I took Mom to the ophthalmologist in Pietermaritzburg. She’d had some visual phenomena and her description of a curtain falling over her vision against the wall made me decide she must be seen right away. My good friend and colleague Owen Hilliar gave me the duty roster and I phoned the surgeon on duty – Dr L – and arranged to see him Sunday morning 08:30.
What a nice man! He listened to her stories. Unlike her usual eye man, Dr A.
So for a case history on this wonderful 91yr-old qualified nursing sister, and myopic glaucomatous pseudophake, Dr L now has the following information:
There are patterns in my vision on the walls and on the ceiling. Like the patterned ceilings in Granny Bland’s house in Stuart Street in Harrismith. I was born in Harrismith see, and did my midwifery in Durban. We went to Durban as we thought maybe we’d meet some nice boys there. Dr L’s eyes widen and he looks at me. But I met my husband in Harrismith; he worked for the post office and he got on very well with my mother and she told me ‘Peter Swanepoel is taking us to the Al Debbo concert in the town hall.’ My grandfather built the town hall; and he sat between me and my mother and that’s how we met. Unfortunately his good relationship with my mother didn’t last. My grandfather and his brother were stonemasons from Scotland; they built all the bridges for the railway line from Durban to Harrismith; What? OK, Ladysmith to Harrismith. When they had been in Harrismith a while they said ‘We like it here; the air reminds us of the old country,’ so they stayed and built a hotel each, the Central and the Royal – but first it was the Railway hotel – every town had to have a railway hotel. Then they changed the name by royal decree to The Royal Hotel. Or with Royal permission. The one brother had seven sons – she holds up seven fingers in front of Dr L’s face – and the other had nine. NINE – holds up nine fingers. And only one of them had a son. Dudley. He was a bit of a sissy – here my eyes widen – but he had the only boy. Thank goodness he then had sons to carry on the name, although one died in a bike accident. Now Granny Bland had five sons and only two of them did anything; one died of malaria in East Africa. Bertie, I think. When? In the First World War; the others just hung about, didn’t do anything even though they had been sent to very good schools. Hilton or Michaelhouse, one of those; I mean, what did my father know about farming? Nothing. His father just bought him a farm and sent him farming. He tried sheep, that was a failure.
Erm, I interrupted . . No, don’t worry, the dilation will still take a while says Dr L.
See, he wants to know, says Mom and carries on. I was proud of her! She was on a roll! We even found out the Shetland pony’s name was Suzanne.
Anything else about your eyes, he asks when she pauses for breath. Just the patterns and colours on the walls and ceiling, says Mom – no mention of the ‘curtain’ which had made me arrange the appointment in a hurry. And this time she didn’t say she has to remove her son’s glasses to read. Oh, and Oupa Bain went blind; I can remember the older children reading the newspaper to him.
After peering in and then checking V/A’s 6/36 and 6/18 and pressures – low, Dr L re-assures her all is well in her eyes and the patterns may be happening in her visual cortex.
We’re free to go, with huge relief. No trip to Durban. I’ve been nil-per-mouth since midnight, so I must remember to drink lots of water to catch up, says Mom happily.
Monica said ‘Don’t worry Mary you needn’t play today,’ but I protested: No Way, you have to play! How else will you earn your keep? So she gamely fired up her stootoot – isithuthuthu – and beetled off to the dining room where her friend ‘Mauritius’ was in her wheelchair, waiting for supper.
She rocked straight into Somewhere My Love, so fast that I missed it. I video’d her next song, ‘It’s Only Words’ (what’s it called?); and she said ‘Supper Time’ but I pleaded One More Please; Play for your supper.
What was that? I asked at the end of it. ‘Deep In My Heart’ she said – and then I’m so sorry I stopped filming, as she said, ‘It’s by Sigmund Romberg from The Desert Song’ and she told me more, that I can’t recall, but that ‘it was beautiful; very special’ I do remember.
I went looking . . .
Ah, here’s the trailer: You can see why Mary would have loved it back in 1954! Many of the songs are familiar; she played them; the reel-to-reel tape played them; and the Goor Koor sang them – all in the lounge at 95 Stuart Street in the Free State village of Harrismith!
And then the best song: The Drinking Song from The Student Prince! Sung in the movie by Mario Lanza.
A guest post! A more factual and detailed report on this day by Nigel Hemming.
This year’s Mystery Tour took us to Harrismith in the Free State where, amongst other things, we were to visit the Platberg Nature Reserve (PNR) and take a drive up to the top of the mountain before descending partway for a picnic lunch at Akkerbos picnic site.
The cast of 24: Mike & Yvonne Lello; Gavin & Judy Bolton; Gary & Meryl Wylie; Pete & Gill Hockey; George & Jeannette Smith; Jon & Elize Taylor; Graeme & Audrey Fuller; Tim & Gail De Wet; Nigel & Barbara Hemming; Garth & Di Gower-Jackson; Bruce & Heather Soutar; Pete Swanepoel (long-standing member and Harrismith native); Leon Strachan (historian, guide and story-teller)
day started well enough and after an early breakfast we all set off
in convoy to PNR where we left some of the vehicles and climbed into
the five that were to tackle Donkey Pass to the top.
The reduced convoy was as follows: Gower-Jacksons, Hockeys and Leon (Toyota Hilux); Hemmings and De Wets (Subaru Forester); Fullers, Smiths and Meryl (Ford Everest); Soutars, Taylors and Gary (Toyota Prado); Lellos, Boltons and Pete (Toyota Fortuner).
forest ‘road’ up to Donkey Pass was pretty rough and eroded and
had two very hairy rocky sections, which we all managed without
incident. The road up the pass itself was very steep but had a good
concrete surface, so was not difficult. Once on top at the
south-eastern end of the mountain, we followed a rough and at times
rocky track to the north-western end where we stopped near One Man
Pass to take in the spectacular views across the town and to
Sterkfontein Dam and the Malutis in the distance.
This very narrow and steep pass is part of the route of the annual Platberg Challenge run (Harrismith Mountain Race) and so a few people conceived the idea of walking down it if possible.
Pete, who had run the Challenge in the past, assured them it was possible, so it was soon decided that Barbara, Di, Tim (who had suffered a bit of whiplash over the rocky sections, compounding the injury he had suffered the week before when he tried to do a swan-dive off his bike) and Gail would walk down with Pete as their guide. They would meet up with the rest of us at Akkerbos – which Pete believed was quite near the bottom of the pass!
rest of us then drove all the way back along the track to the top of
Donkey Pass where, instead of heading straight down, we took a detour
along an even rougher and rockier track, to have a look at the dam
which the British had built when they occupied Harrismith during the
this point the Soutars decided that they were not going to join us
for the picnic as they were anxious to get back to Durban and set off
down the pass (taking the Taylors with them). The Fullers, Smiths
and Meryl followed them down, followed a little while later, by
Nigel, Lellos and Boltons and Garth, Hockeys and Leon.
this 3-car convoy got to the bottom of the concrete road and reached
the turnoff to the picnic site we made several discoveries.
The sign had
fallen and was not visible
There were no
tyre-tracks leading to the picnic-site, therefore the Fuller party
had missed the turnoff.
assurance that they should have already arrived as it was ‘only a
short distance’ there was also no sign of the walkers.
phoned Graeme to alert him to the fact that he needed to turn back,
only to be told that the Everest had suffered a puncture over one of
the bad rocky sections and was very low on fuel and that he had
decided not to return but to head for Harrismith to refuel and buy a
Mike left his passengers behind and drove down to the Fuller party to fetch Meryl (but not the Smiths as we would not have enough space for them) and brought her back to the turnoff. He then collected Judy who had remained at the turnoff with Nigel and took them both to the picnic site to join Gary who had walked there with Gavin. Having managed to contact Pete, we learned that the descent of One Man Pass had been very difficult and that far from beating us to the picnic site (which he now realised wasn’t where he thought it was!) they had only just reached the contour road and started walking in our direction. In the meantime Garth had delivered the Hockeys and Yvonne to the picnic site and then returned with Leon to the turnoff.
Garth & Leon and Nigel then set off north-west along the virtually disused and very bad contour road to go to the ‘rescue’ of the walkers. We drove through an apocalyptic, fire-ravaged landscape and after stopping several times to remove branches and even a few small trees we eventually came to an immovable obstruction in the form of a fallen mature gum-tree. We then continued on foot and eventually met up with the walkers about a kilometre further along. They were in good spirits but had no idea of how far they were from Akkerbos. Di and Tim got into Garth’s car and Barbara, Gail and Pete came back with Nigel. Half-an-hour later we were back at Akkerbos, a distance that we agreed would have taken them at least another two hours to walk.
– a movable feast!
so the planned picnic lunch had become a movable feast in time and
place and was eventually eaten as follows:
Soutars – on their way home
Taylors – by the dam near the PNR car park
Fullers and Smiths – at the Harrismith Mugg and Bean!
Lellos, Hockeys, Wylies and Boltons – Akkerbos (1st sitting)
De Wets, Gower-Jacksons, Hemmings, Leon and Pete – Akkerbos (2nd sitting)
On our trip up Platberg one couldn’t help seeing all the lichens about; especially prominent on rocks, but also on the plants, especially on the ouhout, Leucosidea sericea and on the old oaks where we old okes had lunch.
Lichens are fascinating. Coincidentally a day or two after we got back from Platberg, a post from a wonderful blog I follow Fossils and Other Living Things arrived, which got me reading and searching:
The term “Lichen” applies to a symbiotic relationship, a way of life, that has married algae and fungi. The algae uses its photosynthetic power to manufacture carbohydrates, most of which are absorbed by the fungi with which they reside. The fungi, in turn, provide the algae with essential moisture, shelter from harmful ultraviolet rays, and toxins that ward off predatory animals. There is no typical arrangement of algae and fungi in lichens. There’s huge, wonderful variety – diversity!
OK so far; What then, are “Algae” (singular alga – use a hard ‘g’)? No easy answer; no consensus answer. Ruth Kassinger in her book, Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us (2019) notes that algae is a catchall term, a name for a group of diverse organisms; They are not plants, though they photosynthesize. Different algal taxa did not evolve from a common ancestor, and Kassinger describes three main groups: single-celled blue-green algae or cyanobacteria; single-celled microalgae; and multicellular macroalgae (the seaweeds).
And what are fungi? “Fungi” (singular fungus) include microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms in a separate kingdom from the other well-known eukaryotic life kingdoms: plants and animals. Fungi evolved from a single common ancestor. They expand by growth or by emitting spores which float off and start new growth. Fungi are the principal decomposers in ecological systems.
In the past, mycology – the study of fungi – was regarded as a branch of botany, but it is now known fungi are genetically more closely related to us animals than to broccoli. Nice and humbling, innit?
So back to Lichens: Lichens are loosely divided into groups by the way they look: crustose lichens lie very flat against the substrate on which they are affixed; foliose lichens which are much more three-dimensional with lobed growths and some separation from the substrate on which they live ; fruticose lichens which can resemble miniature tumbleweeds and attach to a substrate at a single point.
The relationship in lichens is symbiotic between the alga and the fungus but, Tony Edger points out that it seems to favour the fungus. Quite frequently in this relationship, according to Brodo in Lichens of North America (2001), Irwin M. Brodo et al., the fungi is killing the enveloped algae. That is safely offset by the algae’s rate of reproduction, though.
Lichens engage in a variety of ways of reproducing. One approach is asexual: When a fragment detaches and blows away, if it lands in a similar location, it attaches and starts growing as a new individual. For other lichen species, asexual reproduction is more deliberate and complicated. These species create little balls (called soredia), each consisting of a single algae surrounded by fungi filaments. If these reproductive spheres are detached from the lichen and come to rest in a hospitable environment, a new lichen can grow. The fungi in most of these lichens produce spores which begin as sex cells (gametes) and then, after fusing with other sex cells, are released. But these spores, cast to the winds, will create a new lichen only if they happen to land on an alga of a specific, requisite species. Here the fungi appear to be playing against long odds. Producing huge quantities of spores helps improve their odds of success.
Lichens are found almost everywhere.
They are extremophiles, and are found from the poles to the tropics, from the intertidal zones to the peaks of mountains, and on every kind of surface from soil, rock, and tree bark to the backs of living insects! They are an evolutionary success story with around 14,000 different species covering some six percent of Earth’s surface. Those lichens that employ rock as a substrate make soil – without which plants could not have invaded the land – by engaging in a very slow process of eroding the rock into soil. Their anchoring filaments penetrate cracks in the rocks and, as the weather alternatively moistens the lichens, expanding their anchoring filaments, and then dries them out, the substrate is broken up. A slow process, sure, but rocks without lichens disintegrate even slower – maybe ten times slower!
Three more fun facts I found: 1. Lichens are affected profoundly by air quality. The diversity of species in a location is a gauge of how polluted its atmosphere is. 2. The long life-span and slow and regular growth rate of some lichens can be used to date events. One of its advantages is it can date the last 500 years, which most other dating techniques can’t. 3. Lichens are not related to moss. Moss are plants.
**(Even more fun fact: When searching for ‘dating by lichens’ I was shown lots of sites for ‘mature dating’ and ‘dating for over 60’s! and ‘Meet mature singles near you’!)**
The illustration below of the interior of a simplified foliose lichen, captures some of the essence of the lichen structure. By Tony Edger. So it seems all you see is fungus – the alga is inside the fungus structure.
First we went to Swinburne, to Jenny (Mapp) and Steve Cleverley’s Hound and Hare on the far bank of the Wilge River, across the old 1884 sandstone toll bridge where we had launched a canoe journey many years before; There we watched a bunch of large blokes with odd-shaped balls shove each other around, playing ‘If someone gives you the ball, give it to the other blokes.’ Lovely to see Jenny’s smile again – I hadn’t seen her for ages.
We were almost outnumbered by the Welsh contingent there (that being Steve himself, being noisy), but we managed to see him off and send his team to play for bronze against that tongue-pulling outfit that play a bit of rugby in black outfits.
More importantly – and fittingly for our Hysterically-Minded gang – the result sets up a 2019 re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War. Let’s hope the Poms play fair this time.
After a lovely lunch of roasted hound or hare we fell in line under Field Marshall Lello RSVP’s orders and listened to our knowledgeable local guide Leon Strachan in the hall kindly made available to us by Steve the Welsh rarebit. Leon told us the true story of the pioneer de Heer family, led by patriarch Pieter de Heer.
Then we drove to the farm Keerom on the edge of the Lost Valley on the Drakensberg escarpment; the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The story Leon told was of a family that lived a good, self-supported, independent life, sent their kids to school, used local services such as post office, shops and lawyers; sold their goods in the towns of Swinburne and Harrismith; married locally (and NOT incestuously!).
Just like many normal families, some of their children and grandchildren spread all over (one great-grandson becoming a neurosurgeon) and some remained – the farm is still owned by their descendants. People who didn’t understand them, nor know them, nor bother to get to know them, wrote inaccurate stories about them which must have caused the family a lot of heartache over many decades.
What a spectacular valley. It had burnt recently, but already flowers were popping up in the grassland.
Heather and Elize spotted a Solifuge scurrying about. They must have disturbed him, as Sun Spiders often hide by day and hunt by night.
Next we drove off to Nesshurst, Leon’s farm where he grows cattle and msobo, to look at his etchings. Well, his fossils. He has 150 million year old Lystrosaurus fossils on his farm and some in his museum, along with a Cape Cart he bought when he was in matric back in 1971! He has restored it beautifully. A catalogue of his ‘stuff’ would take pages, but I saw farm implements, military paraphenalia, miniature trains, hand-made red combines made by his childhood Zulu playmate; riems and the stones that brei and stretch them; yob-yob-ting cream separators; a Harrismith Mountain Race badge; photos of old British and Boer generals and leaders; a spectacular photo of Platberg and the concentration camp where women and children were sent to die by the invading British forces; a lovely collage made by Biebie de Vos of Harrismith Town Square, old prominent buildings and older prominent citizens, including my great-granpa, ‘Oupa’ Stewart Bain, owner of the Royal Hotel and mayor of the town; Also a Spilsbury and a Putterill. And Harrismith se Hoer School rugby jerseys.
We then repaired to The Green Lantern roadside inn in the village of Van Reenen for drinks and a lovely dinner. I had a delicious mutton curry which actually had some heat; I didn’t have to call for extra chillies – maybe as Van Reenen is in KZN, not in the Vrystaat.
Tomorrow we would head off west to climb Platberg the easy way: 4X4 vehicles driving up Flat Rock Pass (or Donkey Pass).
Leon grows cattle and msobo – and he also writes books! Nine so far. Four on the mense of Harrismith; One on the Harrismith Commando; One on the Anglo-Boer War concentrating on the area around Harrismith; one on his Grandad who was a Son of England; and more.
Why Swinburne? After Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 – 1909), the English poet? He was alcoholic and wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism and anti-theism. He liked to be flogged and hated travel. So probably not him.
Some other Swinburne? I must ask Leon Strachan . .
Ah! I knew he’d know . .
Gold was ‘discovered’ in Matabeleland! Bullshitters bullshitted and people got excited! Such was the excitement around the discovery and hope in the new goldfield’s prospects that new companies were floated in London to take advantage of the rush. The most prominent of these companies was the London & Limpopo Mining Company, formed in late 1868. Such was the serious intent of the company that it sent its principal manager, Sir John Swinburne, with a team of experts and miners and a fleet of mining machinery, to Tati to establish the first large-scale gold mining operation in Southern Africa. The party arrived at Tati in April 1869, erected Southern Africa’s first mechanically operated appliance to crush gold-bearing ores and started work at once.
Ah! But BEFORE Swinburne arrived in Matabeleland, he had an adventure on the way. Leon describes it in his book BLAFBOOM:
Sir John Swinburne landed at Port Natal in 1868 and hurried ashore. He bought five wagons and six teams of trained oxen, unloaded his mining equipment off the ship, loaded it onto his wagons and set off post-haste, heading of course, for Harrismith, where everything happens.
Unfortunately for him and his hurry, it was a wet year, making the going difficult. His destination was Tati, on the present Botswana / Zimbabwe border, and as everyone knows, the route is Harrismith – Potchefstroom – Tati. He had concessions from King Lobengula of Matabeleland which would prove worthless, but he didn’t know that as he encouraged his oxen to move their arses. It went fairly well through Natal to the Drakensberg and even up van Reenens Pass, past Moorddraai mountain, but the marshy ground at Bosch Hoek farm trapped him. All his wagons sank to the axles.
After a week of trying – and, I imagine, some foul language – he was still stuck and his oxen were buggered. Disheartened, he swapped the wagons and oxen for a farm! The farm Albertina on a drift across the Wilge River became his property. He then hired a transport rider to take all his goods to Potch for him. He himself couldn’t wait. He hopped onto the post cart and off he went, ahead, things to do! He would never return to Albertina.
Years later the farm was sold by a local agent. In 1892 the Natal railroad reached the drift. A station and a bridge across the river were built. The station was named Albertina. About a decade later a station on the Riversdale to Mossel Bay line down in the Cape Colony was also named Albertina and chaos ensued. Parcels and letters for one Albertina were sent to the other and hearts were broken (I’m guessing here).
Something had to be done. The Railway high-ups rose to the occasion, re-naming the Free State station after a prominent previous owner of the farm it was situated on: Sir John Swinburne (1831-1914), the 7th Baronet of Capheaton; quite an adventurer, he was also Sheriff of Northumberland. He served in the Burmese War of 1852, in China and in the Baltic in 1854. In 1885 he was elected Labour MP for Lichfield, Staffordshire.
At the turn of the century the farm was bought by Abraham Sparks, father of the Texan tie Abe we knew. This started a long association with Swinburne village by the Sparks family which lasts to this day. Watching rugby in the Hound and Hare with us was Christopher Sparks, great-great-great grandson of Abraham.
Charles Darwin wrote The Descent of Man. I’m going to write far more briefly and light-heartedly about The Descent of One Mans Pass. His is 900 pages long and has sex in it. Mine is one page and only has suffering.
It was Barbara’s fault, of course. She was the instigator and in a fair and just world she would have been given a heavy backpack and her kierie would have been confiscated. As it is, she hared down like a springhaas, leaving the other four of us who deserted the platoon for our ‘shortcut,’ gasping in her wake.
‘It’s steep but it’s not far,’ I said confidently, clearly remembering the last time I had descended this pass on Platberg, or Ntabazwe – only about fifty years ago when I was a fit, lightweight klipspringer. Well! The first, rocky, section turned out to be twice as long as I’d remembered; and someone had loosened the rocks:
This part ended at the sandstone cave, which meant we had ‘conquered’ the dolerite cliff section, if we remembered Leon’s geology lesson correctly.
The second section is the grassy-rocky section which I also remembered well – except it was also much longer now. Perhaps there’s been a tectonic upwelling since I last did it?
. . then a section I had completely forgotten about. A bonus section, you could say.
. . a last little bit:
. . and we were on terra firma horizontalis, on the Bloekombos site of many a happy Methodist Sunday School picnic in the ‘sixties. As Tim correctly pointed out: As Methylated Spirits, we were only allowed tea and ginger beer at our picnics.
Now all we had to do was walk on the level to the Akkerbos – or Oak Forest – which I clearly remembered as being at point A:
. . but which is actually, and disconcertingly, at point B.
So we trudged. A reconnaissance patrol was dispatched to find us, but their vehicles turned out to be less capable than we’d have wished for, unable to negotiate a few fallen twigs across their path. Field Marshall Lello RSVP also seemed to have less pull with HQ than we hoped, so no helicopters were dispatched either.
So we trudged. On the way we passed some ladies packing a lovely smelling herb into bundles. We greeted them and trudged on. Luckily Gail had passed them before us and been more engaged. She told us how they had been delighted she could speak isiZulu and knew their herb was Imphepho (Helichrysum, or liquorice plant – that was the smell!). They were bundling it up for sale in eGoli, eThekwini and eKapa (Joburg, Durban and Cape Town). Imphepho is used for ritual purposes by sangomas for summoning the ancestors. According to Pooley ‘to invoke the goodwill of ancestors, to induce trances – and to keep red mites away.’
Soon we arrived at the Akkerbos to tremendous applause and a lavish spread. Well, one of those. A lesson learned: The old ‘Don’t Split The Party’ is a good principle!
kierie – unfair walking aid which well-balanced people don’t need. At first
springhaas – jumping hare; bouncing rabbit
klipspringer – petite antelope which lithely and blithely bounces from rock to rock without causing them to start mini avalanches
bloekombos – gumtree plantation
akkerbos – oak plantation
Weather: Light westerly breeze; gale, actually!
A bit of stopping to smell the flowers en route:
I’m afraid the conservation status of Platberg, this precious mountain, is precarious. Do read about it.
Read about how we were not the only, nor the first, holy folk to descend this mountain: ‘It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Harrismith) as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so.’
This stroll was Monday. It’s Thursday and I’m still walking like Charlie Chaplin in slow motion. Tom seriously said ‘Dad, maybe you should see a doctor.’
Monday, exactly one week later and I’m tripping the light fantastic as usual – Normal gait restored.
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 . .
. . . 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.
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;