Africa, Free State, Vrystaat

Likin’ Lichen

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 animals than to plants.

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!

– Leon also told us about the temperature contraction and expansion breaking rocks down into soil –

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.

Lichen - Tony Edger

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sources:

Tony Edger’s blog Fossils and Other Living Things

wikipedia

Africa, Books, Canoe & Kayak, Food, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa

Swinburne, the Lost Valley and Nesshurst

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.

– Hound and Hare pub in Swinburne – good grub, cold beer –

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.

– Peering down into the valley – Piet de Heer watches us – Tintwa mountain on the horizon –

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.

– Lost Valley Sun Spider – or Solifuge – inset: wikipedia pic of a related species –

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.

– Nesshurst collage –

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).

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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.

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Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

The Descent of One Mans

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.

– Nigel Hemming’s unusual shot of One Mans Pass from directly above –

‘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:

– dancing on the dolerite down One Mans Pass – it carried on and on –

This part ended at the sandstone cave, which meant we had ‘conquered’ the dolerite cliff section, if we remembered Leon’s geology lesson correctly.

– Tim in sandstone cave where his ancestors left graffitti – J Jacobs – but couldn’t spell their name –

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?

– descent of One mans Pass – grassy slip part –

. . 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:

– Platberg – and the Akkerbos which somehow moved east in the last few decades – tectonic shift, no doubt –

. . 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!

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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 forest

akkerbos – oak forest

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Weather: Light westerly breeze; gale, actually!

A bit of stopping to smell the flowers en route:

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I’m afraid the conservation status of Platberg, this precious mountain, is precarious. Do read about it.

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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.’

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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.’

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Monday, exactly one week later and I’m tripping the light fantastic as usual – Normal gait restored.

Africa, Free State, Vrystaat

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.

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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 swanepoeli. Maybe even subsp. koosi. 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 Tascha’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. .

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s2a3.org.za;