty, there was an added frisson. Wing Commander Peter Townsend, the handsome king’s equerry for whom she was already experiencing the early throes of love, despite him being 16 years her senior, was accompanying them.

So the mounts provided by local farmers at various points, allowing the two princesses to enjoy rides with Townsend and the king’s assistant private secretary Michael Adeane were welcome escapes from the crowds. ‘We sped in the cool air, across the sands or across the veldt,’ remembered Townsend. ‘Those were the most glorious moments of the day.’


windgatted – soireed; pompous party; unlikely to beindruk his voters

beindruk – impress

rooineks – Poms; Englanders; for many die vyand

die vyand – the enemy

groot afwagting – great excitement; and anticipation