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.

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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, 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 . . .

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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.’

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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

Africa, Family & Kids, Nostalgia, Sport

Build-A-Boat

When we grew up outside Harrismith ca 1959 we couldn’t use the lounge. The lounge was filled edge-to-edge by an upside-down speedboat. The old man built his first speedboat in this lounge, shown below many decades later:

1990 Birdhaven Mum, Dad & Sheila

Younger sis Sheila, in the picture with Mom & Dad, says he also built that fireplace.

Then, after we’d left home and Mom & Dad had retired, he developed another urge to build a boat. Luckily this time in a boatyard with the help of boat builders.

1990 April Dad's newly built boat0002

On a cold winter’s day ca1990 we took it, shiny new, for a spin on Sterkfontein Dam outside Harrismith: Me, Dad, two Eskimos and a semi-eskimo.

Trish eskimo, Mom eskimo, Dad, Sheila semi-eskimo

1990 April Sterkfontein 50002
Dad, Mom, Trish & me – pic by Sheila

We zoomed over the spot where Mom estimated her old farmhouse was – on Nuwejaarsvlei, where she grew up.

 

 

Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Nostalgia, Sport

Possible Lost Opportunity

In the shadow of old Platberg this weekend I sat down to lunch with an array of superb swimmers at my table. On my right was Sonja du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Lyn du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer; and on my right was Pierre du Plessis, Top Ten swimmer. And that got me thinking of the days I’d line up next to the pool and on my right there’d be nobody. Nobody.

That’s because I’d fought (and easily won, you’ll see why) for the right-most lane in the shallowest part of the pool at swimming lessons. On my left was Francois vd Merwe, coming up to my navel; and on my left was Deon Joubert, coming up to my navel; and then some even shorter girls; That blerrie whistle would shriek, they’d dive in and I’d jump in – bravely; I’d sink to the bottom – very bravely – then kick powerfully off the bottom in the direction of the distant other side of the pool. We were swimming breadths. The older kids – some of them as old as my younger sister Sheila and the even-younger Sonja – would swim lengths.  A few kicks off the bottom and much spluttering and gasping later I’d finally get to the blessed sanctuary of the other side of the pool just short of an asthmatic panic attack, sometimes even earning a podium place – well, if there were absentees due to coughs and colds and Harrismith’s notorious cold weather.

At about the same time I was also not a rugby player. I was in the u/11 second team it’s true, but that’s because there were 29 players and number 29 clearly deserves his place in the second fifteen-man team, nê? So although you could honestly say I was there on merit, there are also lots of other things you could say and I caused poor Giel du Toit much sadness and despair. But at the end of the season, a long season in which he had given me much encouragement and sympathetic ‘moenie worries nie’, he did an amazing thing. He did not say ‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ No. What he actually did, I swear, this is Giel’s gospel and it is amazing. He had a rush of something to somewhere and he made me captain of the u/11B team for the last game of the season.

So there I was two days later, in Vrede, barefoot in orange, holding the ball and running onto the field at the head of an orange line of fourteen laaities doing something I almost never got to do: Holding the ball.

The rest is history: I scored the winning try against the olde enemy; I grew five inches that summer; the next winter I was the tallest oke in the u/13 team; and I scored the winning try against Grey College in the last game of that amazing season. So although Giel may have fluked it and definitely didn’t have anything to do with my growth spurt; and although he may have thought that was going to anyway be my last rugby game ever, he nevertheless changed something in my brain that day. It didn’t last long, but was fun while it did.

And thinking about this long-forgotten little tale, sparked off by sitting amongst those swimmers which, let’s be honest, may have sparked off a Caster Semenya-like debate had DNA testing been available – I mean did they have mermaid genes? dolphin genes? – made me think something else: Why didn’t Joan and Joyce think of something that could have sparked me off Mark Spitz-like? I dunno: Maybe choose me to hand out the oranges at half time at a gala or something equally inspirational?

Makes you think. Joan and Joyce may have missed a big one here.

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nê? – just nod; except, not about the netbal

‘moenie worries nie’ – tut tuts

‘Luister volgende week is netbal proewe, nê?’ – Look, you don’t have a talent for rugby, OK? maybe you can sing?

laaities – athletes of note

Sheils & Bess.jpg
Length swimmers at the scene of the torture

 

Family & Kids, Life

Mom Mary & Jo Onderstall

When her great friend Joey de Beer – later Jo Onderstall, author and talented botanist in Nelspruit – the Lowveld Botanic Gardens – heard Mom had decided to go nursing after matric back in the late 1940’s she said in her forthright way: “What a waste of a good brain!” She was so right! Mom could have done anything.

Here’s Jo’s 2002 Christmas card to Mary:

Joey de Beer to Mom 2002

 

 

Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Life, Travel, Travel Africa

Long Lost Letter

Donald Coleman was my good mate and older side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash (alone in the car) around 1975 (I have no detail of what exactly happened).

In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.

It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page (probably page 2 of a 2-page letter) and a scrap of envelope addressed to:
poel
rrismith
e Free State

A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope (but the date part of the franking was/is missing).

I suspect it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.

The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said (I have kept the way he did his lines and spacing):

This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412.

              Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year.

              It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you.

                        From your mate
                             Donald

Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny correction, changing your to you).

So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!

Bicycle Dikwiel deluxe
fancier than ours!

I gave the letter to his Mom, Jean. Wish I’d taken a photo of it and the stamp!

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I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Here’s the mystery: He gave me the desk when I was at 7 River Drive some time after 1990. In 2003 we moved to 10 Windsor Avenue and in 2005 we moved to 10 Elston Place.

Was it a Harrismith find? From when?

That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. Suspicion: Did my folks open the letter and not pass it on!? Must ask Mom! We had done this around then, so maybe she wasn’t keen on another jaunt? Unlikely, though. Not like Mom not to give me a (very rare) letter addressed to Master PK Swanepoel!

I searched the desk again and found the rest of the envelope: It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School. He would have been “a student at varsity” – an exalted state of being that I couldn’t WAIT for!

20141130_081257.jpg

Later:

Nope – Dad says he bought the desk at Cannon & Findlay Auctioneers in PMB long after 1971. I have no idea how the 1971 letter could have got lodged in the back of the desk behind the drawers.

SO glad I found it though!

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